By Cheryl Buckley —
In case you haven’t heard, there is a good side to inflammation and a bad side.
What makes inflammation good or bad for anyone is how long it stays around. You see, inflammation is your body’s way of protecting and healing itself. That is the good part. However, when it hangs around for weeks, months or even years, it becomes a problem. This type of chronic inflammation is linked with several diseases, including heart disease, cancer, depression and Alzheimer’s.
Fortunately using dietary and lifestyle habits to target chronic inflammation can prevent or reduce your risk of developing these diseases. This approach is not only possible, but it is also very doable. In fact, sometimes making small healthy habit changes can make a big difference. Research shows that there are foods, diets, and other lifestyle factors that are linked to lower levels of inflammation and risks for lots of diseases.
Remember having a cut, sprain or a sore throat. The area felt painful, hot and looked red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues.
Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it and clean up debris. It can be a good thing, but it can also go overboard and become a problem.
Before understanding how to battle excessive inflammation through certain dietary and lifestyle habits, it’s important to understand the two different types of inflammation.
Acute vs. Chronic
There are two kinds of inflammation: Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute, it’s usually at high levels in a small, localized area in response to an infection or damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.
When your cells detect an infection or damage, they send out warning signals to call over your immune system to help. Your immune system then sends over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading germs and clean up damage so you can heal.
Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down. Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms aren’t localized to one area that needs it. Instead, they can appear gradually and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:
- Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Allergies and asthma
- Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Heart disease and stroke
- Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
- Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
- Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated and having excess weight.
Want a gameplan to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires? Here are some options.
Nutrition and Lifestyle Adjustments
There are medications that can help lower inflammation such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants and biologics. However, lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—can also help.
“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. Here’s how.
- Enjoy an anti-inflammatory diet by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
- Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Omega-3 fats found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts and flax can also help reduce pain and clear up inflammation
- High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) are another option to encourage friendly gut microbes that help reduce inflammation
- Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
- Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)
Certain lifestyle practices also help battle inflammation. These include:
- Being physically active
- Getting enough restful sleep
- Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol
- Managing stress
- Being social
- Maintaining regular doctor or dentist visits
The health consequences of chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation are both real and potentially significant. Thankfully, lifestyle and nutrition changes can address many of these problems naturally, eliminating the need for prescriptions. Need help getting started? Contact a qualified nutritionist and or health coach. They may just be able to open a gateway to getting that inflammation under control.
About Cheryl Buckley
Among her other accomplishment, Ms. Buckley is a licensed registered dietitian nutritionist who is dedicated to improving both the health and wellness standards of her clients and community. An anti-inflammatory RD, she specializes in gut health and immune support through the use of Mediterranean plant-based diet. Ms. Buckley takes a simple but powerful holistic approach to health and nutrition that identifies where a patient is compromised and then creates a personalized nutrition plan to help them achieve a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately, she can help individuals overcome problems with inflammation through a nutritional plan that includes simple and delicious foods. Book a 15-minute introductory call at Discovery Call to get started.
Visit Cheryl Buckley to learn more.