For most people, the word “inflammation” brings to mind pain, swelling, heat and redness, and the automatic reaction, quite understandably, is to gobble down anti-inflammatory medication posthaste. By doing so, however, we are mistaking the inflammation as the problem when in fact it is the body’s response to the problem, and by taking medication we are getting in the way of our body’s valiant efforts in bringing itself back to a state of health!
Inflammation can be caused by three main factors: infection (eg: bacterial, fungal, viral); trauma (from a major accident to eg: a small cut to your finger); toxins (either ingested or accumulated). When any of these things happen, the cells are damaged, and the body’s own emergency services (part of the immune system) rush in to save the day and thus the process of inflammation is initiated. This is an n-pronged attack: undesirables are trapped and killed, any casualties are escorted off the scene (now defunct invaders and any dead tissue) and a repair programme is initiated (healing and building new tissue so that you will be as good as new again). All very clever stuff.
If inflammation is not resolved, and perhaps irritants are not removed, further tissue damage can result and inflammation does then indeed become the problem, and a chronic ongoing one at that.
Most of us associate inflammation with accidents. You trip over your own trouser leg on the High Street, hit the pavement with a thump and end up with a painful inflamed knee (yes I’ve done that!!). Few of us realise though that we can be feeding inflammation on a daily basis by our choices of diet and lifestyle, and that inflammation contributes largely to most health conditions. The suffix “itis” indicates inflammation – as in arthritis, colitis etc -but inflammation is also at the root of allergies and skin conditions (such as eczema and psoriasis), as well as the major illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and auto-immune illnesses etc.
Accidents and infections aside, let’s have a look at inflammation caused by toxic overload. This is after all something which we are feeding on a daily basis and over which we have a certain level of control.
Most people’s diets are acidic and dehydrating, rich in pro-inflammatory agents, sugars, refined and processed foods, damaged fats, excessive alcohol, and with very little, if any, anti-inflammatory nutrients going in to counterbalance this. Result: they stoke the fires of inflammation with each meal.
Damaged fats (think margarine or other processed fats/oils) are a big no-no if you want to keep chronic inflammation at bay, but you also need to be mindful of your Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) intake. The 2 EFAs – known as Omega 3 and Omega 6, are responsible for two very important processes in the body: the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory “responses”. They partake in a necessary dance when say we injure ourselves. Inflammation is then appropriate (Omega 6 kicks in) but we need to keep it in check (Hello Omega 3). Our ancestors’ diets had a sensible ratio of Omega 3:Omega 6 – around 1:1 – but now it can be seriously out of whack by about 20 – 30 times!! Result: an environment which promotes inflammation.
Dehydration (insufficient water being drunk and use of diuretics such as coffee, tea, soda and alcohol which suck us dry) means our poor old cells cannot cleanse too well, and we end up with a build-up of toxins in our cells and tissue. Just think of a fire. What do you use to put it out? Water. Yay! Cells also accumulate toxins when we have sedentary lifestyles, don’t get enough sleep and live stressful crazy lives. Ta-daaa: more inflammation.
Poor eating habits over the years can put a strain on our digestive system, and we can end up with an irritated gut, a colony of bad bacteria (giving off their own toxins) and an array of digestive problems, ranging from minor to major, all of which are neon lights warning us that our digestion is under stress and experiencing inflammation. Food intolerances and allergies all invoke some sort of immune response and thus add to our internal inflammatory bonfire too …………. Boy it’s getting hot in here.
Carrying too much weight isn’t good either. Fat cells, especially around the abdomen, produce large amounts of inflammatory chemicals.
Toxicity in our water, air and food, household cleaners and toiletries all end up overloading our cells and joining the inflammation party too. As for microwaves. Evil. They denature nutrients in our food and our immune system goes bananas when we eat it – yes you’ve guessed it – bring on the inflammation parade once again!
So here are a few thoughts on keeping chronic inflammation at bay.
Warning: this can seem very overwhelming. If it does, I would strongly recommend you consulting a nutritionist (like myself!), who can guide you step-by-step to making small changes at a time.
- Give your digestion some TLC. Eat a healthy diet (see below), chew well and don’t overeat.
- Eat organic (less toxins)
- Drink water and, if budget allows, invest in a filter.
- Cut down on the diuretics – tea, coffee, sodas
- Eat an alkalising diet
- Up your fruit and veg BIG TIME (nicely alkaline and, if you use organic, rich in anti-oxidants and other pro-inflammatory nutrients).
- Include some herbs and spices, many of which are anti-inflammatory – such as ginger and turmeric.
- Avoid or, at the very least, cut down on very acidic foods (processed, sugar, refined carbs, dairy, red meat)
- Avoid damaged fats (the only fats suitable for heating are coconut oil, butter, ghee, animal fats and palm oil – the latter from sustainable sources only please (think Orang Utans). Heating vegetable oils damages them.)
- Include some Omega 3 fats. Oily fish, linseed, hemp seeds and chia seeds are good sources, but a supplement is often a good insurance policy.
- Look at your weight. Could you do with losing a few pounds, especially around the middle?
- Identify food intolerances. By removing certain foods, you can take some of the heat off your immune system.
- Do less sitting on your bottom. Exercise every day.
- Ditch the stress.
- Minimise alcohol. Ditch the ciggies.
- Look closely at your household cleaners, toiletries, beauty products. Think green and natural. Read the labels.
- Ditch the microwave out of the house as far away as possible.
- Avoid, or minimise frying. Frying anything can cause inflammation.
- Avoid the BBQ – another inflammation-inducing fest
- Consider supplements such as good quality probiotics, antioxidants and Omega 3 (such as linseed / fish oils)
Remember, inflammation is at the root of most disease.
Ask yourself, do you wish to feed disease or vibrant good health?
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