Inflammation can be a major cause of pain and discomfort and is often linked to chronic diseases. This condition is prevalent within the population and can be caused by a variety of lifestyle factors, as well as autoimmune diseases and other health issues.
There are several ways to reduce the risk of inflammation, which also generally help to treat and manage its symptoms. In this article we will look at why inflammation occurs, how you can reduce the risks of suffering from it, and how to best treat the condition.
What Is Inflammation?
The first thing you need to know about inflammation is that is not inherently a bad thing. Inflammation is in essence a natural process which are bodies go through in order to protect us from harm.
Inflammation is activated through a physiological process which releases the natural chemicals bradykinin and histamine from the cells in our bodies which are part of our immune system.The process increases blood flow to the target area, increasing the immune defence cells in the area.
If you get a splinter in your hand, you body’s natural inflammation processes are activated to eject the foreign body and protect you. Inflammation acts in similar ways when shielding you from toxins in your environment, or fighting off a cold or virus.
However, the increase in blood flow and the release of these chemicals can also have a negative effect. It can lead to redness and warmth, which is, in itself, not necessarily a problem. However the chemicals released in the process can sometimes diffuse into nearby tissues, causing swelling, and even agitating nerves in the area, leading to pain.
Issues occur when inflammation “overstays its welcome”: that is when it has responded to an injury, illness or irritation but does not subside afterwards. Sometimes inflammatory responses can be disproportionate to the initial problem: meaning a large, unnecessary level of inflammation.
Major Causes of Inflammation
Disproportionate inflammation or inflammation which outlives the initial problem can be caused by a few different factors. Autoimmune conditions can lead to over-active inflammation processes, as can allergies. Some forms of arthritis can lead to inflammation. Being overweight or obese has also been shown by scientific studies to cause inflammation due to an over-active immune response.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise (or a lack of it) can also contribute to problems with inflammation, particularly inflammation in the joints due to excessive or improper exercise. Inflammation has also been linked to chronic diseases such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and some types of cancer.
How To Treat Inflammation
Various dietary modifications have been found to reduce inflammation, with components in certain foods demonstrating anti-inflammatory effects. Cutting out meat and animal products has been linked to lowering inflammation. Researchers say this could be due to the fact that vegan eating habits improves the gut microbiome.
However, adopting a fully vegan diet may not be the only way to reduce inflammation.A Mediterranean diet has had demonstrated positive effects on inflammation, as well as general improvements to health and wellbeing. A Mediterranean diet includes eating high levels of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes and olive oil. As an added advantage, many of these foods are also top brain boosters.
In terms of foods to avoid, those which top the list as causing inflammation are: refined carbohydrates (white breads and baked goods), fried foods, sugary drinks, processed fats (margarine, shortening and lard), and red and processed meat. If nothing else, cutting these foods from your diet or at least drastically reducing your intake will help to manage inflammation issues.
As already mentioned, not enough exercise can be one of the causes of inflammation. Not getting enough exercise is one of the main contributing factors to chronic disease, which in turn causes inflammation. Introducing physical exercise on the other hand has been shown to be more effective at reducing inflammation than drugs, and may even be a greater factor in reducing inflammation than dietary changes. Not to mention that exercise does wonders for your overall health and life expectancy, and improves your emotional wellbeing.
Experts recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 3 times a week. Moderate exercise means things like jogging, going for a brisk walk or swimming. If you struggle to get to the gym or go for a run, find some form of exercise which is fun and will make you actually look forward to exercising: try a dance class, go for a walk along the beach, or take a more vigorous form of yoga such as a Vinyasa style. You can also integrate more physical activity into your daily routine to get “sneaky” exercise, such as taking the stairs whenever possible, and parking a few blocks away or getting off the bus one stop early so that you have to walk.
In the same way that dietary factors can reduce inflammation, dietary supplements can also have great benefits when it comes to inflammation, as well as preventing chronic disease. Although it can be possible to get all necessary nutrients from a balanced diet, our modern lifestyles, exposure to environmental toxins and the depleted soils growing our food combine to make it extremely difficult for us to get everything our bodies need from our diets alone. This is where supplements come in.
Some of the key supplements which you should consider to reduce inflammation and improve general health include:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: these acids have been shown to have a positive effect on many disease states, including inflammatory processes. Omega-3s have also been linked to a variety of other health benefits including controlling headaches and improving mood, and the latter has been argued to be a cause of inflammation.
- Vitamin D: one of the main causes of unnecessary inflammation is autoimmune diseases. In turn, Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the damage caused by some autoimmune conditions such as lupus. Taking Vitamin D supplements is believed to have many health benefits including reducing risk of diabetes and limiting the symptoms of cardiovascular disease and even some cancers.
- Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs): amino acids are essential to maintaining critical body functions including tissue growth and repair, energy levels, mood and cognition. BCAA research shows that the human body can only produce 11 of the 20 essential amino acids we need, and of these remaining 9, 3 are BCAAs. Including protein in the diet will help to ensure we get some of the amino acids we need, but it is often necessary to supplement by taking BCAAs.