Want to know a little secret about how to age healthfully, feel better, live longer and avoid disease? It all comes down to chronic, low-grade inflammation, an insidious beast that wreaks havoc on nearly every body system. Who’s at risk? Seeing that inflammation is caused by stress, which can come in the form of emotional, physical or psychological stress, or a less-than-ideal diet, lifestyle, or environment – that simply means, all of us!
Too Much Of A Good Thing?
Not all inflammation is evil, though. Some types are necessary for survival, such as when a cut on your leg becomes inflamed to initiate the healing process. Catching a cold, too, initiates an inflammatory response to begin the healing process of combating the virus, in the short term. Those types of acute inflammatory responses are good, and necessary for us to live.
The type of inflammation that we don’t want is the sort of low-grade chronic inflammation that becomes widespread throughout the body.
How can you tell if this is something you may be dealing with? Well, it may come in the form of brain fog, headaches, aches and pains, allergies, depression, and the like. The symptoms may vary, because inflammation can affect any system in the body, in any number of ways.
Symptoms Of Inflammation Can Include:
- Acid reflux
- Skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, and acne
- Bronchitis (-itis means “inflammation of,” so anything ending in –itis means inflammation is at play)
- Chronic pain
- Aches and pains
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Leaky gut
- Headaches and migraines
- Autoimmune diseases
- And many more
One Name, Many Ills
These may all sound wildly different from one another, but the common underlying thread is inflammation. It’s at the root of nearly all disease. Pretty important, huh?
Even if inflammation is not the original cause of the ailment, we know that inflammation can perpetuate symptoms and illness in a vicious cycle. For example, “autoimmunity” is a term that is quite common these days – from rheumatoid arthritis to multiple sclerosis to asthma – doctors now call all of these “autoimmune” conditions. We now know that when an immune response to an infection or an injury stays active for too long, it can lead to the body becoming “autoimmune” – a kind of hyper vigilance of the immune system that causes it to do more harm than good. This, in turn, results in wide-spread inflammation throughout the body, creating a vicious cycle.
Without arguing about which came first, the chicken or the egg, one thing is clear: Chronic, long term inflammation has to go.
How to Lighten The Inflammatory Load
So how can we get rid of this unwelcome guest? It’s pretty simple. Doing it is the hard part! Stress reduction and stress management, regular exercise, consuming the right foods and drinks (and cutting out or reducing the processed ones, that are not so good), and great quality dietary supplements for extra support.
Being sedentary does not make for good health. We’re meant to move.
Exercise is anti-inflammatory.
A 2016 study done on 40 moderate to severe asthma sufferers showed that doing aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes twice a week decreased inflammation and bronchial hypersensitivity. Pretty cool!
Find something that you enjoy- be it walking, biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, yoga, tai chi, rock climbing, or anything in between. If you have a busy schedule and don’t think you have time to move your body, take the stairs, park further away in the parking lot, or do some squats by your desk while you listen in on a conference call. It might take some creativity, but most of us can find a way to fit in some movement most days.
Buy organic foods, use all-natural cleaning or personal care products (or better yet, make your own!), and get rid of artificially fragranced products like candles and plug-ins. Those artificial fragrances are all chemically derived! Or look for fragrances derived from natural essential oils instead.
Most of us feel as though we can’t do much to change our stress levels. But we can change our perspective towards our stress, and work to de-stress after work or during the day when we feel like we may burst from overwhelm. Yoga, meditation, nature walks, bicycling, or just spending time outside are superb for stress. Spending time with loved ones is another way to turn off our stress response as we enjoy social time with our favorite people. If none of these ideas sound like your kind of thing, just find something you enjoy doing, like a craft, hobby, or game. When your mind is wrapped up in doing something enjoyable, our attention turns away from our worries and towards something that brings us joy.
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Each bite you take is either fighting disease, or causing (or contributing to) it.
Eating a big bowl of pasta with cream sauce is not only high in the wrong kind of fat and carbohydrates, but dairy and wheat are highly inflammatory for most people, especially if the quality of food is not so great.
Now imagine a plate of wild Alaskan salmon, with a side of broccoli or Brussels sprouts sautéed in olive or coconut oil. A salad for some raw enzymes, and a side of fresh berries for dessert. Those beautiful colors represent antioxidants that fight oxidative stress and lower inflammation. And then consider the healthy fats like olive and coconut oil, which are anti-inflammatory too. The real superstar here is the salmon, which is high in omega 3-fatty acids, which are known to be highly anti-inflammatory.
Here are some especially healthy foods that will help bolster your health and lower the levels of inflammation inside your body. The more times you can work these into your meal, the better. Bonus points if you have multiple of these in one meal.
- Green leafy vegetables (arugula, kale, collards, chard)
- Bok choy
- Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, etc.)
- Coconut oil
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
- Cayenne pepper
And look to eliminate or greatly reduce your use of the inflammation-producing items below:
- Vegetable oils (canola, soybean, corn)
- Processed foods
- Sugar and sweeteners
- Processed grains
- Most processed foods
The Best Diets In The World Are Anti Inflammatory!
Maybe you’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to lower the risk for heart disease. Well, maybe that’s because it’s an inflammation-lowering diet that focuses on healthy fats like fish, nuts and olive oil, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and grains! There’s a reason it’s touted as an antidote to heart disease. It lowers that chronic low-grade inflammation that leads to heart disease in the first place!
So think of each meal as an opportunity: to feel better, and fight disease, aches and pains, headaches and depression—or as a way to feed the raging fire inside that contributes to all the not-so-fun symptoms we’d rather avoid.