Nutrition’s Role in Inflammation

Our world is filled with extravagant amenities. Few people need to hunt and gather their own food (and prepare it with meagre means). In fact, many people can simply buy foods that are pre-packaged and quickly heat them up in that wonderful invention of convenience, the microwave. We don’t know exactly where most of our food comes from, nor do we know with what chemicals or processes it has been treated. However, this information is not important to many as the convenience of having everything we need through a quick trip to the supermarket overshadows the concern that we may be slowly poisoning ourselves.

Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself against foreign invaders, through release of specific chemicals and components of the blood that attack, kill and remove bad guys that harm the homeostasis of our bodies. An inflammatory reaction to a cut or burn is a good thing – your body is reacting normally, trying to heal itself and eliminate bacteria to prevent further illness.

 

Inflammation and Disease

Chronic inflammation, however, is not a good state for the body to be in. Chronic, long-term inflammation occurs over time as the body’s immune system continuously reacts to toxins, stress, lifestyle factors and lack of sleep. If the immune system is compromised from dealing with everyday problems, it does not have the strength or viability to fend off true diseases. Diseases that are associated with high inflammation in the body include diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, autoimmune disorders such as allergies or fibromyalgia, cancer and even muscle loss. Chronic fatigue, acne and wrinkles are also tied to chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation also causes free radical formation, which can lead to mutations in the cells and ultimately cancer. Cells that change shape cannot obtain the nutrients they need so they die, too.

Not coincidentally, North Americans have some of the highest rates of inflammatory diseases. If inflammation is caused by a poor diet, pollution, lack of sleep and exposure to daily toxins, what is it that North Americans are doing that is leading to this proliferation of disease?

The Standard American Diet, or the aptly named S.A.D. diet, is one of the most toxic and pro-inflammatory diets in the world. The S.A.D. diet includes processed foods high in sugars and chemicals, high glycemic load foods, endocrine disruptors, low quality and quantity protein, low fruit and vegetable intake, and not nearly enough water.

 

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Help reverse or avoid inflammation-related diseases and conditions by choosing an anti-inflammatory diet. Proponents of the anti-inflammatory diet believe that many chronic conditions can be treated with a diet that stimulates the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

The most prominent idea is that inflammation can be fought be eating “good” fats and avoiding “bad” fats. “Bad” fats include partially hydrogenated fats (trans-fats, polyunsaturated fats), including margarine, shortening, and fats found in processed foods. Red meat, dairy, corn oil, butter and poultry skin are also pro-inflammatory foods. “Good” fats include omega-9 fatty acids, found in olive oil, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in mackerel, salmon, walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds. Fish oil supplements can also help reduce inflammation.

Getting an abundance of colourful, fresh fruits and vegetables is also extremely important. Anti-inflammatory foods include most berries, kiwi, apples, carrots, sweet potato, spinach and other leafy greens, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Lentils, chickpeas, brown rice and oatmeal also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Spices have a wonderful affect on decreasing inflammation in the body. Two of the most important anti-inflammatory spices include turmeric and ginger. Add these to smoothies, oatmeal, soup, teas, cocoa and stews. Cayenne, fennel and cinnamon also help combat inflammation in the body.

Neutralize free radicals by increasing your consumption of antioxidants. Antioxidants are high in fruits and vegetables but are also found in coffee and green tea.

And, because dehydration is tough to determine and leads to inflammation, make sure to drink between 2.5 and 4 liters of pure, unfiltered water daily. Coffee and tea don’t count! Fruit juices are full of sugar – a pro-inflammatory “food” – so avoid these drinks too.

 

Other Ways to Avoid Inflammation

Adequate, good quality sleep is also very important to reduce inflammation. Average nightly sleep should be between 7 and 9 hours so find out what amount works best for you. If you have trouble sleeping, try calming vitamins before bed, such as B complex or magnesium.

Exercise can reduce inflammation and the lack of exercise is often a leading cause of chronic inflammation in the body. Exercise can reduce the C-reactive protein levels in the body, a marker for inflammation. Find out if you have chronic inflammation by asking your doctor for a simple blood test to measure CRP values. And, excess fat cells can tax the immune system and lead to inflammation because the body believes these cells to be foreign, which ignites the inflammatory response against them.

Clean up your hygiene, beauty and cleaning products. One way to do this is to purchase natural products with few toxic chemicals. Some chemicals to watch out for are phthalates, parabens, PEG, color #4 (especially, but all colors), BPA, phosphates, sodium lauryl sulphate, fragrances, and DEA ingredients. These chemicals interfere with normal body processes and lead to cancers, hormone imbalances, and disease.

Avoid sugar, especially white sugar. Coconut palm sugar is probably the safest choice if you want a sweetener. Artificial sweeteners, including white stevia, have all undergone some form of chemical processing and should be avoided.

Manage your stress with techniques that work for you. This may include exercise, reading, hobbies, or meditation. Find something that helps you relax every day.

Choose organic foods often. Look for proteins that have not been treated with antibiotics or extra hormones. And make sure to wash produce well before eating.

 

Your Anti-Inflammatory Approach:

Take small steps each week to help improve your chances of avoiding the common inflammatory diseases of today. If you could only do one thing right now, I would recommend that you fill at least half your plate with preferably organic colourful vegetables at each meal and consume most of these vegetables raw for their health benefits and nutrients.