What is Inflammation?
Simply put, inflammation is the immune system’s response to a stimulus that is viewed as foreign or toxic to your body (aka an antigen).
Your immune system constantly monitors for anything that appears as a foreign intruder (like an infectious bacteria or other material) that shouldn’t be in the body and is always at the ready to signal its highly specialized troops of cells and molecules to attack and dispose of the foreign material.
It is an essential part of healing in acute conditions (e.g., a fever fighting an infection). However, when your immune system is disrupted, it puts itself unnecessarily on constant defense, sending inflammation continually flowing throughout your body. In this state, it’s working against you, instead of for you, by switching focus from the antigen it’s supposed to attack and instead launching a targeted strike on your own cells, and tissues.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms or conditions, you might be suffering from chronic inflammation:
- joint pain or other aches and pains
- digestive upset
- skin problems (acne, eczema, psoriasis)
- food sensitivities
- resistant weight loss
- autoimmune conditions
How can you create a healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle?
1.) Build a healthy gut: Our digestive system has the highest concentration of immune cells in our entire body and is charged with preventing toxins and pathogens from entering the bloodstream. To do this job properly, your digestive lining should be woven tightly, like a piece of cheesecloth. If it becomes too permeable, or a “leaky gut” (from a poor diet, environmental insults, overuse of antibiotics, and so on), it can allow undigested nutrient particles to get into your bloodstream. Various toxins and bacteria can also pass through. These escapees can trigger your immune system, leading to inflammation.
Do: Rule of thumb = Organic (not GMO), not processed, high quality grass-fed meats, less sugar (no artificial sweeteners), more veggies, eat probiotics and anti-inflammatory spices.
1. Fiber: Fiber has naturally occurring phytonutrients that are anti-inflammatory.
· Brown rice or Quinoa.
· Popcorn. It's a great source of fiber.
· Nuts. Almonds, pecans, and walnuts have more fiber than other nuts (sometimes nuts can be difficult to digest and will give excess bloat and gas…if you notice this then try to find other sources of fiber).
· Berries and fruits (try to be careful with the sugar intake – avoid juices. They are mostly sugar and have very little good fibers left)
· Bran cereal.
2. Vegetables and fruits:
· Organic vegetables are about as good as it gets (processing, like microwavable dinners from the store, usually means more salt and bad fats with less nutritional value - Best case scenario is to cook them yourself).
· Organic tart cherries, blueberries, cranberries, papaya, pineapple.
3. Lots of alliums and crucifers:
· Allium = Scallions, garlic, onions, leeks…
· Crucifers = broccoli cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, Brussel sprouts.
· You can buy turmeric supplements at the store and take a daily dose to decrease inflammation.
· Arnica is an amazing anti-inflammatory. You can get it in creams that are applied topically to areas (joints) that are inflamed.
· Ginger, turmeric, curry, fenugreek, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, coriander, cayenne pepper and garlic can all be used in cooking and are anti-inflammatory.
5. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids:
· The body uses fats to make new cells all the time. Providing good fats for the body means healthier tissues. Flax oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and fish oil are all great sources of omega-3s (you can also get your omegas by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, oysters, herring, mackerel, trout, sardines, and anchovies).
· Vitamin C, selenium, B-vitamins
· Probiotics: make sure that any probiotic you take is refrigerated. They are supposed to be live cultures of bacteria, if they are not refrigerated then the cultures are most likely dead. The most important thing to look at when buying a probiotic is the CFU’s. That’s the amount of bacteria are in a supplement. Also look for diversity. You want to have several kinds of bacterial strains, not just one.
i. Finding probiotics in fermented food: miso, sour krout, Kimchi, pickles…anything fermented or pickled. You can also find probiotics in organic kefir, yogurts and kombucha (just watch for sugar intake in these products)
ii. Bio-K – this is one of the best probiotics I’ve found. You can find it at Berkeley Bowl and whole foods). It’s expensive but worth it. Start with only half a container. Taking the whole container can give indigestion because it’s too strong and you need to acclimate.
iii. Ultimate Flora
iv. Life and Food Ultra Probiotic-50
7. WATER: about 8 – 10 cups/day.
· Drink an BIG glass of water (maybe even 2) first thing when you wake up. This will get your bowels moving, flush your kidneys, and balance your hormones. Add a slice of lemon for good measure.
· Try to carry a water bottle with you at all times. This will encourage you to drink more fluids through the day. We are chronically dehydrated. The importance of water cannot be overstated.
· Buy a home water filter (reverse osmosis with a carbon filter is the most effective). Good clean water is key to reducing inflammation.
8. Good meats:
· Make sure your meat protein is the best quality. Organic, free-range, grass-fed, antibiotic free meats. Ocean fish is preferred to farmed fish. It costs more, but is SO much better for your body.
1. NO TRANS FATS + Limit saturated fats. (studies have shown that these fats, and meat containing these fats, are high in C-reactive protein, a biomarker for inflammation in the body)
· This includes all fast foods, anything fried, meats that are not grass fed (in other words, avoid grain fed meats).
· If it says “hydrogenated” on the label, don’t eat it: ie. vegetable shortening, margarines, crackers and cookies are a few examples.
2. Avoid processed foods and refined sugars:
· No high fructose corn syrup, no artificial sweeteners
3. No coffee:
· coffee is acidic, acidic substances increase inflammation. (alternatives are green teas like Matcha. Matcha is cooling, highly antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and alkaline in nature – 1 teaspoon Matcha with oak milk and a little honey is a great place to start. Adjust to taste).
4. No alcohol:
· Although one glass of wine has some health benefits, it is very inflammatory and acidic. alcohol is also toxic and difficult for your liver to process. If you are already having issues with inflammation I would recommend avoiding alcohol…If you must, no more then one glass of organic red wine/ night.
Aside from dietary changes, here are some other considerations in regards to inflammation reduction:
Maintain proper hormone levels:
· Decrease stress and carbohydrate intake!!!
Hormones like cortisol (triggered by stress) and insulin (triggered by refined carbohydrate intake) are inflammatory to your system. Endocrine disrupters (found in many personal care products and pesticides) can suppress thyroid hormones, which not only regulate metabolism but are involved with gut health and inflammation and play a critical role in nearly every physiological process in our bodies.
a.) Reducing stress:
a. Exercise: have a regimen of some form of exercise everyday is vital to reducing stress (Yoga, Pilates, swimming, running, walking… even just getting up from your desk every hour and stretching)
b. Meditation: even 10 minutes of meditation in the morning can be very stress reducing.
c. Gratitude lists: starting out the day with a gratitude list can put life in perspective and help manage stress.
b.) Carbohydrate reduction: cut back on the breads and sugars.
· Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night – but aim for 8.
· Have good sleep hygiene: turn off electronics 30minutes before bed. Start the process of winding down an hour before you plan to sleep. Try to have as little light and noise in your bedroom as possible.