What is inflammation? 4 ways to help

Lately, I've been fascinated with learning about our body's invisible immune system called inflammation - the good, bad and ugly kind. I'm sure you're thinking..."what the heck is so interesting about inflammation?" For me it's about following a path of a health issue and understanding the connection between symptoms and lifestyle. I believe you may find it interesting as well and hopefully my suggestions will be helpful. As always, it would be great to have your feedback.

Have you noticed when you cut your hand that there is redness and swelling that occurs until the wound has completely healed? That’s our body’s response to heal itself by producing massive amounts of white blood cells to get the job done – good inflammation. That same powerful immune system can negatively affect our cells and cause numerous health issues such as: joint pain, heart and digestion issues, emotional stress and difficulty with weight loss to name a few.

One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation comes not from the pharmacy, but from the grocery store. "Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

A friend of mine recently had knee surgery and was in a good deal of pain. His knee was swollen and he wore a brace for support. When he began to walk and put weight on the leg the swelling increased. He thought that was a normal part of the healing process and it may have been. However, he decided to make a change in his diet by increasing significantly the amount of fruits, vegetables and berries he ate each day. Happily within two weeks he reported that not only the swelling and pain associated with his knee surgery was gone, the low grade pain throughout his body significantly was also reduced.

This leads me to believe that when we choose the right foods, we may be able to reduce our risk of illness. Consistently pick the wrong ones, and we could accelerate the inflammatory disease process. However, by eating and drinking foods that are good for us, we will naturally have less room and desire for unhealthy foods. Simply put, we will “crowd out” the unhealthy food in our diet. This takes a little practice to make happen, but I would love to help you make that lifestyle change.

A few helpful solutions to reduce inflammation:

1. Eat plenty of antioxidant, inflammation calming super foods each day.

- green leafy vegetables (6 - 9 servings) like bok choy, broccoli and cauliflower (If that seems daunting, ask me how.)

- green tea- omega 3's capsule form, seeds, nuts and oils

- blueberries- garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper

2. Eliminate fructose, white sugar, and white flours.

Sugar and refined carbohydrates spark inflammation by deregulating glucose and insulin, leading to oxidative stress. In short, insulin resistance triggers the inflammation cascade. My recommendation to when starting to reduce your sugar intake: Use stevia for sweetness and sprouted grains for an occasional bread fix.

3. Do Inflammation-lowering activity.

As a rule of thumb, exercise should be part of our lifestyle and it needs to be enjoyable not a rule to follow. No pain, no gain, right? Actually, not so. Pushing ourselves to the limit every day plus living a stressful life leads to chronic health issues such as inflammation. For those who do need to have heavy exercise as part of their life, be sure to build in long and deep rest days – without feeling guilty for doing so.

4. Sleep and mindfulness are the secret keys to a stronger immune system and lower inflammation.

Lack of sleep makes the body ripe for infection, while getting adequate sleep has an anti-inflammatory effect. A study from the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta found that short sleep durations and poor sleep quality are associated with higher levels of inflammation markers. In fact, individuals who reported six or fewer hours of sleep a night had the highest levels of inflammatory hormones and changes in blood vessel function.

Stress is one of the top aggravators of inflammation. Mindfulness is the newest component of an anti-inflammatory plan (yet, ironically, it is ancient). We are now finding out through brand-new studies that the immune system is directly connected to the brain—therefore lowering inflammation can treat diseases like depression and anxiety. This also gives more credence to the fact that daily mindfulness/meditation is anti-inflammatory. On that note, please join me on the water for Paddle Board Zen, starting in May.

References: Dr. Amy Shah, Integrative Medicine, Harvard Health

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