Inflammation can either be your friend or your enemy
While acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense response to injury, chronic inflammation may lead to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases, research shows. It’s also been found to be the underlying cause of a number of autoimmune issues, and according to The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, one in five people suffer from autoimmune disease in the U.S.
What’s the difference between the two?
Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s the immune systems natural response to harm, such as a scrape or burn and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of days. It increases blood flow and permeability to the affected area to allow the healing process to begin. That’s when you’d experience pain, redness, heat and swelling as blood and fluids rush to repair the damaged tissue.
Then, there’s chronic inflammation, which is the opposite — it’s long-lived and often left unnoticed. It begins with the same cellular reaction, but if an inflammatory response is constantly triggered, due to unhealthy lifestyle choices or an underlying medical condition, it can continue and damage the body instead of healing it.
According to a report published by the Harvard Medical School, during chronic inflammation “the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, which then plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s.”
Dietary habits that increase inflammation tend to be high in refined sugar, starches and saturated and trans-fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants as well as fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
How to decrease low-grade chronic inflammation?
Western dietary habits warm up inflammation, while prudent dietary patterns cool it down. Choosing healthy sources of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, paired with regular physical activity and avoidance of smoking and alcohol are critical to keeping chronic inflammation at bay.
There are, however, a few more things to consider adding to your diet and lifestyle regime.
Spices with anti-inflammatory compounds
If you’re a fan of cinnamon buns, it may not be as bad for you as you think. Yes, it’s still too much sugar and starches, but its cinnamon content can keep your blood sugar in check. This spice has been used in naturopathic medicine to treat diabetes in India. Plus, it’s been found to have blood sugar regulative properties and control glucose levels with diabetic and pre-diabetic patients. Besides helping your cells regulate insulin, the hormone that’s responsible for pushing sugar into your cells, cinnamon extracts can increase anti-inflammatory proteins and fight against free-radicals in your body.
There are two kinds of cinnamon available on the market today: Cassia and Ceylon. The former is more commonly used, but it’s considered lower quality, while the latter is the “true” cinnamon originated from Sri Lanka and southern parts of India.
Another commonly recommended spice to treat inflammation is turmeric and more importantly the chemical it contains, called curcumin. Due to its anti-inflammatory and healing benefits, it’s often used for a myriad of health issues including, skin or gut problems, flu or arthritis.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
The American Heart Association’s Strategic Impact Goal Through 2020 and Beyond recommends more than two 3.5-ounce fish servings per week, preferably oily fish such as salmon and sardines. Yet studies published in the National Library of Medicine found that a significant number of American adults are not meeting those recommendations. Flax seeds, flax oil and walnuts should also be in the kitchen at all times as omega-3 sources. These healthy fats give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammation resolving mediators.
Antioxidants decrease the oxidation process in our cells that could lead to oxidative stress, which is a direct cause of inflammation. Through oxidation, molecules called free radicals form in our body that can cause oxidative damage. It’s a natural process and our body naturally produces antioxidants to fight them.
The problem, however, comes when our level of antioxidants and free radicals are out of balance. Because of unhealthy lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking) as well as environmental pollution and excessive exposure to UV lights, our body is incapable of keeping up with detoxifying the free radicals. That’s when foods that are high in antioxidants come into play. Blueberries, yellow, orange, and red vegetables (peppers, carrots), dark leafy greens (spinach, Romaine lettuce), citrus fruits, black and green teas and allium vegetables (onions, garlic) are a great source of antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and repair damaged molecules.