What Is Inflammation?
The inflammatory response is a normal, natural, and necessary reaction of our body in response to injury or insult. The typical symptoms of inflammation are heat, swelling, pain and redness. This reaction encourages increased blood flow to the region in order for our white blood cells to infiltrate and start cleaning up the mess. Once the injury has been dealt with, the inflammatory symptoms subside, and the body returns to normal immune system functioning. However – when the inflammatory symptoms do not subside – chronic inflammation ensues.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body is being repeatedly exposed to an injury or insult. This can be from an external source, however it is common to see internal processes causing strong, ongoing inflammatory responses in the body.
In recent years inflammation has become known as the underlying cause of the majority of lifestyle diseases – prolonged stress, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, obesity and even clinical depression have all been linked with inflammation.
What Can Inflammation Look Like?
- Body pain
- Mood disorders – anxiety and depression
- Weight gain and/or the inability to lose weight
- Looking & feeling ‘puffy’
- Frequent infections
- Digestive complaints; reflux, constipation, diarrhoea & bloating
Please note that if you have been diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease such as Coeliac Disease, an infectious organism (a parasite, bacteria or virus), or you work in a job where you are constantly being exposed to toxins – inflammation will be a big contributor to your current health state. You will greatly benefit from eating and living in an anti-inflammatory way – please see my recommendations below and/or seek advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner.
What Are The Risk Factors?
- Increasing age
- A diet rich in trans-saturated fatty acids and refined sugars
- Low levels of sex hormones – oestrogen and testosterone
- Stress – both physical and emotional
- Sleep disorders
My Natural Approaches to Dampen the Inflammation:
Eat As The Mediterranean’s Do!
The Mediterranean diet is the most researched anti-inflammatory diet we currently have in the literature. Other anti-inflammatory diets include the DASH diet, the vegetarian diet, and other diets high in plant foods.
To make yourself Mediterranean enjoy fruits, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, wholegrains, beans, and nuts and seeds. Seafood is the main source of protein here, followed by beans and legumes. Dairy and red wine intake is moderate, and red meat is a rare occurrence.
There is nothing revolutionary about this diet – my tip would be to focus on wholefoods instead of packaged and takeaway foods, and make plants the centre of every meal, with animal protein as a ‘condiment’.
2. Up Your Phytonutrient Intake
- Organic berries – all varieties
- Nuts – especially walnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, chestnuts
- Raw cacao (dark chocolate is best!)
- Tomatoes (cooking them increases their antioxidant capacity of the compound lycopene)
- All herbs both dried and fresh – including clove, mint, rosemary, and saffron
- Coffee – espresso style
- Black and green tea
- Fruits – especially pomegranate, plums, and grapes
- Curly kale, artichoke and black olives
- Red wine (you’re welcome!)
3. Minimise Pro-Inflammatory Foods
- Trans-saturated fatty acids – any shelf stable foods (included the ones in the health food isle!). Found in deep fried foods and margarine spreads also.
- Hydrogenated seed oils – including soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed, sunflower, grapeseed, rice bran, peanut, etc
- Refined carbohydrates – sugar-sweetened beverages, white bread, pasta and rice, packaged cookies and pastries, fruit juices, breakfast cereals, you get the drift.
- Allergies & intolerances – this includes anything that your body reacts negatively to. Common examples I see in clinic include gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, and alcohol
4. Say Sayonara To Stress
I have written a whole blog on tips to reduce stress! You can find it here.
5. Focus On Anti-Inflammatory Compounds
- Omega 3 fatty acids; Found abundantly in wild caught seafood, and in chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts
- Curcumin – The active constituent found in turmeric. Please note not all turmeric is created equal. It must be accompanied with a source of fat and black pepper to enhance absorption. The turmeric I use is the most bio-available turmeric I have found in my research.
- Zingiber officinale – Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory & antioxidant
- Vitamin C; All citrus fruits, pawpaw, strawberries, parsley, green capsicum, spinach, radishes, raw cabbage, potatoes
- Herbal medicines all have some anti-inflammatory activity – they are plants after all! As well as turmeric and ginger that I have mentioned above, additional herbs to combat inflammation include St Marys Thistle, Schisandra, Rosemary, Garlic and Bacopa.
6. Make Sleep Your Priority
Research on the benefits of sleep is coming out in droves at the moment. Studies are showing that 7 – 9 hours every single night is recommended, and that the effects of just one night of sleep deprivation are immense. I recommend listening to this great podcast or this TED talk on the benefits of sleep.
7. Exercise & Move!
This seems counter-intuitive, as exercise does cause an inflammatory response in the body short-term. However, the long-term benefits are all anti-inflammatory! Stress reduction, reduced obesity, a decrease in cardiovascular disease risks, enhanced cognition, as well as heart, muscle, and bone strengthening. Exercise is an anti-inflammatory and longevity weapon. Best of all, it’s free! Research suggests at least 30 minutes of sweaty exercise three times a week.
8. Vitamin D
We are now understanding the role of vitamin D and how it regulates our inflammatory pathways. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that around 1 in 4 Australians are vitamin D deficient – which is a conservative figure that is now seven years old. I see moderate to severe vitamin D deficiencies and the health problems associated in my clinic far too often. Please check in with your GP and get your vitamin D levels checked if you suspect they could be sub-optimal.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I hope I have provided you with some helpful and accessible tools for you to start adding into your everyday life to reduce inflammation and boost longevity!
Thank you for reading!
Yours in good health,