Inflammation 101 - 8 Things You Need to Know
1) What is inflammation and why should you care?
Inflammation is a natural process that happens in response to external & internal stressors. It is your immune system’s way of defending your body and keeping it healthy. Essentially, your immune system is activated and your body sends cells and substances to help solve the problem. This could result in visible effects like swelling or redness but is often invisible as it happens inside your body.
Inflammation could result in visible effects like swelling or redness but is often invisible as it happens inside your body.
When your body sends out immune cells when you are not sick or injured and does this over an extended period, you may be experiencing chronic, whole-body inflammation. Scientists believe that Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease (Heart Attack / Stroke) and certain Auto-Immune Disease (like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis) may be linked to chronic inflammation.
2) What may contribute to inflammation?
Doctors believe there are multiple causes of whole-body inflammation. These can be acute stressors, like a virus, injury or strenuous exercise/exertion, or regular daily stressors, like being on your feet all day, the stress of life, work & family and toxins in the food we eat, the products we use and the air we breathe.
Here are some examples of the most common causes:
- A diet high in saturated fat and processed food, low in fruits / vegetables / whole grains
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise or too much intense exercise
- Physically taxing jobs/lifestyles
- High levels of stress
- Poor sleeping habits
3) What are the different types of inflammation?
There are many types of inflammation. The most common distinction is acute v/s chronic, whole-body inflammation.
Typically targeted to a specific part of the body and a result of an injury or one-time event (think the swelling when you roll your ankle, or the temperature you get when you have a fever). This type of inflammation serves a distinct purpose in helping you recover. Some temporary pain or soreness can remind you to take it easy and rest, or even stay off that ankle after a bad turn!
Chronic Whole-Body Inflammation:
Different from acute inflammation, this is when your body stays in a perpetual state of activation and your immune system continues to send white blood cells to address the inflammatory trigger.
Chronic inflammation caused by exposure to everyday life stressor’s (diet, exercise, physical exertion, stress, lack of sleep…etc) over the course of a lifetime.
It is difficult to know whether your body is maintaining a healthy inflammation response overtime, as the signs and symptoms are not obvious.
For more information, see our article on Acute v/s Whole-body inflammation
4) What are the signs of Whole-Body Inflammation?
While a doctor and certain medical tests can provide the most accurate assessment of whole-body inflammation, there are some common signs/signals you can look out for.
- Stomach / Abdominal Pain
- Chest pain
- Insomnia / Tiredness / Fatigue
- Sadness / Social Withdrawal
- Loss of libido
- Headache / Fever
- Joint Pain / Muscle Pain
- Sores / Rash
5) How to promote a healthy inflammation response
You won’t be surprised, but maintaining a healthy & balanced lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep) is very important for maintaining a healthy immune system and inflammation response. Many health experts recommend the Mediterranean Diet and encourage minimal alcohol consumption. Managing a healthy level of stress & physical exertion is also important. Here are some of the most common & effective ways to support a healthy inflammation response:
- Low sugar / Low glycemic diet. Reduce high-sugar foods like soda and refined carbs
- Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats
- Increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts. Seek out products high in antioxidants and polyphenols.
- High Fiber intake, especially soluble fibers like psyllium
- Drink Green and Black Tea
- Manage stress through meditation or journaling
- Take a balanced approach to physical exertion
- Follow a consistent and high-quality sleep routine
For more detailed information, check out our article on “Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Inflammation Response” and “Supplements and herbs that can help with inflammation”
Managing a healthy level of stress & physical exertion is also important
6) The most common foods that contribute to whole-body inflammation
Diet is the most important determinant of your body’s inflammation response. Here are the top offenders:
- Added sugars
- Trans Fats
- Red and processed meats
- Omega-6 fatty acid (need a healthy balance in the body)
- Refined Carbs
For more information on these, please see our article on Top 5 Foods that Contribute to Inflammation
7) Foods that can support a healthy inflammation response
The good news is there are also foods that can help support a healthy whole-body inflammation response. There is no set recipe or “perfect” approach, but here are some foods you should try to get more of when you can
- Foods that are high in fiber (fruits, vegetable, wholegrains, nuts/seeds, legumes/beans). It’s especially important to prioritize soluble fibers like Psyllium.
- Foods that are high in antioxidants and polyphenols. Most common examples include berries (wild blueberries, cranberries, blackberries), legumes (pinto beans, small red beans, red kidney beans), apples, artichokes, prunes.
- Foods that are high in Omega-3’s (fatty fish is the most common – mackerel, salmon, herring). Nuts and seeds can also contain high Omega-3 content.
- Wholegrain alternatives (to refined carbs) – quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice
For more detailed information, check out our article on the Top 5 Foods for Promoting a Healthy Inflammation Response
Foods that are high in fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, Omega-3’s and wholegrain alternatives
8) Can Supplements help?
As everyone knows, maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle is not easy. In fact, it’s downright impossible! Supplements can ensure our bodies get the essential nutrients that are required for a healthy inflammation response. They can also provide us with some extra nutrients that are hard to find in a modern western diet. Some of the most common supplements / ingredients that can help to support a healthy inflammation response, include:
- Herbs such as: Ginger, Turmeric (which contains Curcumin), Holy Basil, Rosemary, Oregano
- Fish Oil (Omega-3, DHA, EPA)
- Micronutrients such as Vitamin C, D & E, zinc, selenium and magnesium
- Beta-carotene and other related carotenoids
- Flavonoids, phenols, polyphenols, phytoestrogens
- Lipoic Acid