The term inflammation stems from the Latin word meaning to “set afire”, which is, in a literal sense, what inflammation is. In a lot of cases inflammation leads to heat, redness and swelling in an area of the body. In circumstances like a sprained ankle, the inflammation will be obvious, in conditions where inflammation is affecting the organs like heart disease or Alzheimer’s the inflammation isn’t as obvious. Short term inflammation in most cases is actually a good thing. It is the body’s natural defence to begin the healing process or to fight infection. Long-term, or “chronic,” inflammation is what we consider to be a bad thing and the ways to lower it will be the focus of this piece. The following will give insight into the effects of chronic inflammation on different parts of the body and discuss prevention and treatments methods to reduce inflammation and the diseases associated with it.
Heart disease is the most common and most serious condition associated with chronic inflammation of the arteries around the heart. One common theory of the origin of heart disease is that when plaque and fatty cells begin to build up in the heart’s arterial walls, the body’s natural defence is to send inflammatory chemicals to start fighting the problem. In a way, the body sees the build-up as a potential injury to the heart, unfortunately these chemicals can lead to blood clotting, heart attack or stroke.
Type 2 diabetes and inflammation are also connected. It is unclear whether inflammation directly causes diabetes, or whether the two are just correlated, either way, the connection is very strong. Some experts think obesity triggers the inflammation, which makes it harder for the body to use insulin, causing diabetes. Maintaining a healthy body weight is a good step to reducing both inflammation and your risk of type 2 diabetes.
It is now becoming the accepted belief amongst doctors of the significance inflammation has in causing cognitive diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. In the same regard as diabetes, scientists don’t yet fully understand the absolute cause, but inflammation plays an active role in the onset and development of both diseases. So far, the evidence is mixed as to whether anti-inflammatory medication can curb the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia, leading many to think that the early and ongoing uncontrolled inflammation of the brain is the cause of these two diseases.
Finally, chronic inflammation is tied to inflammatory bowel and gut diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Much like heart disease it happens when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy bacteria in your gut and causes inflammation that sticks around. Symptoms include stomach cramps, abdominal pain and constant diarrhoea.
The quality and types of food in your diet play the biggest roles in determining the amount of inflammation in your body. Modifying your diet and removing inflammatory foods is the fastest and best way to reduce the problems associated with inflammation. Processed foods are the biggest inflammatory food group. Red meat if eaten to excess can also be inflammatory, so it is a good idea to balance red meat intake by including plenty of white fish, poultry and oily fish.
Anti-inflammatory foods includes fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines), and oils, like olive and coconut oil. Full fat yogurts are rich in probiotics are also great to curb inflammation. Spices have been used in Chinese and pyruvic medicine for hundreds of years for their amazing anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger has anti-inflammation properties as does cinnamon, clove, black pepper and turmeric. Turmeric is an especially powerful anti-inflammatory spice as it contains the chemical curcumin, which has been linked to cancer prevention. These spices are safe to enjoy in foods but can also be supplemented to get an even greater effect. In regard to further supplementation, omega-3s are one of the best supplements you can take to reduce inflammation. 3-10 grams of good quality omega 3’s a day is a good starting dose.
Beyond diet, exercise is a good way to reduce inflammation. Exercise is one of the best ways to manage weight, which as discussed is a good way to keep inflammation in check. Resistance training 3 times a week, combined with cardiovascular exercises like walking and getting enough sleep is important to keep inflammation at bay. Research shows that when healthy people are sleep-deprived, they have more inflammation.
In some cases, when inflammation is severe you may need to take NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) Some of these medications are readily available over the counter like ibuprofen and Advil. Others, which are much stronger, may require a prescription. These medications shouldn’t be taken all the time, as constant use is damaging to the stomach lining, which can eventually lead to bleeding and ulcers. If chronic inflammation is a concern for you and a change of diet and exercise aren’t doing the job, it is best to consult your doctor as to the best course of action and treatment method.