What do a sprained ankle, asthma, acne, depression, and Alzheimer’s all have in common?
Inflammation is a natural, innate response to injury, stress, illness, pain, etc. It’s our body’s way of bringing attention to an area that needs some attention/healing so that other parts of the vascular system and the immune system can be notified and work to reduce the inflammation. Acute inflammation is good. Increased blood flow carries leukocytes to the site of injury to start cleaning it up. It is localized to a certain area of the body. Inflammation causes pain to signal to pay attention not to overuse the area.
Think of times in which inflammation helped you. Any ideas? Have you had an infection? Have you sprained your ankle? Have you had a paper cut? In those instances, inflammation can be helpful, but when inflammation doesn’t stop at acute injury, it can take over the body. Widespread inflammation leads to:
- Heart disease
- Arthritis (and any other –itis)
- Autoimmune disease
- Insulin resistance (e.g., diabetes)
Chronic inflammation is often called “silent inflammation” at first because you don’t know it is there until you develop symptoms that usually end up in a disease.
What inflames us?
- Poor diet (refined foods, sugar, poor fats, gluten)
- Poor gut health
- Lack of omega-3 fats
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of activity/exercise
- Overly intense training/exercise
- Poor self-care
- Chronic stress
- Lack of time in nature
- Overuse of NSAIDs
- Being overweight
The good news—inflammation is reversible! How do we reduce inflammation?
Beliefs - The first thing that we need before making changes is to check our belief system. Do you believe that you are worthy of making these changes? They may not be immediately welcomed by friends and family. But this piece is crucial if you want the rest of the changes to stick. They may not be immediately welcomed by friends and family. But this piece is crucial if you want the rest of the changes to stick. After modifying the belief so you feel deserving and worthy of these changes, you may also need to modify your support system. Many are trying to live a healthy, less inflamed life. You might have to look beyond your immediate family, co-workers, and current circle of friends. The good news is that those people are out there, and with social media, it is easier to find groups of people and events to support your healthy changes.
Mindset. You don’t have to change everything, but you can. You can start by adding a little bit of anti-inflammatory food to each meal and snack will add up over the course of days/weeks/months/years. You can take three minutes to meditate each day. All or nothing thinking doesn’t work for many people, so shifting your mindset to take things slowly can greatly benefit you. Also, you need to believe that you are worthy of making changes to your diet and lifestyle to reduce inflammation and get healthier.
Stress management. Cortisol (in small doses-e.g., corticosteroids like prednisone) is a buffer against inflammation. When your body is in a chronically stressed state, your cells become resistant to cortisol’s message to reduce inflammation, thus putting the body in a chronically inflamed state. You can reduce stress by first rethinking how you think about stress. So much of stress is about perception. A situation is only as stressful as youperceive it to be. And much of perception has to do with your resiliency and the number of other positive resources you have in your life. I once asked my graduate school research mentor how he dealt with the stress in his life. His answer was that he didn’t get stressed. I stared at him, dumb-founded. He was a consultant/coach on mindfulness and performance to top athletes, he taught medical students, he was running grant-funded research, he was a father, he was a husband, and he was an amazing mentor. He truly practiced what he taught—mindfulness and meditation changed the way he perceived the environment, removed the clutter and chatter in his brain, and allowed him to not just be in the moment without stress but to ENJOY each moment.
Healthy diet including the removal of inflammatory foods. When our body’s cells are overrun with sugar they produce free radicals which au cellular damage. The response to this damage is an onslaught of inflammatory chemicals. Immune cells arrive to help surround the problem and this sets off systemic inflammation and increases insulin resistance. Omega-3 fats reduce inflammation. Overuse of omega-6s (such as in refined foods) can cancel out the good benefits of omega-3s. So in addition to increasing omega-3s, the benefits are increased when you also reduce foods with omega-6 fats.
Maintaining a healthy weight. Along with a healthy diet, it is important to maintain a healthy weight. Weight has many contributors such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy whole foods, removing irritating foods from your diet, getting adequate sleep, and reducing cortisol via stress management and self-care.
A healthy gut. Poor food choices flood your gut with proteins unrecognizable to the body that slip through the normally tight junctions separating your intestines from the rest of your body. Intestinal permeability or leaky gut leads to systemic inflammation. This condition is directly linked to the inflammatory conditions of Chron’s disease ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune conditions like hasimotos thyroiditis, RA, and diabetes.
Self-care. Taking care of yourself is a choice. If you don’t prioritize self-care, you are choosing inflammation over health. Self-care is not selfish, and it doesn’t have to take much time. If you don’t prioritize self-care, you are choosing inflammation over health. Self-care is not selfish, and it doesn’t have to take much time.
Sleep. Sleep is SO vital to reducing inflammation and improving overall health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, and try to get in bed before 10:00 for the most restorative response.
Social engagement. One of the best predictors of longevity is the strength of social connections. Social connections have been shown to boost immunity in recovering from a cold to healing cancer. Focus on quality over quantity. 500 Facebook friends doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have anyone you can count on in your life or girlfriends/guy-friends who make you laugh.
Activity. The Goldilocks principal goes into effect for managing inflammation through exercise. Regular daily activity is the best way to reduce inflammation. We all know that a sedentary lifestyle is a no-go. It’s not good for your mental or physical health. But, to gain benefits from activity/exercise, you don’t need to go to the gym…you can lift weights, walk, practice yoga, engage in Pilates, etc. In fact, going to the gym and pushing yourself too often with too much of any type of exercise – cardio, crossfit, weight-lifting, etc. can be very damaging. For evidence, look no further than marathon runners who die of heart attacks. Heart attacks can be caused by inflammation in the body, arteries, and veins. There is too much of a good thing. So, stick with the Goldilocks Principle and engage in the amount of exercise that is JUST RIGHT!
Spending time in nature. You know that feeling you get whenyou see a beautiful lush green mountain or when you hear the sound of water—waves lapping at the beach, a creek trickling by, or the rain pouring down…that is all therapeutic. Those sights and sounds trigger the parasympathetic response in your body, cuing your body to relax and thus reducing cortisol and inflammation. You don’t have to live in the woods in a teepee (although that would be cool for a few days) to get the benefits. You can take a walk in a park, go barefoot in the grass in your backyard, plant a garden on your acres of land or in your window box. Nature heals.
Beliefs. The first thing that we need before making changes is to check our belief system. Do you believe that you are worthy of making these changes? They may not be immediately welcomed by friends and family. But this piece is crucial if you want the rest of the changes to stick.
If you know someone who can benefit from this information...someone who needs to reduce inflammation, please share this with them.