Reduce Inflammation

Recently, some diets that claim to cure inflammation have become popular. Honestly, there’s no real way to end inflammation, and you wouldn’t want to totally end it even if you could. However, if you understand what inflammation is and why it occurs, you can make healthier decisions to reduce inflammation.

What is Inflammation?

If you’ve ever cut your finger, you may have noticed the area around the cut becomes red and slightly swollen. You may have also noticed a throbbing sensation in the finger or even found it more difficult to use. These are all signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a part of the immune system’s natural response to potentially harmful stimuli.

Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation

reduce inflammation

Thanks to Natural Living Ideas for the image.

Illness, injury, infection, and stress can all signal the immune system that it’s time to fight. In cases of injury or illness, inflammation is a good thing. This type of inflammation is considered “acute.”

It starts quickly and become severe in a short amount of time. Your body releases hormones and other substances that help it to heal and fight off any foreign invaders. Once this job is done, the immune system goes back to its resting state, and inflammation goes away.

Unfortunately, inflammation doesn’t only occur in times of illness and injury. It also kicks in when the body experiences stress or may even occur in response to the body’s own healthy cells. This type of inflammation is not quite as noticeable as the red throbbing finger.

It is a lower level inflammation that can occur throughout the body, and it may last for months or years. This “chronic” inflammation means your body is on high alert all the time. Rather than healing, it can actually end up damaging your body which can lead to disease.

Research shows that chronic, uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease. These diseases include:

  • Heart disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Autoimmune disorders

How to Reduce Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation occurs in response to signals of distress from the body. This distress is often a result of our modern lifestyle. Some things that can cause or contribute to chronic inflammation are:

  • Poor diet
  • Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Obesity
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Chronic stress

Diet and Inflammation

Despite what some celebrities or diet books may claim, there is no diet cure-all for inflammation. There are, however, some foods that have been shown to contribute to inflammation and some foods that help reduce the risk of inflammation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the typical American diet is loaded with foods that may increase inflammation. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugar as well as red meats, processed meats, and trans fats have all been shown to aggravate inflammation in the body.

To help reduce the risk of inflammation, the best evidence points to a Mediterranean style diet. This diet is rich in healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, and fish; low in sugar; and full of colorful fruits and vegetables.

There may also be certain foods that affect some individuals more than others. For example, those who are lactose or gluten intolerant will experience greater inflammation in response to those foods than people who do not have those sensitivities. Talk to your doctor for more guidance on this topic.

The Take-Away

There is no miracle cure for eliminating chronic inflammation, but you can take steps to help reduce the stress that may be contributing to it. Take a look at your current lifestyle and compare it to the list above.

  • Are you getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night?
  • Do you smoke or drink?
  • How are you managing stress?
  • What is your diet like?

Don’t try to change everything all at once. Instead, find some small, manageable steps you can take one at a time. And be sure to talk to your doctor about the changes you are making and any concerns you may have.

Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email woodsarah@missouri.edu.

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About Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master's Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

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