What is inflammation?
Inflammation is our body’s normal immune reaction to protect ourselves from many harmful stimuli to which we are exposed. For example, when we get a wound, some degree of inflammation is needed to protect the open wound and to help it to recover. When we get an infection, our immune system sends antibodies to the area in order to fight away the harmful viruses or bacteria – leading to noticeable inflammation.
However, in the case of chronic inflammation, excess pain and swelling are signs that something is not right and our body is being stressed in some way. Reducing this type of inflammation can help us reduce our risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease and also enhance our physical performance and reduce the risk of injury – particularly important for athletes. There are several steps you can take to reduce the chronic inflammation in your body:
Step 1) Maintain a healthy body weight: As we grow in girth, keep in mind that the size of our skeleton stays constant. Imagine lugging around an extra 20 pound backpack every day. Eventually, our backs and other joints would start to ache from the excess pressure. While the thought of dropping 20 pounds can seem overwhelming, keep in mind that small changes make a big difference. Set small goals for yourself using tips 2-4.
Step 2) Be physically active: With regards to exercise and inflammation, there seems to be a U- shaped relationship. When people exercise in moderate amounts, markers of inflammation decrease. However when people do not exercise or over-exercise, like those who exercise for hours each day and/or people who overwork the same body parts each day, inflammation may ensue. The good news is that most of the foods mentioned in steps 3 and 4 can to help decrease inflammation. In addition, changing up your exercise routine to include a variety of impact, cardio, weight lifting and active strength and recovery exercises like pilates, tai chi and yoga can help keep your metabolism up and inflammation at bay.
Step 3) Follow a Mediterranean dietary pattern: Several studies have examined the effects of different dietary patterns on long term health. Overwhelmingly, a Mediterranean diet seems to be the most effective in preventing chronic diseases. So what exactly is a Mediterranean diet, and how do you follow it? This link has a great image of the Mediterranean pyramid:
-Taking time to enjoy meals and be physically active
- Plant based foods as the base of the pyramid such as:
1) Anti inflammatory herbs and spices for flavor:
2) Red/blue/purple fruits and vegetables like:
- Red grapes
- Red cabbage
3) Green/Orange /red and yellow fruits and vegetables like:
4) Whole grains like:
- Whole grain cous cous
5) Plant sources of protein:
- Nuts and seeds
*Note: Some anecdotal research shows that people with inflammatory disorders may have sensitivity to night shade vegetables including eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes. If sensitivity is suspected, avoid these foods and see if symptoms improve
-Fish and seafood 2x/week
-Poultry, eggs and plain yogurt 1-2 servings total daily
-Meats and sweets sparingly
Step 4) Consider anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals, herbs and spices:
Many of the herbs and spices utilized in a Mediterranean diet are considered anti-inflammatory and have a similar effect as common NSAIDs like Advil, or ibuprofen. They are effective for reducing joint, muscle pains and overall inflammatory markers in the body:
- Green tea: has anti-inflammatory catechins that are beneficial for warding off chronic diseases and minimizing joint pain. Try mixing ½ tsp matcha green tea in cold water with lemon for a refreshing summer treat
- Fish: omega 3s found in fish block the formation of prostaglandins, the molecules that cause inflammation. Try wild salmon, sardines (pacific), rainbow trout, shrimp (Oregon, Canada, spot) and mussels
- Gama linolenic acid (GLA): GLA is an omega 6 found in plants like black currant seed oil, borage seed oil and evening primrose oil researched to effectively reduce signs of inflammation
- Epsom salt soaks: Epsom salt is high in magnesium, a natural muscle relaxant. You actually absorb the magnesium through your skin
- Arnica gel rub: a homeopathic topical rub to decrease inflammation
- Boswellia: an herb helpful with decreasing inflammation in the body
In addition, other herbs/spices like ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper are also powerful anti-inflammatories. They also directly block prostaglandin synthesis, a molecule that causes pain and inflammation, in the body.
See my next blog for food suggestions and DIY recipes for reducing inflammation in the body.