Chronic inflammation is the root of all evil when it comes to chronic disease. I’ll say this again because it bears repeating. Chronic inflammation is the root of all evil. This is a very unfortunate example of a healthy body process gone very wrong.
Inflammation starts out as a natural defense mechanism that is triggered when body tissues become damaged. This can happen through injury by physical trauma, irritating chemicals, intense heat or infection with viruses and bacteria. By the process of inflammation, the body’s defense system in the blood shows up to an affected site for damage control, waste removal, and repair. This kind of inflammation is easily identifiable by the cardinal symptoms of redness, heat, swelling and pain. This is what happens if you sprain your ankle, get a sunburn, or develop swollen glands during a viral infection like mono. It comes on quick, serves its purpose, and resolves itself when the job is done.
Chronic, low-level inflammation is instead triggered by cellular stress and dysfunction. It often has no symptoms, making it silent in its destructive nature with the opportunity to cause damage and cell death throughout the body. This chronic inflammation contributes to Heart disease, Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer, Obesity, Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Asthma, Lupus and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
The cause of chronic inflammation, like most other body dysfunction, is generally multifactorial. It is influenced by diet, environment, stress, physical injury and genetics and it affects different people in different ways. Some factors are visible and avoidable while others are not Reducing exposure to the factors we can control can help prevent and reverse inflammation, promote health and reduce one’s long-term risk of disease.
Sources of inflammation in the diet include Trans-fats, Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Refined Sugars, Casein (milk protein), Gluten (wheat protein), Refined Grains, Alcohol, Food Additives, and conventionally raised Red Meat and Dairy products. Reducing or altogether avoiding these foods is a terrific place to start at reducing the inflammation in your body.
The next step to eating for your health is to increase those foods in one’s diet that actually decrease inflammation. The most powerful anti-inflammatory foods include Blueberries, Dark Chocolate, Green Tea, Wild-Alaskan Salmon or Fish Oil Supplements, Ginger, Turmeric, Dark Green Leafy Vegetables, and Sweet Potatoes.
Environmental Factors can be hard to control for, because some are more visible than others. These include Smoke and Secondhand smoke exposure, Pollution, Pesticides and Herbicides, Heavy Metals, Chemicals and Airborne Irritants. The first way to reduce your environmental risk is to not smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Try to spend time outside in fresh air and avoid areas of known pollution. Buy organic produce when you can and avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides in your environment to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals. Heavy metals such as mercury are most common in large predator fish, so limiting your intake of large fish like tuna, swordfish and shark.
Stress is something that most people experience on a regular basis, and is a major contributor to chronic inflammation. It is also something that can be managed by practices that promote mental clarity and stress reduction. The benefits of yoga and meditation practices, long walks, time in nature and even laughter can have profound positive effects on our health. The most important thing is to grow these benefits by regular practice of whatever it is that serves you best.
Exercising for at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week helps to reduce excess weight and the likelihood of chronic illness while strengthening the body and promoting overall wellness. Moderate exercise may also directly reduce inflammation, science is still working on that one.
Fighting inflammation is like anything else in health promotion- aim for progress not perfection. Reduce your risks where you can and you will be more likely to improve your health as a whole. The more you can do the better. Make it something you work toward rather than something that stresses you out, and you’re already on the right path. I’m rooting for you!