Puffy, bloated, swollen. Sound attractive? Sounds like inflammation.
On the most basic level, inflammation is the way in which the body reacts to a disturbance, be it infection, irritation or other injury. More specifically, however, the inflammatory response – which in addition to swelling can also include redness, warmth and pain – occurs when blood, antibodies and other immune system components rush to the scene of the crime to attempt to repair the damage.
In most areas of the body, the pain associated with inflammation informs you of the damage, the swelling limits injury site mobility and prevents further irritation and the increased heat, redness and occasional itching are all signs that the immune system is doing its job! However, if this inflammation goes undetected – or is ignored – it can build up in the body, causing damage to other surrounding tissues and organs. In cases where inflammation is not adequately controlled, symptoms of chronic inflammation can occur, manifesting as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, hair loss and dozens of other ailments and conditions.
Lucky for us, small tweaks to our diet and lifestyle can help dramatically reduce inflammation. Here are 10 all-natural tips that can help us sidestep the inflammation landmine:
1. Color me happy
Chalk another one up for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables! Although many varieties have anti-inflammatory properties, green leafy vegetables, green and vibrantly-hued vegetables, and berries deliver the heftiest doses of inflammation-busting phytochemicals and antioxidants. However, watch out for vegetables from the nightshade family of plants – which include potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants – which have a chemical alkaloid called solanine that may trigger pain in some people and thus synthesize the symptoms of inflammation.
2. Hey, Fatty (acids)
For years, dieting gurus recommended cutting out fat from the diet. The upshot? People got bigger and also got sicker. The reasoning? Turns out fatty acids – and particularly Omega-3 essential fatty acids – contain powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Up your acid ante by adding cold water oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut) or nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, ground flaxseed, grapeseed and pumpkin and sesame seeds. Still not convinced you can add these in? Try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (the best omega 3 supplements in our humble opinion) – just look for brands that contain wild fish oil and low levels of mercury (a real bonus for pregnant women looking to avoid mercury!)
3. Spice up your life
Think herbs and spices are only good for adding a little flavor to your food. Turns out many of them also contain high levels of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds that can reduce inflammation and dull pain. One spice frequently touted for its anti-inflammatory properties is capsaicin, which is a naturally occuring ingredient in chilli peppers, as well as rosemary, which has rosmarinic acid and ginger which has vanillin and zingerone. Other good sources include basil, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, hyssop, oregano, pepper, sage, and thyme as well as goji, graviola, green tea extract, spirulina and willowbark, which contains salicylic acid, one of the active ingredients in aspirin.
4. Sugar free
Bread, pastry, pasta…really, just sugar in general. In addition to helping pack on the pounds, simple carbohydrates also rev up inflammation by causing surges in blood sugar that promote a chemical reaction in cells called glycosylation, or the browning effect. To avoid such surges, stick to complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index such as apples, asparagus, beans, broccoli, blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, green beans, leafy greens, pears, raspberries, spinach and strawberries.
5. Food fodder
Another food source you need to steer clear of? Any item that may cause an inflammatory response. For some people, this might mean wheat, eggs, gluten, dairy, soy, or some forms of nuts. To determine whether you have a sensitivity to a particular food, try eliminating it for at least two weeks and see if symptoms such as lethargy, headaches or bloating subside. Arduous? Yes. Worthwhile? Certainly, if it means living a healthier – and longer – life. Of course, you know our stance on grains, so any reduction in grain products has benefits beyond the anti-inflammatory proerties.
6. Vitamin virtue
While adding a multivitamin can help stave off inflammation, the key here is to find a high-quality supplement (another unbiased product placement ;)) with the types of nutrients you need. Specifically, you need to look out for brands that contain higher doses of folic acid and B vitamins in particular, which have been associated with lowering inflammation as well as vitamins C, D and full-spectrum vitamin E. Next, add a broad base of antioxidants like Alpha Lipoic Acid, Resveratrol, Grapeseed Extract and NAC.
7. Probiotic power
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but turns out that’s also the same route to reduced inflammation! In the gut, beneficial bacteria is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but antibiotic use, stress, and poor diet can all upset this delicate balance, resulting in an infiltration of undesirable bacteria that can lead to inflammation. Keep the good guys employed – and the bad guys out of business – by adding acidophilus, bifidus and other probiotics into your diet for a few weeks, either through live active culture yogurts or with supplements.
8. Work it out
When it comes to inflammation, exercise serves as somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one hand, a heavy workout session can cause acute inflammation, yet overall it actually reduces the risk of future chronic inflammation. As with most things, moderation is key, so embark on a fitness routine that includes moderate-intensity activities that raise your heart rate to approximately 70% of maximum heart rate, an occasional session of short anaerobic bursts and two or three weight-training workouts a week. You’ll look good, too.
9. Environmentally safe
Smog, pollution, dust, mold, even our four-legged friends…all of these can spur inflammation. While it would be impossible to eliminate them, there are things that you can do to dampen their impact. Stepping up your cleaning schedule, for example, can reduce the amount of dust and mold spores in your home environment, while you can reduce the effects of smog and pollution by exercising away from busy roads and working out outside when roads are less packed.
10. Sleep it off
Having a few restless nights not only makes you feel crappy – and crabby! – but can also exacerbate any underlying symptoms of inflammation. To ensure adequate sleep, experts recommend snoozing for between six and 12 hours nightly, with sleep requirements varying based on age, activity level, overall health and other factors.
So there you have it, 10 ways to reduce inflammation with nary a drug in site!
mamabrarian Flickr Photo (CC)
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