Inflammation is the body’s mechanism to protect itself and heal from injury or exposure to harmful substances. The purpose of the inflammation process is to remove irritants, damaged cells and pathogens.
Inflammation can be short-term (such as a bruise) or a chronic, long-term condition that attacks the body’s healthy cells. Chronic inflammation can last for months or years and lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, some allergies, fibromyalgia, lupus, asthma, peptic ulcers, sinusitis, heart disease, stroke, psoriasis, Addison’s disease and much more.
Chronic inflammation can lead to inflammation in other parts of the body or other organs. Inflammation tendencies can increase with age, when we can begin to realize that foods that never bothered us before, such as dairy or wheat, might trigger low-grade indigestion or other minor symptoms.
Specific lifestyles or environmental factors can trigger chronic inflammation, too. A direct connection has been found between inflammation and stress, cancers, obesity and a poor diet.
There are several rather simple, specific actions that can help defuse inflammatory reactions. Some are easier said than done and some merely require emphasis in one’s daily life.
Get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night on a regular basis.
Find effective ways to deal with stress, such as taking 10 minutes to consciously relax, go for a 10-minute walk or get more sleep.
Boost your mood to decrease being anxious or depressed. Take deep breaths and stop obsessing over worst case scenarios.
Get more aerobic physical activity. Strive to achieve 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week.
Get closer to a healthy weight. Even a 10-pound reduction (that stays off) can have a significant impact on inflammation and joint stress.
Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Also, make sure you do not have elevated radon levels in your home.
Eat a healthy diet. Many basic foods have anti-inflammatory effects:
1. Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, to reduce inflammation and anxiety. These are found in fatty fish, such as salmon and herring.
2. Increase daily intake of foods high in Vitamin C, such as red bell peppers, chili peppers, kiwi, peaches, mango, berries and citrus fruit.
3. Increase your intake of foods high in Vitamin E, such as seeds, nuts, avocado and spinach.
4. Foods that contain polyphenols should be increased and eaten daily such as fruits, vegetables, grains, chocolate, coffee, olive oil and tea.
Avoid foods that increase inflammation:
1. Foods high in refined sugar such as sweetened beverages, candy, pastries and doughnuts.
2. Refined carbohydrates such as white breads, white rice, crackers, chips, breakfast cereals. Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and low in protein are harmful.
3. Foods containing saturated fatty acids can be decreased to minimal servings weekly, such as pastries, pizza, processed sausage, lunch meats, cheese and red meats.
4. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, peanut and soy oils.
5. Alcohol should be limited to no greater than one serving daily (1 oz. hard liquor, 4 ounces wine or 12 ounces beer.
Some herbs have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, such as devil’s claw, ginger root and turmeric (related to ginger family). Other treatments include applying ice to reduce visible inflammation. Drinking green tea on regulaly enhances bone health and reduces inflammation for postmenopausal women. Tart cherries have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, and research has found effects on joint pain and arthritis using tart cherry juice twice a day.
The inflammations and infections that are on the body’s surface and visible are easier to treat. The chronic inflammations we can’t see can create lifelong problems and shorten our life spans. Because inflammation can be subtle and long-term, the treatments also should be subtle and long-term.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.