Clearing up confusion behind the causes, symptoms, and treatments.
The term inflammation has become somewhat of a buzzword in the world of holistic health, and for good reason. However, a lot of confusion exists around what inflammation actually is, how it is caused, and how to treat it. Many chronic diseases are partially, if not fully, rooted in chronic, systemic inflammation. It is of utmost importance to act proactively, and not reactively, to inflammation—work to prevent it instead of just addressing the symptoms.
Inflammation is a natural healing process that is necessary to defend and protect the body from infection and disease. What is not natural is when inflammation becomes generalized and chronic, rather than acute.
Typical signs of normal and necessary acute inflammation include redness, pain, heat and swelling, and would occur with a broken bone, infection or wound. Chronic inflammation, however, is usually internal and unseen. It is the type that disturbs the body’s biochemical pathways and can cause the immune system to attack healthy cells. This could result in conditions such as metabolic disorders like diabetes, fatty liver disease; neurological diseases like ADHD, depression and Alzheimer’s; and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s, rheumatoid arthritis and more.
Toxicity can enter the body in many forms. It can be in the form of processed, nutrient-void foods, the overuse of drugs and antibiotics, food sensitivities and allergies. It can also come from external forces such as molds in the environment and general environmental pollution. Some of these factors are largely out of our control, so it is important to focus on the factors that we can change, like the foods and drinks we consume.
Most health experts now agree and studies have shown that a diet high in refined sugar and chemical sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) can cause obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance.
Causing similar problems as a diet high in sugar, a diet high in refined carbs has also been proven to greatly contribute to obesity and inflammation. Foods such as white bread, pastas, and commercially-made baked goods top the list. This is especially true if a diet also lacks key minerals and vitamins from organic and seasonal vegetables.
A rancid oil is one that has been oxidized, which occurs when a delicate oil is exposed to light and heat. Its chemical makeup is then altered, creating dangerous free radicals. Oils most prone to oxidation (and ones that are usually rancid even before hitting the shelves at your grocery store) are vegetable oils such as canola, soy, corn and grapeseed. Studies have shown that these types of oils are also likely to throw off our omega levels.
Processed and packaged foods often contain inflammatory ingredients such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and rancid oils. Ones that are even more highly inflammatory are those that contain trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats), so make sure to always read ingredient lists.
Plain and simple, drinking too much is very inflammatory and can cause a host of problems. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with higher CRP (C-reactive protein) markers, which signal inflammation in the body.
Lack of physical activity and a lifestyle that is mainly sedentary has been shown to contribute to inflammatory conditions such as obesity and insulin resistance. Sitting is the new smoking.
Research has shown that lack of quality sleep is directly related to increased inflammation. As a health coach, I work with my clients to help them develop healthy sleep hygiene.
While treating inflammation with medications, supplements, and/or herbs is necessary in some cases, a whole foods way of eating is first and foremost. Food is a powerful medicine and is one of the best ways that we can improve chronic inflammation, as it affects all bodily aspects: our metabolism, hormones, mitochondria and gene expression.
As a health coach, I guide clients to living a proactive and preventive lifestyle—one where they can heal themselves before reaching out to drugs, which often times can cause further inflammation.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that give vegetables and fruits their bright colors, and they have been shown to decrease inflammation in the body. These compounds can help to prevent free radical damage, molecules linked to skin cancer.
Ideally we will consume one gram of polyphenols per day to protect us from systemic inflammation. Bioflavanoids are also potent antioxidants that prevent and treat inflammation, as well as vitamin C-rich foods like red peppers, kale, broccoli and oranges.
What to eat today: Berries (particularly blueberries) are an excellent source of polyphenols, as well as high-quality, single origin, medium roasted coffee. I recommend Bulletproof coffee.
Hydrogenated fats, or anything with an ingredient that says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, will cause inflammation. Avoiding rancid oils such as canola, soy, corn and grapeseed is important. Instead, focus on healthy fats such as avocado, coconut oil, wild caught salmon, grass fed butter and ghee.
What to eat today: Grass-fed butter, as the medium chain fat in butter, butyrate, is anti-inflammatory.
Glutathione can be thought of as a master antioxidant produced in the liver, although it decreases with age.
What to eat today: Eating a diet rich in glutathione-supporting foods can greatly help control inflammation. Try incorporating broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, spinach and parsley into your diet. All these are high in powerful antioxidants that switch on detoxification pathways.
Spices such as turmeric and ginger root have been used medicinally for centuries in India, and are known for their potent healing uses in Aryuveda. They can be easily incorporated into your diet to prevent inflammation. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric (which can be bought pre-ground as a spice or in the whole, root form), and has also been found to reduce pain, particularly for those suffering from arthritis.
What to eat today: Try a ginger juice shot with turmeric, sweetened with stevia or raw honey. Take it to the next level with additional anti-inflammatory spices, like clove or cinnamon.
In some cases, herbs like boswellia inhibit pro-inflammatory pathways, therefore reducing pain and soreness. Boswellia can also be taken in extract form.