Inflammation has certainly gotten a lot of attention in the last 10 years since it graced the cover of Time magazine back in 2004, with a headline that read, "The Secret Killer." A natural body process designed to aid in immune function and healing, unfortunately chronic inflammation has also been associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's, heart attacks, auto-immune issues, diabetes, hormonal imbalance and cancer - just to name a few. The risk from inflammation is associated with chronic as opposed to acute or transitory types of inflammation. In essence you want for inflammation to get in and get out, and not for it to linger. Chronic inflammation around a joint can absolutely erode a joint, whereas transitory/acute inflammation will aid in healing, recovery and potentially even the longevity of the joint, by flushing out injured tissue, that is recognized by your immune system as foreign tissue. Chronic inflammation is not just a joint issue, but can affect your gut,brain, nerve system and any organ, gland or system - and that's where the major concern lies. Chronic inflammation can accrue due to mental and emotional stress, not just physical and bio-chemical.
Inflammation itself is an immune response by the body in response to trauma or invasion. Twist your ankle, get a splinter under your fingernail or an infection that goes beyond the initial line of immunological defense - and you would have experienced inflammation. With trauma, it's easy to see, experience and identify inflammation, via the cardinal signs:
- Dolor (pain)
- Calor (heat)
- Rubor (redness)
- Tumor (swelling)
- Functio laesa (loss of function)
Although it can wreak havoc on our bodies when it occurs chronically, acute inflammation is actually a healthy immune process designed to support our body's healing ability.
Your work-out can create micro tissue damage, leading to inflammation that leaves your muscles and even joints feeling painful. DOMS, or delayed onset of muscle soreness can occur anywhere from 24-72 hours post workout and is an inflammatory repair response , characterized by tender muscles, decreased range of motion and sometimes decreased strength. As mentioned, it is an immune response to the damaged (muscle) tissue, and the metabolite leftovers which are considered a "foreign substance" and so the immune system is called upon to get rid of said foreign substance, much like a microbial invader. The difference is in the type of immune cells released.
When not related to physical injury, inflammation can occur as a result of both mental stress and chemical stress. Physiologically we understand that when we encounter a stress, there is a cascade of processes and hormones released within the body. One of these hormones is cortisol, which is largely anti-inflammatory in nature - however with prolonged stress there is an over abundance of cortisol released which leads the tissue receptors for cortisol to become desensitized.
Desensitization looks like this - think of the little boy who cried wolf, and how initially all the village rushed to his aide, however after repeated cries of wolf, and no wolf there, the villagers eventually became numb to his calls, and soon ignored them completely. Well that's exactly what can happen to the receptors (villagers) in your body when there's a constant release of cortisol because of prolonged or chronic stress. When that happens, cortisol then in essence loses it's ability to regulate inflammation.
The focus then is to limit excessive cortisol release, or more importantly, chronic inflammation. Good news is that we can do that without having to take dangerous and disruptive anti-inflammatory drugs. Through a combination of lifestyle factors and choices, you can greatly limit chronic inflammation. There are simple choices that we can make to decrease any sort of inflammatory response, and although simple, they're not always easy. In addition, there are also things we can do to mitigate the negative effects of inflammation due to stressors that may be outside of our control. Your best option is to address both sides of the equation. There are multiple means of doing so, and ultimately you will want to utilize as many of the different avenues as possible because of the synergistic effect on your total well-being. My goal here is to help turn the simple tips into easy tips for you to begin to decrease inflammation, and inflammatory activities so you can experience greater well-being and improved health.
Nutrition is a great way to address both sides of the equation. Through elimination, you can reduce your total inflammatory load while with addition and supplementation you can begin to mitigate and reduce your overall inflammatory load.
Subtraction by addition is an easy way to start TODAY, so here are some herbs and spices to add:
- Turmeric - Curcumin, the primary compound in turmeric that also gives curry its spice, is an active anti-inflammatory component. A study published in the journal Oncogene, found that curcumin was more potent than aspirin and ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties. 400-600mg/day of the powder form is considered safe.
- Ginger- An immune modulator, ginger reduces inflammation caused by an overactive immune response.
- Boswelia- The lesser know Boswellia serrata is a tree native to North Africa and the Middle East. The compounds found in Boswellia have been found to have strong anti-inflammatory and even anticancer effects. It is one of the most potent of the group, and studies have shown it's ability to decrease pain associated with different types of arthritis, as well as improving symptoms of irritable bowel diseases(IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) including Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and collagenous colitis through decreasing inflammation associated with the bowel, while supporting the healing of the bowel lining.
- Celery Seed - Celery is known for its antioxidant properties, as well as it's high levels of potassium. Pharmacological studies show benefits that can help improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels (both of which are associated with inflammation.) The seeds have been shown to specifically lower inflammation and fight bacterial infections.
(I like to utilize Boswellia Complex from MediHerb both for myself and my patients, as it brings Boswellia, ginger, turmeric and celery seed together for a synergistic effect.)
- Coconut Oil - The lipids found in coconut oil, provide extremely beneficial omega-3-fatty acids which are well known for their anti-inflammatory effects. In addition, high levels of anti-oxidants help fight dangerous free radicals.
- Omega-3 fatty acids - Fish oil, there is a massive amount of research showing the anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil, and many more benefits. The majority of those benefit come from the fact that omega-3's are a requirement for our body and aid in the production of hormones, as well as make up a large portion of your cell membranes.
Other food types that are beneficial for their anti-inflammatory effects:
- Green leafy vegetables - Swiss chard, spinach, kale, beet greens
- Bok Choy - Chinese cabbage. One of the highest nutrient value per calorie vegetables around!
- Blue berries
- Wild Salmon
Inflammatory foods to avoid:
- Refined carbohydrates, including grains - Whole, or sprouted grains should replace refined carbohydrates, however, I have seen great improvements in inflamed patients, dealing with arthritic issues, IBS, joint inflammation and even mood disorders, that have totally cut out grains. Grains tend to be higher in omega-6 fatty acids, and although neccessary, need to be in a specific ration and balance to omega-3 fatty acids. However, the typical American diet (SAD - Standard American Diet) tends to have omega-6 fatty acids that are 14-25 times higher than omega-3's. This is also why general supplementation with a good, clean, toxin free fish oil is so very beneficial.
- For the same reason, trans fats should be avoided, as they to are high in omega-6's and also tend to be rancid or toxic in nature. As a result, a rancid or toxic fat will create damage in the body that leads to inflammation and because of their ease of availability in the SAD, that inflammation will become chronic.
- Sugar - Sugars are mostly inflammatory. In my experience, for best outcomes all fruit should be abstained from if already in a chronic inflamed state. The only exception to the no fruit rule would be berries and green apples in moderation. Artificial sugars and sweetener's of all types are like gasoline to the fire that is inflammation. Better options include stevia and xylitol. Some individuals do report some stomach discomfort with xylitol use. Remember sugar comes in many forms, and with many different names, ie. high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sucrose, sucralose, aspartame, and agave nectar just to name a few. Check out the labels on your foods, or better yet, but foods that are live, raw and don't have labels...
The tips and strategies laid out here are only going to work with consistency. Just like eating a super green salad one time may not have you feeling energetic and experiencing all the health benefits that may come from that bowl of goodness, eating super green salads consistently will help you begin to feel and experience the benefits of doing so. Give it a go, and commit to yourself to cut out inflammatory foods. If you need a hand, click here to schedule a nutritional consultation and review to help create a game plan for your success!