Dampen Inflammation & Boost Your Immunity
Who would've thought that social distancing is going to be a thing, and terms like "inflammation" and "cohorts" are going to be a normal conversation?
Thanks, COVID-19, for the renewed vocabulary.
The recent months have acclimatized you and me with these terms. So much so, I'm not surprised when my six-year-old accurately exclaims, "Hey, you are not socially distancing!!" In the last few weeks, there have been so many inflammation-related COVID issues arising everywhere; it has garnered plenty of attention from parents for obvious reasons. The anxiety is reasonable, however, there is no need to panic if you know the facts.
For all that bad rap on inflammation, did you know inflammation is a crucial process that keeps you healthy? You read it right! You do need inflammation, and it is good for you so long as it stays under control. Here is a quick rundown on inflammation and some natural ways to combat it.
What is inflammation?
If you've ever had a cut or bruise, it means that you've experienced inflammation. Inflammation is the body's primary response to injury. It is a normal and vital process that is in place to protect you – be it infection or long-term damage. When there is damage, your body releases specific chemicals as part of their response to fight infection and promote healing. Your immune system releases antibodies, and there is an increase in blood flow to the damaged area. This response lasts for a few hours to days, depending on the type of injury. It is why you experience swelling, redness, and tenderness if you twist your ankle, and it lasts for 3-4 days. It is your body's way of conveying that you've hurt yourself and need to stop that physical motion damaging your ankle. Typically, when you rest and ice, this type of acute inflammation goes away once the healing is complete.
If inflammation is necessary, why fear it?
Inflammation can be a concern if the process doesn't stop and lingers, causing the body to be in a constant 'war-mode'. If the inflammation continues, it doesn't stay confined to the site of injury. The process becomes ongoing and occurs all over the body; as a result, the chemicals start attacking healthy cells and organs. This is why chronic inflammation manifests as joint pain, arthritis, and other degenerative conditions.
In a healthy person, there is a delicate balance of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses that keep it under check. However, when this balance is tipped, it leads to a chronic inflammatory condition. It is this type of inflammation that also causes autoimmune disorders like Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Signs of chronic inflammation
- Joint pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Body pain
- Digestive issues like acid-reflux
- Abdominal pain
- Rash or chronic skin conditions
- Mood disorders
- Auto-immune issues
Several factors can knock off the delicate balance causing inflammation to go hay-wire. You'll be surprised at the reasons that can cause inflammation to go berserk and how it happens.
Chronic inflammation triggers
Stress: Intense stress over activates the immune system and releases the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol increase inflammation.
Sleep deprivation: During sleep, your body works to clean up the day's debris and toxins in the blood. Inadequate sleep hinders this action, which triggers inflammation.
Sedentary lifestyle: Inactivity of the body restricts lymph flow and causes the build-up of toxins and waste. Lymph glands play a central role in reducing inflammation and boosting immunity.
Low intake of fruits and vegetables: Fresh fruits and vegetables are chock full of plenty of inflammation-fighting nutrients. Consuming very few veggies deprives you of these protective nutrients.
Processed foods: A menu predominant in refined or processed food is a perfect recipe for inflammation-disaster waiting to happen. These foods are pro-inflammatory and lead to a myriad of health issues.
Other triggers include pollutants from air and water, pesticides, chemicals (conventional farming), drug/alcohol abuse, smoking, and overweight.
You may notice that by correcting a few things, chronic inflammation can be brought under control and prevented. The best way is to address the root cause so we can eliminate the issue.
What can you do to prevent chronic inflammation?
Your first step to prevent chronic inflammation should begin with eliminating the following foods if you've been taking them. By doing so, you remove nearly a majority of inflammation-triggers.
Avoid major dietary triggers
Added sugar: Simple sugars are primary trouble-makers. Several studies show an instant increase in inflammation after eating foods with added sugar. Added sugars are sugars that are included in food products during processing. Baked goods, packaged dinner, pasta sauces, ketchup, and juices are common sources of added sugar. If you hunt down for added sugars, you'll find them as fructose and sucrose, common added sugars in packaged foods. Why should you bother? It's because 50 grams of fructose can spike inflammation within 30 minutes of consumption(1). The specific inflammation marker, C-reactive protein, was found to stay high for over two hours after consumption.
Unhealthy fats: Stay away from anything that has trans fats, margarine, partially hydrogenated fats. You will mostly find them in store-bought baked goods, fried products, processed snacks, cookies, and frozen breakfast items. Limit the intake of fried foods and animal fats from dairy and meat to reduce inflammation.
Refined carbs/processed food: Refined carbs and processed foods found in white bread, crackers, rolls, and particular cereal and pasta products spike blood sugar levels fast. Such sugary foods also increase blood insulin levels higher than normal. High insulin levels caused by sugar spike is also a reason for inflammation. By all means, avoid such foods like candies and desserts that severely lack in nutrients and fiber.
Artificial sweeteners: Foods that include artificial sweeteners may sound harmless, but they are also primary triggers of inflammation.
Food additives: Additives and flavor enhancers like Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) are known for their inflammation trigger effects in the body(2). MSG lurks in many packaged foods in sneaky names. Avoid food containing the following -Glutamic Acid (E 620)2, Glutamate (E 620), Monopotassium Glutamate (E 622), Calcium Glutamate (E 623), Monoammonium Glutamate (E 624), Magnesium Glutamate (E 625), Natrium Glutamate.
Practical ways to keep inflammation under control
Irrespective of the age group the following tips are helpful to everyone
1. Exercise every day (forward bends, neck rotations, brisk walk, jog or run)
- Promotes better circulation
- Stimulates lymph nodes, which remove toxins and fights infection, offer great support to the rest of the immune function.
- Lowers the levels of stress hormones, which trigger information
- Keeps your mood well and secretes endorphins which dampens inflammation
2. Hydrate well (water, fresh juice, coconut water, water-laden veggies like cucumber)
- Flushes out wastes and toxins from the body
- Promotes better blood circulation, which in turn nourishes every cell and organ
- Helps in regular bowel movements
- Maintains the volume of blood and lymph fluids, which are vital for fighting infection and inflammation.
3. Eat raw foods (carrot, celery, berries, most fruits)
- They contain live enzymes, which promote healthier digestion
- Promotes the growth of good bacteria that boost immunity
- Naturally high in fiber, which prevents sugar spike and helps curb inflammation
- Nutrients like vitamins and minerals remain intact and are not lost in cooking
- Rich in immune-boosters like antioxidants, vitamin C, and other health-promoting plant pigments.
- Fantastic inflammation-fighters
- Makes you feel fresh and energetic instantly
4. Choose more plant proteins (nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes)
- Plant proteins are natural inflammation-fighters
- They are packed with vitamins and minerals
- Rich in antioxidants and the fiber that prevents sugar spike and inflammation triggers.
- Promote the growth of good bacteria and boosts the immune system.
5. Choose the right herbs, spices, & supplements
Tweak up your efforts with the following inflammation-fighting herbs & spices,
Sage: Sage contains unique phenolic compounds that promote anti-inflammatory actions, and it is also a powerful antioxidant.
Rosemary: Rosemary belongs to the mint family. Like sage, it is an antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory in nature and offers dual protection to the body. It is also a good source of B6 and iron.
Turmeric: Contains the active ingredient curcumin that fights inflammation, infections, and a fantastic immunity-booster.
Ginger: The gingerols in ginger are well-known inflammation-fighting nutrients and a great detoxifier. Enjoy in salads, soups, and juices.
Vitamins: B complex vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, E, and K are all inflammation-fighters and immune-boosters. For instance, vitamin A is otherwise called an anti-infective vitamin because it fights infection and supports immune function. Vitamin B6 and folate are potent inflammation fighters, while B12 is needed to help blood cell production. Vitamins C from citrus fruits and vitamin E from nuts, seeds, avocado, and whole grains are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. Vitamin D works to complement immune function because it helps reduce inflammation.
Zinc: Zinc is a nutrient that is widely used as immune support by regulating the inflammatory effects and modulates the immune response.
Omega-3 fats: Omega-3 fats are excellent inflammation-fighters. Omega-3 rich foods include chia seeds, flax seeds, algae, seaweed, and seafood sources like deep, wild-caught fish. If your diet is insufficient in omega-3 rich foods, high-quality omega-3 supplements
can help lower inflammation.
Also, practice mindfulness through breathing exercises, yoga, Tai chi, and or meditation. Research confirms meditation helps reduce psychological stress(3)– one of the trigger factors for inflammation. Not into any of these, no problem, you can still achieve mindfulness by pursuing a hobby, gardening, bird watching, or taking a walk in nature. Good habits are like best friends, that offer a helping hand at the most crucial moments. Keep up with these habits, no matter what.
So should you be concerned about inflammation?
There are no second thoughts that the ongoing pandemic has changed our lives. Worrying or being highly concerned about inflammation will only increase stress, which is a trigger for low-grade inflammation. So, the direct answer to the question is no, however, it is essential to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle routine to keep this under control, so it doesn't become a concern! One silver lining is the fact that more and more people are now turning their focus on health. It is the fundamental way to improve resistance to infections and illnesses. It is easy to get bogged down in detail in current times, but there is an obvious way out – healthy habits and routine. Let's stick to them, there is no better time than NOW to adopt and follow healthy habits. Stay motivated and keep at it!