Inflammation and an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
One of the biggest concerns my clients have, whether they know it or not, is inflammation of the body. Some clients come to me stating they know their body is inflamed. They have arthritis, joint pain, bloating, weight gain, GI distress, skin rash, etc. and some clients just come to me explaining their symptoms, having no idea that the inflammation in their body is causing these symptoms. My goal as an integrative health / functional practitioner is to identify and address the root cause of disease. It is not to simply cover up the symptoms. Inflammation is the symptom but what is the cause of it all?
Let’s start off with reviewing what inflammation is. Inflammation is swelling of a specific area. For example, superficially that could be a bruise or a sprained ankle. A little inflammation (also known as acute inflammation) is a good thing. It is our body’s way of trying to heal. White blood cells enter the blood / tissue to protect our body and cells from invaders. This raises our blood flow and creates warmth / redness. Sometimes fluid leaks into tissues when this happens and that is when swelling occurs. Chronic inflammation is where that inflammation can be harmful. Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting several months to years. We see this a lot of the time showing internally as IBS / IBD, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, depression, mood changes, insomnia, fatigue, pain, Alzheimer’s, weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies, etc.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce some of these symptoms and potentially get to the root cause of your inflammation. The first step is to remove inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, red meat, added sugar. This can be done in baby steps, it does not have to be all at once. It is helpful to remove these foods first in order to slow down the inflammation process. Next is incorporating anti-inflammatory foods. Examples of these foods are fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring), nuts / seeds, olive oil, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, arugula), tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussel sprouts), berries, cherries, kiwis, apples, oranges. The easiest way to explain an anti-inflammatory diet is to eat a Mediterranean style diet. Low in processed foods, high in fruit / vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Other great additions are green tea, curcumin / turmeric, omega-3’s, ginger, garlic, black pepper and cinnamon.
Apart from nutrition, exercise and stress management play a huge role in decreasing inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to muscle atrophy, decreasing skeletal muscle. Resistance training or strength training helps significantly in this area. Stress is one of the leading causes of inflammation. This can be environmental, postural, emotional, dental or nutritional stressors. Chronic stress is the type of stress we need to be concerned about. Our bodies are so incredibly smart and if we give them the right tools, they will handle our stress and remove that toxic load. But we need to give them the right tools. Along with eating anti-inflammatory foods, we need to incorporate stress relieving techniques into our daily lives. Some of these are:
- Meditation or deep breathing exercises
- Yoga, stretching, low impact exercises
- Mental imagery relaxation
- Listening to music or reading books
- Going to therapy
- Being out in nature: wherever that may be
- Expressing gratitude
- Religion or spirituality
- Removing bad habits
“In recent estimates by Rand Corporation, in 2014 nearly 60% of Americans had at least one chronic condition, 42% had more than one and 12% of adults had 5 or more chronic conditions. Worldwide, 3 of 5 people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.” (Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al., Chronic Inflammation, 2021). Chronic inflammation can be reduced and at a fairly quick rate. Making a few changes like choosing whole grain breads instead of white bread, or adding an additional fruit and vegetable serving into your day can start making an immediate difference. My goal is to educate individuals around the effects of inflammation and support those in creating a better-quality life, doing the things they love.
Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, Jialal I. Chronic Inflammation. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/) Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Accessed 2/3/2022.
Sureda A, Bibiloni MDM, Julibert A, et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet and Inflammatory Markers. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793290/) Nutrients. 2018;10(1):62. Accessed 2/3/2022.
Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. Foods That Fight Inflammation. 16 Nov 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation. Accessed 2/3/2022.