Are you sick of triggering old sports injuries, or feeling like every lousy food choice leaves your stomach crying out in pain? The problem might be chronic inflammation; a confusion in your body where your immune system is over-triggered. If you let this inflammation get out of control, it can put you at risk for dozens of different lifestyle diseases.
Not all inflammation is dangerous. In fact, it’s your body’s natural defense against infection and injury. Understanding the details of this condition will help you know how to fight inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
Simply put, inflammation is the process your body uses to fight off foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. Inflammation also helps your body heal itself by repairing damaged tissue after an injury. The process begins when an injury triggers the release of proteins called cytokines into your bloodstream.
When this happens, your arteries begin to expand to increase blood flow, allowing white blood cells to swarm the site of the injury and absorb the germs and other damaging materials that are present. At the same time, hormones called prostaglandins build blood clots that close gaps and stimulate the healing process. This flood of blood cells and hormones also brings fluid to the site of the injury, which can cause pain and swelling if it presses on nerve endings.
Chronic Versus Acute Inflammation
There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is caused by specific injuries, like cutting your finger or suffering from a sore throat. Your immune system responds quickly by sending white blood cells to the region, which leads to redness and swelling as they repair the injury.
In contrast, chronic inflammation builds up from daily wear and often comes as a symptom of conditions like IBS or rheumatoid arthritis. Poor lifestyle choices like smoking, being overweight, too little exercise, and stress are also triggers for chronic inflammation.
While inflammation is your body’s way of directing attention to a problem it wants to solve, it can lead to complications.
Symptoms of Inflammation
- Redness and irritation
- Swollen joint
- Joint pain and/or stiffness
- Reduced functionality in joint
- Flulike symptoms, including a fever, chills, and general fatigue
- Muscle stiffness
- Loss of appetite
Tips on How to Fight Inflammation
Understanding that chronic inflammation is harmful and knowing how to keep your levels under control are entirely different issues. There is a lot of confusion around inflammation, making it difficult to understand what you need to do to stay healthy.
1. Dump the Junk from your Diet
You don’t need a health article to tell you that some of your favorite foods are better suited for a chemistry lab than your belly. Overly-processed, nutrient-stripped snack foods in our diet, can wreak havoc on your immune system. Foods high in trans-fats, simple sugars, and processed carbohydrates will trigger your body’s inflammatory response.
A good rule of thumb? Avoid any foods with ingredients you don’t recognize or couldn’t buy to cook with yourself. Make sure that your daily carbs come as close to natural as possible, like whole grains or steel cut oats. If your system can handle them, these grains will mediate your inflammatory response and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your digestive system.
2. Practice Good Gut Health
A healthy digestive system is a key to combating chronic inflammation because many inflammatory conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and Celiac disease all begin in the gut. You can promote better gut health if you limit your consumption of trigger foods like caffeine, alcohol, and simple sugars, and fill up on foods rich in probiotics, zinc, and plant-based protein.
3. Tailor Your Diet to Your Specifications
Everyone’s digestive system is different, and one of the easiest ways to cause inflammation is eating foods your body can’t handle well. These can include common allergens like soy, dairy, and wheat. If you are overly sensitive to these foods, your body considers them hostile invaders every time they make an appearance. Filling up on them triggers potentially damaging inflammatory responses that you are better off avoiding.
4. Move More
While sports injuries are a leading cause of acute inflammation, regularly exercising can dramatically lower your risk of developing the chronic variety. This is because exercise (especially cardio) triggers your body to boost its antioxidant supply, which affects your cholesterol levels and blood pressure so that you are less susceptible to inflammation.
5. Get Plenty of (Plant-Based) Protein
Red meat is responsible for more than its fair share of inflammation, so filling up on plant-based protein sources instead is a better idea for your health. Consider substituting tofu, beans, seitan, or quinoa for ground beef in your next recipe for a straightforward way to reduce your risk of chronic inflammation.
6. Lower Your Stress Levels
Food might be a factor, but one of the biggest triggers for chronic inflammation is an elevated stress level. Research found that chronic stress causes your body to lose sensitivity to cortisol, a vital hormone for controlling inflammation. If you want to keep your body tissue sensitive to cortisol, you need to shut down stress in whatever way works for you. Consider meditating, doing yoga, taking walks outside, and getting more sleep each night so that your problems are put into perspective, and you aren’t controlled by stress each day.
7. Fill Your Plate with Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fill your plate at least half full of fruits and vegetables at every meal, paying particular attention to leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, and collards. These foods contain sulfur-based compounds that naturally block enzymes that cause joint deterioration, a cause of inflammation.
Brightly hued berries are also beneficial, as they are filled with polyphenol compounds and phytochemicals that naturally moderate inflammation. The darker the coloring, the more likely they will have potent antioxidant properties that will calm an overactive immune response.
8. Take Aspirin
Even those who prefer to avoid medication must admit that aspirin has powerful anti-inflammation properties. Often used as a heart attack preventative, a daily dose of aspirin may work to reduce inflammation. There are some concerns about taking aspirin and whether the risks out weigh the benefits if you aren’t at risk for a heart attack, so consult with your doctor before taking it regularly.
Fight Inflammation Naturally with Preventative Measures. If you’ve been wondering how to fight inflammation, by eating healthy, whole foods and avoiding common triggers like junk food and too little exercise, can prepare your body for success so that your immune system runs exactly as it should: not more, and not less.