Chronic Inflammation… How to Avoid and Fight!

Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to injury and infection. It’s your body’s built in healing system.  There are two basic type of inflammation: acute and chronic. 

Acute inflammation happens when you cut a finger, sprain an ankle, or get a sore throat. It is usually short lived and has localized effects works at the site of the problem).  Signs of acute inflammation can include redness, swelling, pain and a fever. Without it wounds and infections could turn deadly.

Bigger health problems occur when this inflammatory response goes on for too long or happens in places where it is not needed.  This is known as chronic inflammation and can have long-term and whole-body effects. Although researchers are still working to understand the implications of chronic inflammation on the body and the mechanisms involved in the process, it’s known to play a role in the development of many diseases.

Chronic inflammation often does not have symptoms, but doctors can test for C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation in the blood. High levels of CRP have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease. CRP levels can also indicate an infection, or a chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, according to the Mayo Clinic.  Cancer is another disease linked with chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to some forms of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The good news is that scientific research has shown that you have readily available tools to help! Diet, lifestyle habits and environments all effect your risk and ability to control chronic inflammation. Eating certain foods, while avoiding others, controlling habits, while embracing others is the key. The anti-inflammatory approach is a lifestyle – a long-term approach to a chronic issue.

Anti-inflammatory diets have been studied for years, with the Mediterranean diet usually winning the highest praise.  This diet involves a high percentage of plant- based foods (fruits and veggies), nuts and seeds, olive oil and fatty fish.  It also includes avoiding and cutting back on certain foods.  These include refined grains (white bread, white rice), processed baked goods, sugary drinks, and processed meats.  Research has also shown that beyond diet, stress (emotional and physical), digestive issues, exposure to environmental chemicals, smoking and obesity can all increase your risk for chronic inflammation.

The foods you eat, have shown to have one of the biggest impacts on the risk for developing chronic inflammation.  Certain foods groups are strongly encouraged while others are discouraged – all for specific reasons that have been linked to chronic inflammation.

Consume these Foods:

Fatty FishGreat example: Wild caught salmon.  Why?  Because of their highly bioavailable omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3’s in fatty fish have shown to lower inflammation and help protect your heart and brain.  Americans tend to under eat omega-3 rich foods and overeat omega-6 rich foods (pro-inflammatory).  It’s therefore essential to consume omega-3 rich foods to help balance this.  Supplements can also help fill the gap for omega-3’s.  Look for a pure source, 100% salmon oil or 100% anchovy oil instead of a mixed fish oil.

Purple FruitsGreat Example: Prunes. Why? These purple fruits are nutrient dense and packed with the key compounds, polyphenols.  Polyphenols were made famous by the ‘French Paradox’ and the discovery of the cardio benefits of red wine.  Grape seeds and the skin of red grapes are rich sources of polyphenols.

TeaGreat Example: Green tea.  Why? Green tea is packed with antioxidants and has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  Green tea is also available as a supplement.

NutsGreat Example: Brazil Nuts Why? Nuts have an impressive array of health benefits, including being a good source fiber and protein.  But, Brazil nuts carry an extra benefit: They are a powerhouse source of selenium.  Many recognize selenium as an immune supporter, but may not know about the key role it plays in helping to regulate chronic inflammation. 

TurmericGreat Example: Use this spice in a variety of recipes- from soups to smoothies.  Why? Turmeric, a richly yellow-orange colored spice, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties.  Most notably in reference to arthritis.  Turmeric is available in the spice department of most grocery stores and is a popular supplement.

Avoid these Foods:

Refined Grains – Great Example: White rice.  Why? This favorite is a blood sugar spiker (as compared to a whole grain rice).  This can activate cytokines (pro-inflammatory compounds).  Cutting back and limiting your consumption of refined grains can help reduce the inflammatory response by lowering your insulin response. Studies have shown external reactions like eczema or psoriasis may benefit from this practice.

Baked Goods – Great Example: Cinnamon rolls.  Why? Baked pastries and cakes are typical loaded with sugar, refined flour and unhealthy fats (all increase inflammation).  Cinnamon rolls win the example because “One of the most popular food-court varieties provides a whopping 58 grams of sugar and 17 grams of saturated fat.”  Aptly these aromatic cinnamon buns have been referred to as “desserts on steroids”.

Saturated FatsGreat Example: Double Cheeseburger Why? Considering the typical double cheeseburger with mayo contains upwards of 23 grams of saturated fat.. which is over the daily recommend limit for the average 2,000 calorie diet… This popular burger combo wins the choice.  The consumption of saturated fats has been linked to an increase in heart disease and has been shown to increase inflammatory responses.