Inflammation has is a trending topic in the health & wellness world lately, and for good reason…
According to LiveScience, “inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. It is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.”
Sounds like a pretty beneficial and necessary physiological process, right? So, is there actually a downside to inflammation? (because that’s what popular media keeps telling us!)
Yes! The downside is when inflammation becomes widespread (and unrelenting!) in the body. However, there’s a pretty big difference between acute inflammation, as described above, and the more detrimental, disease-promoting type of chronic inflammation.
Let’s find out more about both types of inflammation and what we can do about keeping the nastier one at bay.
How can I tell if I have acute inflammation happening in my body?
When physical injury damages your cells, the immune system swings into action releasing antibodies and proteins, as well as increases blood flow to the area.
Common signs & symptoms that an acute inflammatory response is at work:
- Immediate response, lasting days or weeks
- Heat or warmth
- Pain and discomfort
- Immobility in the affected area
Persistent and chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is when this response lingers, leaving your body in a near-constant state of “attack”, with widespread systemic effects – sometimes for years!
Common signs & symptoms that chronic inflammation is happening in the body:
- Can last months or years
- Rashes or other skin afflictions
- Abdominal or chest pain
Many autoimmune conditions are also considered to have chronic inflammatory components, including:
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Psoriasis & psoriatic arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
What can I do about chronic inflammation?
There are a number of lifestyle tips for someone experiencing this persistent type of inflammation, or who wants to prevent it from (re)occurring.
Chief among them are:
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing stress, and getting adequate sleep
- Exercising regularly and moving your body daily
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Re-evaluating your diet, which may include taking supplements known to reduce inflammation
If you want to reduce inflammation for overall good health — your diet plays a huge role! The focus should be on whole foods that contain a wide variety of nutrients.
Think about which foods give you the best bang for your nutrient buck!
Basically, you want to eat more anti-inflammatory foods and fewer inflammation-promoting foods — which means avoiding processed “food-like products” whenever possible.
Specific foods that are known to fight inflammation:
- Fruit like tomatoes, citrus, apples, berries, and cherries – especially tart Montmorency cherries
- Leafy greens & cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts
- Fatty fish & other healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives & olive oil
- Aromatic spices like turmeric, cinnamon, fenugreek
- Green tea
- Dark chocolate and raw cacao powder (It’s true! That’s why we’ve got a delicious chocolate-infused smoothie recipe for you as well!)
And not surprisingly, you will want to reduce or eliminate the following:
- Refined carbohydrates & processed/packaged foods
- High amounts of sugar & high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Fried food & “franken fats” like margarine
- Pop and other highly sweetened drinks, including most fruit juices
- Red meat & processed deli meats
- Alcoholic beverages (although red wine in moderation has been shown to have some benefits for warding off inflammation; up to 5 oz per day for women and 10 oz per day for men)
Be sure to consult with a qualified medical practitioner before using any of the following pharmaceuticals & supplements commonly prescribed to help reduce inflammation.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen, ibuprofen and aspirin corticosteroids like prednisone and cortisone
- Statins (usually prescribed for high cholesterol and arterial inflammation)
- Supplements like fish oil, devil’s claw, turmeric, ginger, resveratrol and willow bark (known as “nature’s aspirin”)
Summing it all up…
So, to answer the question: “Should I be concerned with inflammation?”
If you’re striving to keep yourself healthy for the long run, and you want to know what single thing you should be paying (more) attention to in your health optimization routine — it’s INFLAMMATION.
There’s no question that persistent, chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can lead to disease, and has been shown to be an underlying common denominator in many serious health conditions.
The reality is that your diet and lifestyle is either helping to keep inflammation at bay or it’s driving it. This is why you should aim to include as many anti-inflammatory foods in your daily diet as possible — to lower your risk of disease, and for optimal health and wellbeing.
How about kicking off your new anti-inflammation nutrition plan with an easy 5-minute smoothie.
Inflammation-Cooling Dark Chocolate-Cherry Smoothie
1 cup frozen cherries (tart cherries if you can find them)
1 – 1.5 cup almond, cashew or coconut milk (homemade if you prefer!)
Handful baby spinach leaves (organic preferable)
1 Tbsp raw cacao powder (not “dutch processed” cocoa powder)
1 Tbsp almond butter
½ tsp cinnamon
1-2 Medjool dates, pitted & pre-soaked in a bit of water to soften
Optional add-ins & toppers (for extra nutrients & texture)
- Cacao nibs
- Shaved dark chocolate
- Shredded coconut (unsweetened)
- Hemp hearts
- 1 scoop vegan protein powder (to make it a balanced meal; use low-sugar/unsweetened, plain, vanilla or chocolate flavour)
Place all ingredients, liquid first, into a high-quality blender and blend on high (or smoothie setting) until desired consistency is reached.
Add a bit more dairy-free milk or water to thin out if desired.
Top with one or more of the extras and either sip it or spoon it 🙂
LiveScience: What is inflammation?
Harvard Health: Foods That Fight Inflammation
Cleveland Clinic: Why You Should Pay Attention to Chronic Inflammation
CanPrev: Deep Dive Into Chronic Inflammation