Inflammation is the process by which the body’s white blood cells and substances they produce protect us from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. Not all inflammation is bad. When you get a bruise blood and fluid rushes in to create that purplish swollen inflamed area, and eventually subsides. This is how “good” inflammation is supposed to happen. Without inflammation, wounds would fester and infections could become deadly.
In some diseases, like arthritis, a general term that describes inflammation in the joints, the body’s defense, or immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no foreign invaders to fight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. This is “bad” inflammation.
Allergic inflammation is where our immune system overreacts, usually immediately, to what would seem to be relatively harmless foods like peanut butter, shellfish, eggs or substances like pollen, dust, latex, etc., causing itching, swelling, and sometimes choking in a minimal, irritating way or for some in a maximized, even life threatening manner.
What causes controllable and chronic inflammation? Poor habits, such as excess weight due to a poor diet, too much sugar, lack of exercise, stress, smoking, poor oral health and excessive alcohol consumption or environmental factors like pollution, etc. Unhealthy habits and environments can turn the immune system “on” and help it stay activated for a long period of time. Along with other factors, chronic inflammation can lead to chronic illness.
Fat cells and excess fatty tissue can contribute to chronic inflammation, As we gain weight, some fat cells expand beyond their capacity while trying to do their job storing our extra calories as fat. When this happens, they turn on and add to the inflammation already present in our bodies. At this point, these cells aren’t just fat storage warehouses—they’re like little inflammation factories, sending out signals to activate the immune system. Losing weight allows the fat cells to shrink back to a more normal size and turns off the signals that can trigger chronic inflammation.
So what can you do immediately to help with inflammation? Ingest anti inflammatory foods like avocados, salmon, walnuts, fermented and cruciferous vegetables (think cauliflower, cabbage, garden cress, bok choy, broccoli and brussel sprouts) berries, green and white tea, dark chocolate (YAY!) and hemp, chia, and flax seeds.
Add spices like turmeric, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and ginger. All have been shown in studies to have anti-inflammatory properties. You can’t overdo these, so sprinkle them liberally onto your food.
Exercise! Moving around releases a burst of anti-inflammatory proteins from the cells to the rest of the body so try to include 3-4 Cardio hours a week, 3 strong strength workouts, and at least 10 minutes of daily stretch, benefitting muscles and joints.
Cortisol, the so-called “stress” hormone, wears many other hats, including regulating the immune response. Reducing stress helps to keep hormones like cortisol under control and that, in turn, helps lower inflammation. (See my article on stress!) Lack of sleep makes the body ripe for weight gain, a weakened immune system and infection, so get at least 7 hours every 24 hours.
Inflammation is common to middle aged people, so let’s do our best do face it head on!