Everything You Need to Know About Inflammation

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By: Ariela Schwartz

When you sprain an ankle, stub a toe, or suffer a particularly nasty paper cut, the site of injury becomes red, swollen, and hot. That immune reaction is called inflammation. Once the injury heals — after a few hours, days, or weeks —your skin goes back to normal. This is called acute inflammation.

Now, imagine that same inflammatory reaction happening inside your body —in your intestines, joints, blood vessels, heart muscle, lungs, and other vital organs and soft tissue —long-term. This reaction is an immune response to toxins that have built up in your body, and it is referred to as chronic inflammation.  

Experts agree that inflammation is at the root of almost every weight-gain problem, chronic disease, and cancer. It’s the reason that the majority of the Western world suffers from allergies, asthma, headaches, digestive problems, weight issues, diabetes, and heart disease. Yet, Western medicine continues to focus on treatment of chronic diseases, rather than prevention.

Fortunately, we now know how to reduce inflammation and significantly lower our chances of developing chronic diseases or cancer. The first —and most important —factor is diet. The next is environmental. Lastly, we’ll touch on how exercise plays a role in inflammation, as well.

Where Do Toxins Come From?

We are constantly exposed to things —pollutants, pesticides, UV rays, and certain foods — which cause naturally-occurring toxins, called free radicals, to form in the body. Free radicals are dangerous because they cause damage to healthy cells. A high level of free radicals long-term leads to chronic inflammation, which we now know is bad news. So, how can we reduce the level of free radicals in our bodies?

Inflammatory Foods: Avoid These!

The first way to prevent a buildup of toxic free radicals in your body is to avoid those things which cause them to arise in the first place. Experts agree that the following foods promote inflammation:

●       Refined flour (e.g. white bread, white crackers, and white pasta)

●       Sugar

●       Fried foods

●       Corn and soybean oils

●       Pasteurized dairy products

●       Saturated and trans fats

●       Artificial sweeteners

●       Artificial additives

●       Processed meat

●       Foods which have been charred, blackened, or burned

The less you eat of the foods mentioned above, the lower your chances are of developing arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Eat These!

Once inflammatory foods have been taken away, we are left with what’s called an anti-inflammatory diet. This way of eating focuses on unprocessed foods that are dense in nutrients, including essential vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, probiotics, and of course, antioxidants.

Antioxidants directly fight inflammation, preventing disease and cancer, by removing free radicals from the body and repairing free radical damage.

An anti-inflammatory diet includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, raw dairy products, and whole grains. Always opt for organic when possible.

The following “super-foods” are packed with essential nutrients and anti-inflammatory antioxidants:

●       Dark, leafy green vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, collard greens, beet greens, and mustard greens)

●       Berries

●       Cruciferous vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, and cabbage)

●       Fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)

●       Chia seeds

●       Flax seeds

●       Walnuts

●       Garlic

●       Spices: cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and turmeric

●       Herbs: oregano, rosemary, and sage

●       Green tea

●       Fermented foods (e.g. kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, and miso)

●       Blue-green algae, such as spirulina or chlorella

Studies have shown incredible results in prevention and treatment of various diseases and cancer just by eating the foods mentioned above. You can even take natural turmeric, garlic, or cayenne supplements to boost your superfood intake. Want to know the cherry on top? On an anti-inflammatory diet, you’ll most likely benefit from weight-loss, youthful looking skin, increased energy, better digestion, and improved mood. 

Environmental Toxins: How to Avoid Them

Toxins are everywhere:  in our food, our water, and in the air. Fortunately, our bodies have smart detoxification systems, so we can handle a small amount. The problem occurs when the amount spirals out of control. A high level of toxins in your body build up and cause —all together, now —chronic inflammation.

By staying aware of the toxins around us, we can reduce our exposure through small, but significant, changes. Be aware of the following environmental toxins:

●       Chemical pesticides. It’s pretty ludicrous to consider that we spray our food with chemicals designed to kill living beings. If you buy non-organic produce, wash it very well with natural soap and water before eating it. The most important foods to buy organic, or the “dirty dozen” are strawberries, apples, pears, nectarines, peaches, celery, grapes, cherries, spinach, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, and potatoes.

●       PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). While this industrial chemical has been banned in many countries, it is still present in the environment. Best way to avoid it? Don’t eat farm-raised salmon, which are fed ground-up fish that have absorbed PCBs.

●       Household cleaning products. How can we spray, wash, and clean our house with nasty chemicals that we then breathe in all day and night, and not expect it to affect our health? Choose eco-friendly, natural cleaning products instead.

●       Cosmetics and body products. When it comes to products that are directly applied to the skin, don’t take chances. While they may be more expensive, it’s worth paying for all-natural beauty products. Many knock-off and no-name-brand makeup that comes from China (we’re looking at you, AliExpress addicts) have tested positive for lead and other dangerous heavy metals. Buy from trusted sources only!

●       Plastic. Plastic is a well-known carcinogen — meaning, it causes cancer. Get rid of flimsy plastic drinking bottles, which can infuse your water with nasty chemicals.

●       Mold. Exposure to mold and other fungal toxins has been linked to a range of health conditions including asthma, heart disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and diabetes. If you haven’t before, have your home inspected for mold. When buying a new home, certainly inspect it before laying out that down payment. Follow storage instructions on food packages to avoid eating things that contain mold.

●       Heavy metals. Metals like arsenic, mercury, lead, aluminum, and cadmium can settle in soft tissue of the body. Accumulation of heavy metals has been directly linked to many health problems including neurological disorders, cancer, fatigue, and decreased production of red and white blood cell. Main sources include contaminated water, fish, deodorant, construction sites, and dental amalgams.

Exercise to Reduce Inflammation

It may sound counterintuitive, but the more active you are, the less chronic inflammation you will have. Studies show that people who exercise for 20 minutes a day lower their inflammation by up to 12 percent.

It likely has to do with the release of a protein molecule called cytokine during exercise.

It’s important to note that regular, moderate exercise reduces chronic inflammation, while vigorous, acute exercise causes acute inflammation.

Takeaway

Here’s the bottom line. Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of countless health issues. To prevent chronic inflammation:

●       Avoid processed, refined, and artificial foods

●       Eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts, fish, whole grains, raw dairy products, and fermented foods

●       Focus on eating anti-inflammatory superfoods, especially leafy greens 

●       Avoid environmental toxins as much as possible

●       Exercise regularly

If you suffer from a chronic disease, you may be surprised by just how much an anti-inflammatory lifestyle can help. If you’re healthy, keep it that way, and start making small changes today toward an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

 
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Ariela Schwartz

is a professional health and nutrition writer and a licensed medical massage therapist. She is also a mother to an adorable toddler. A self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, Ariela spends her spare time creating and experimenting in the kitchen with healthy foods. If you have any questions about the article, feel free to email her at arieladschwartz@gmail.com, and follow her on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ariela_schwartz/.

Rochel Lazar