These simple changes may reduce low-grade inflammation.
At its heart, inflammation is our body’s innate crusader, springing into action at the first sign of injury or infection.
Picture it as a well-oiled machine, deploying an army of cells and messengers to heal and protect. Yet when this balance tips, our
The persistent and often silent nature of chronic inflammation can contribute to a wide range of health challenges, often with long-term implications, including a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease, myriad cancers, type 2 diabetes, joint conditions, Alzheimer’s disease and inflammatory bowel diseases, to name a few.
The good news is, inflammation that goes beyond the bounds of helpful is very much influenced by diet and lifestyle. Let that empower you.
How does your diet impact inflammation?
The common modern diet, often laden with processed foods, excessive sugar, poor quality fats and artificial additives, is like fuel to the fire of inflammation, as they can trigger a cascade of inflammatory responses including stimulating the release of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines.
Eating in a way that focuses on food (whole real food) and minimises junk (most processed foods) can be a fantastic step towards lowering inflammation in the body. Think of it as eating in a species-specific way.
There are also a number of foods that have potent anti-inflammatory properties and increasing our consumption of these can help too. These include turmeric, ginger, flaxseeds, and oily fish, due to their long-chain omega-3 fatty acid content, as well as grass-fed meats.
Some may benefit from supplementing with curcumin (the main active constituent in turmeric) or a high-quality fish oil to help with lowering inflammation, however, this is best discussed with your qualified healthcare practitioner first to determine if it is suitable for you. For most people, it is.
Not only does eating predominantly whole real foods go a long way to ensuring we are getting as much nourishment from what we put in our mouth as possible, but it also plays a powerful role in the composition of our gut microbiome.
Emerging research suggests that a problematic gut microbiome — disrupted by factors like antibiotics, the constant relentless production of stress hormones and poor diet — can trigger chronic low-grade inflammation while some types of gut bacteria can decrease inflammation.
Consuming a diverse range of vegetables as well as fibre-rich foods and fermented foods can nurture a healthy gut ecosystem and foster a more harmonious relationship with our immune system. Variety is key — think different types of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, herbs and spices along with fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh and kefir.
How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Ensure you chew your food well, eat slowly in a calm undistracted state.
What’s your liver got to do with it?
Another benefit of minimising ultra-processed and/or poor-quality foods is that we reduce the task list for our liver.
The liver is responsible for detoxifying (altering the structure of) problematic substances inside us so that they can be eliminated.
When the liver isn’t able to do this critical detoxification work efficiently, which might be due to factors like damage from long-term alcohol consumption, pollutants or viruses, inflammation increases.
Reducing our exposure to what I like to call “liver loaders” — alcohol, refined sugars and synthetic substances that are often found in ultra-processed foods and drinks, conventional cosmetics and household cleaning products — makes an enormous difference.
Will reducing stress reduce inflammation?
Our lifestyle is so much more than what we put or don’t put on our plate.
Stress plays a significant role in chronic inflammation. When adrenaline (one of our stress hormones) is consistently elevated day after day, it can trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals that can act unfavourably on all sorts of things, including the lining of our blood vessels.
This is a key reason why stress has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders. Incorporating stress-management techniques like meditation, yoga or slow breathing exercises can effectively help to curb stress-induced inflammation — research shows this over and over again.
Often, we need to also explore our perceptions of pressure and urgency, as the way we think and feel plays a significant role in whether our body perceives aspects of our life as a source of stress or not.
Why it’s important to exercise
It’s important to remember, too, that our bodies are not designed for the sedentary lifestyle many now lead. We are made to move, and to move with regularity throughout the day.
A mostly inactive lifestyle can exacerbate inflammation. Some physical activity acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. It enhances blood flow, stimulates the release of endorphins and reduces the production of inflammatory markers. Engaging in regular movement and exercise can have a profound impact on reducing systemic inflammation and promoting overall wellbeing.
There is also a growing body of emerging evidence supporting the use of cold water immersion therapy or ice baths for a variety of health conditions — including reducing inflammation. This practice involves immersing the body in cold water or alternating between warm and cold water, for short periods of time, usually between five and 20 minutes. This is something you can do in the ocean (when the weather is cold enough), your shower or at a local recovery centre or bathing house.
Other environmental factors
Beyond lifestyle choices, environmental factors also contribute to inflammation.
Air pollution, for instance, is often invisible yet can initiate an inflammatory response in the airways or lungs.
Exposure to problematic levels of substances such as heavy metals, pesticides and industrial chemicals, can trigger chronic inflammation and damage cellular structures.
Minimising exposure to these harmful substances through what we consume, apply to our skin and use in our household can help reduce the burden of inflammation on our body as well as in the environment.
Do what you can and then see if you can stretch a little further.
Dr Libby Weaver PhD is a nutritional biochemist, 13 times best-selling author and international keynote speaker. Her Detox by Dr Libby course, starting February 5, is a 28-day programme designed to help you decrease your total body burden. Drlibby.com
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