In the last few years doctors have started to recognize the role that chronic inflammation plays in chronic disease. In fact some say that chronic inflammation is the root of all disease. For this reason, reducing inflammation is the key to create health and healing.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s response to infection or injury. If you sprain your ankle it will immediately swell up, become warm and red, and movement will be retracted. This happens because the white blood cells release chemicals that attract more blood to the area to aid in healing. They also cause more fluid to move into the tissues. The swelling produces pain and restricts movement. This the body’s way of making sure that you rest the ankle, and so give it time to heal.
Inflammation also occurs in response to an infection. The immune system recognizes that the body has been invaded and sends white blood cells to the infected area to kill the invaders. The area becomes hot and red, and swollen as the extra blood and white cells stretch the tissues.
Both of the above inflammatory responses are usually short lived and as the ankle heals, or the invaders are killed, the tissues return to normal and the inflammatory response is shut off.
Chronic inflammation can happen when the inflammatory response is not turned off. This may be because a person does not do what is necessary to allow an injury to heal. Keep walking on your sprained ankle, for example, and the inflammation may become chronic. The term ‘-itis’ indicates inflammation is present in an area. Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, tendonitis is inflammation of a tendon, and so on.
Chronic inflammation can occur in one or more internal organs and may eventually lead to disease. Asthma, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, cancer and auto-immune diseases like muscular-sclerosis (MS) have all been linked to chronic inflammation. Over time the inflammation may become systemic and affect more than one organ. Lifestyle factors such as stress, poor diet, overeating, smoking, and lack of sleep can all be irritants that increase chronic internal inflammation.
Being overweight also increases inflammation as fat cells act like immune cells and secrete inflammatory factors. Being overweight also puts strain on the hips and knees. For every ten pounds of weight gained, an extra 40 pounds of pressure is put on the joints. This compresses and damages the joint, increases inflammation and causes pain.
Chronic irritation can be measured by the CRP (short for C-reactive protein) test. If you have signs of chronic irritation, you may want to ask your doctor for this test.
Reducing Chronic Inflammation Through Lifestyle Changes
The good news is that reducing inflammation can create health and healing, and can be achieved through lifestyle changes that remove these irritants. Here are some things that you can do to help your body heal chronic Inflammation.
People who have been abused as children have been shown to have higher levels of CRP. If this applies to you, therapy may help you to work through childhood trauma and so reduce the amount of internal stress But stress can also come from more minor causes. A bad relationship with your spouse or other family member can cause on-going stress. Always feeling pressured for time to do all you have to do, disliking your job, or not feeling supported by others are also causes of on-going stress. Taking steps to either change these situations, or to change your perspective of them will help reduce chronic inflammation.
Clean Up Your Diet:
Diet plays a big part in chronic inflammation. Certain foods promote inflammation, while other calm inflammation. The IF rating has been developed to show how inflammatory a food is on the body. A rating above zero is given for foods that reduce inflammation, and below zero for those that increase inflammation in the body. Foods with the highest positive ratings include: oily fish and their oils, certain fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices and certain vitamins. The highest negative ratings go to sugar, honey and other sweeteners, and to products made from refined grains.
Obviously because a range of foods are needed for good nutrition, some foods that promote inflammation must be eaten, but they should not be the ones that receive high negative ratings. Just giving up sugar and foods and drinks containing sweeteners, and refined grains would help to bring chronic inflammation down. Combine this with serving of oily fish three times a week (or take an Omega-3 supplement), five to ten servings of vegetables and a serving or two of fruit a day, some whole grains, and a good multivitamin to ensure that you are getting enough of the anti-inflammatory vitamins.
The IF rating for most food as well as anti-inflammatory recipes and meal plans can be found in the book The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan
Drink Lots of Water:
The body needs water to carry away waste products. So drink water instead of the inflammatory drinks like coffee and soda pop.
Contracting the large muscles release substances called myokines, which reduce the inflammatory effect. This is likely one reason why regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of death from all causes by 33 percent.
Get Enough Sleep:
Even a modest sleep loss can increase inflammation. So aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night. The hours between ten p.m. and two a.m. are especially important, because this is when the body repairs itself.
Change Your Lifestyle To Reduce Chronic Inflammation:
Reducing chronic inflammation by changing your lifestyle will be far more effective than taking drugs – and cheaper too. To create health and healing it is important to take responsibility for yourself. Start slowly, perhaps by making small changes in each area and then building on them. But start now – you will reap enormous benefit from reducing chronic inflammation.
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Photocredits: Jonathan Trobe, M.D, and Hans Hillewaerf
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