There are two different forms of inflammation in our body. Most of us are aware of acute inflammation - a healthy response that serves to protect and repair the body from something damaging (such as in infected wound or strained muscle). This can manifest as redness, swelling or pus and is a vital part of the bodies immune response. Chronic inflammation however is not part of the bodies healing process. It is a slow and long-term inflammatory process that often goes unnoticed until it manifests as a disease state. It is a sign that things are out of control - our bodies start to see things like bad foods, unhealthy lifestyle choices (such as inacitivity, stress and poor sleep) and environmental factors (such as toxic household products or poor air quality) as invaders. In an attempt to alleviate this, the body tries to fight them off through inflammation. If diet and lifestyle aren't moderated, this process continues until the body is unable to switch off the inflammatory process and in doing so, starts to damage its own tissue. This can go on for years and has been linked to diseases such as:
Heart disease - inflammation is an integral part of atherosclerosis - the cholesterol layer (or plaques) that line the coronary blood vessels leading to heart disease.
Diabetes - High blood sugar levels trigger inflammation. This inflammation causes insulin resistance, the main cause of Type 2 Diabetes.
Cancer - inflammation can cause DNA damage which can lead to cancer.
Allergies - persistent exposure to allergens can result in chronic inflammation, higher immune response, more severe symptoms, and further allergies.
Depression - there is increasing evidence that depression is linked with low grade chronic inflammation. Research showed that those with depression had 46% higher levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammatory disease)
Osteoporosis - people with higher inflammation or diagnosed inflammatory diseases are more likely to suffer bone loss and osteoporosis.
Asthma and chronic obsturctive pulmonary disease are both triggered by inflammation
What are some of the signs of chronic inflammation?
Digestive issues, including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux, etc.
High blood glucose
Weight gain, especially around your waist
Fatigue and constant exhaustion
Depression and anxiety
Skin problems, including psoriasis, eczema, acne, redness, or puffiness
Headaches and migraines
Frequent cold and illness
Joint and muscle pains
Lingering, unexplained, and random pains
What can you do to help relieve chronic inflammation?
Regular exercise has been shown to decrease the markers of systemic inflammation. In particular, high intensity training has been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits that are not created in less strenuous forms of activity. According to the Gene Smart anti-inflammatory diet and exercise program, working out four to five times a week with three days of aerobic exercise and two days of circuit training or weight training can significantly reduce inflammatory messengers and whole-body inflammation. Some studies show that you are 50% less likely to have the inflammatory messenger CRP when exercising regulalry as opposed to those who are sedentary. There is however a fine line between exercising enough to promote anti-inflammatory mediators and then overtraining, further exaccerabating systemic inflammation. Rest and recovery are paramount as acute inflammation caused during exercise may become chronic if there is no time to recover.
The major way to combat chronic inflammation however is nutrition. Good quality, nutrient dense food can help alleviate inflammation however a poor diet with high saturated fats and processed foods can be a major cause of inflammation too! The following is a list of some pro-inflammatory foods (foods that promote inflammation)
refined carbohydrates (eg white bread and pasta)
saturated and trans fats (eg red meat and fried foods)
These foods cause us to produce higher amounts of oxidants (products of metabolism) which trigger inflammation. Pro inflammatory foods are said to drive pro inflammatory proteins called cytokines. These proteins, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) are associated with inflammatory effects.
The following foods have been shown to help inflammation:
Vegetables (full of natural vitamins and minerals and high in fibre)
Berries (such as blueberries which are rich in antioxidants)
Oily fish - contains omega 3 which help support immune function
Foods that are anti-inflammatory have been shown to block inflammatory mediators like CRP, thus preventing an inflammatory response.
Optimising gut health so you can better digest nutrients and excrete waste products is said to play a huge role in inflammation. The proper breakdown and metabolism of food depends many factors including digestive enzymes, the gut flora, stomach acid and gut lining. If this is sub-optimal then food is not broken down properly and large molecules enter the blood (that shouldn't normally). The body sees these as 'invaders' and initiates an immune response.
So what to take away.....?
Chronic inflammation is a slow and insidious process that often goes undetected. Because many of the symptoms are vague, we may not realise that mild symptoms such as bloating are actually a chronic complex problem. We do know that if left untreated, the problems will continue to spiral, potentially ending in a disease state such as type II diabetes or heart disease. Three points to take away when trying to manage inflammation include:
Reduce inflammatory foods and include foods to support your immune system
Enjoy regular exercise however make sure you are having adequate rest days also
Reduce stress - when we are in constant 'fight or flight mode' it promotes inflammation. Doing things such as yoga, meditating and other mindfulness activities activates the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes growth and repair - generally an anti-inflammatory state.
I highly recommend seeking a professional opinion if you believe you may have signs of chronic inflammation. I have personally found positive improvement with diet and lifestyle changes under the direction of a naturopath. :)