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Many people live with and suffer from inflammation every day. Inflammation is a direct attack on the body by the immune system.
Inflammation is sometimes visible, but not always. You might notice inflammation in the form of red and swollen skin after a bug bite or a cut.
However, you cannot necessarily see joint pain in your hands or back after a hard physical day at work.
Inflammation itself is not a bad thing. It is actually a sign your body is functioning properly! Chronic or ongoing inflammation, on the other hand, is a sign something might not be right.
There are many anti-inflammatory medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including Ibuprofen, that many people use daily to alleviate pain.
However, nature also produces its own anti-inflammatory substances in food that you can easily incorporate into your diet.
What Is Inflammation?
In a nutshell, inflammation is a response to a perceived threat in the body. It happens when immune cells produce inflammatory mediators (much like messengers) that can dilate blood vessels, allowing blood to better reach areas of injury.
Blood can quickly carry immune cells to injured parts of your body and initiate the healing process. Areas of inflammation can often be swollen and hot, due to the blood flow and fluid buildup from the immune cells. (1)
The feeling of inflammation certainly is not pleasant but rather uncomfortable. Picture your stuffy nose during a cold. A stuffy nose is a result of inflamed mucous membranes that produce extra fluid in order to expel the virus.
Symptoms of Inflammation
Are you experiencing inflammation? If you have lived with chronic inflammation for a while, it may be hard to tell. In addition, some symptoms of inflammation are silent and you may never notice.
The common symptoms associated with chronic inflammation include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Mood changes
- Acid reflux
- Weight gain
Symptoms that are indicative of acute inflammation include:
- Heat to touch
- Loss of function of certain parts of the body
The symptoms of inflammation often overlap with other medical conditions and can be indicative of an underlying issue. It is best to speak with your doctor about your unique set of symptoms and medical history.
How Is Inflammation Harmful?
Acute inflammation is a necessary bodily response to injury. However, when lower-grade inflammation becomes a chronic issue over extended periods (days, months, or years), it can place you at an increased risk of disease.
In fact, the World Health Organization states that chronic diseases are one of the greatest risks to human health. Worldwide, 3 out of every 5 people will die due to a chronic inflammatory disease such a stroke, heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. (2)
Over time, changes in the body that were once meant to only last a short period continue to progress.
Blood vessels stay dilated and capillaries remain permeable, allowing white blood cells to pass through. This time, white blood cells are replaced by other types of infection-fighting cells.
These cells that normally help the body now start to promote damage to bodily tissues.
There are several risk factors for developing chronic inflammation:
- Age: Many things change in your body as you grow older. The older you are, the more natural exposure to free radicals you have, among many other factors.
- Weight: Studies have found that fat tissue itself produces inflammatory mediators. (3)
- Stress: It may be hard to believe, but emotions directly impact the body. In fact, stress has been associated with the release of pro-inflammatory substances.
- Sleep: Research shows that those who have irregular sleep patterns are more likely to suffer from chronic inflammation than those who sleep consistently. (4)
- Smoking habits: Smoking has been associated with reduced production of anti-inflammatory substances.
- Diet: Poor diet is a major risk factor for chronic inflammation. Food choices can largely impact many processes in the body, including the way your body responds to outside threats and impacts your overall health and well-being.
The Diet-Inflammation Connection
Diets that are high in inflammatory foods can increase your risk of chronic inflammation. Yes, there are inflammatory foods!
In fact, diets high in saturated fat, trans fats, and refined sugar have been linked to a higher production of pro-inflammatory molecules, particularly in those who are already overweight or currently suffer from diabetes. (5)
You should limit your intake of inflammatory foods including:
- Refined carbohydrates such as donuts, cookies, muffins, and white bread
- Fried foods such as breaded meats and vegetables as well as fries
- Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sweet tea, and energy drinks
- Processed meats including hot dogs, sausage, and beef jerky
- Red meat including steak and hamburger meat
- Processed fats including shortening, margarine, and lard
Alternatively, inflammation-fighting foods should be added to your diet as much as possible. Studies have found that certain fruits and vegetables are naturally high in antioxidants and polyphenols that protect the body. (6)
Even nuts have been associated with reduced inflammation markers and reduced risks of inflammatory-based diseases.
When searching for anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, aim for the ones that are colored blue, purple, and red. These are highest in certain flavonoids that support a reduction in inflammation.
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens
- Vegetables such as purple sweet potatoes, red cabbage, purple corn, tomatoes, and rice
- Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, acai berries, cranberries, raspberries, red grapes, cherries, and oranges
- Nuts including almonds and walnuts
- Fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Olive oil
What you choose to eat can change the outcome of your health. Focusing on a diet that consists mainly of whole foods and reducing your intake of processed foods are easy ways to promote a normal and healthy inflammatory response.
Preparing meals in advance and skipping the takeout are good places to start. You can also replace your red meat with options such as turkey, chicken, or tofu.
Also, aim for 5 servings of vegetables per day and at least 2 servings of colorful fruit.
Anti-inflammatory Berry Salad Recipe
Prep time: 15 minutes Serves: 2
You will need:
- 6 cups spinach
- 2 cups arugula
- 1 cup strawberries, thinly sliced
- ½ cup kiwi, cut into quartered slices
- ½ cup raspberries
- ½ cup blueberries
- ¼ purple onion, thinly sliced and separated
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped
- ½ cup crumbled feta
For the lemon vinaigrette:
- 5 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil
- 3 tablespoons squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar.
- While whisking, add lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large salad bowl, combine all salad ingredients and gently toss together.
- Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.
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