We need inflammation to survive. It’s part of our defense mechanism. What we don’t want though is prolonged inflammation that sets itself up as a permanent, problematic resident in our body. Hello “chronic inflammation”.
Chronic inflammation can affect any organ in the body. Some symptoms and signs of inflammation that is chronic include:
- chest pain
- abdominal pain
- skin rash
- muscle pain
- joint pain
What causes chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation is predominantly diet and lifestyle related, which is why it's possible to reverse, or certainly improve conditions and symptoms arising from chronic inflammation. Here are the typical chronic inflammation triggers:
Habits like smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise, or in some cases too much exercise.
Excess weight produces inflammatory cytokines (immunoregulatory proteins) in the body.
Chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream. It also has the potential to negatively affect the health of every system and organ in your body.
Compromised gut health
An imbalance of healthy vs unhealthy gut bacteria can result in inflammatory digestive and non-digestive health concerns. Problems with the gut microbiome can contribute to inflammatory conditions, like arthritis, psoriasis and asthma.
Inflammation can sometimes be mistaken for infection, but the two are not the same. Infection can, however, cause inflammation if your body doesn't handle infection well, and because infection is caused by harmful substances like bacteria, virus or fungus.
Pollution and toxic chemicals
Studies show higher levels of inflammation-related substances in the body due to things like air pollution, pesticides on fruit and vegetables, additives and preservatives in food, and chemicals in skin products.
The good news is that by reducing inflammation, you can work to reverse inflammatory symptoms that you may be experiencing. To do this, you need to be aware of, and remove or lower the impact these factors, that are contributing to your inflammation, are having on your body.
Eating to reduce inflammation
Most people eat at least three times a day whether it's a meal or a snack, so food choice is one of the biggest ways in which you can work to reduce your inflammation levels.
Essentially, an anti-inflammatory diet is about eating more real, whole foods and less processed foods, with the goal of reducing inflammation in the body. And it's certainly not restrictive.
Here’s a list of anti-inflammatory foods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fermented foods
- Seafood, Tofu & Tempeh
- Bone broth
- Beans and legumes
- Good fats (visit Healthy Fats Won't Make You Fat for guidance on fats)
- Spices and herbs
Some of the best vegetables for fighting inflammation are tomatoes and green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale.
Top rated anti-inflammatory fruits include strawberries, blueberries, oranges and cherries. But, there are many more healthful fruits you can enjoy on an anti-inflammatory diet.
Food sensitivities / Intolerances
Having said that if a food is known to be anti-inflammatory but you react to it, it will have a pro-inflammatory effect in your body, so it's wise to personalise your diet.
This means you want to try and avoid eating food that you are sensitive to, or intolerant to. I know this can be tricky and that it can be difficult to identify triggers. If you know you don't get on with a certain food, remove it from your diet for 14 days and see if it makes a difference.
While you don't want to be on a restrictive diet, it's helpful to steer clear of those trigger foods, so do monitor your reaction when you reintroduce them back into your diet. And do seek professional help if you have a long list of trigger foods, as this indicates that you could greatly benefit from a gut healing program.
Here’s a list of pro-inflammatory foods:
- sugar (an obvious one I know)
- refined grains (like white bread)
- sugary beverages
- refined carbohydrates
- processed snack foods
Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids include:
- Dairy products (like milk, cheese, and butter)
- Vegetable oils (like corn and safflower)
Omega-6 fatty acids are important for your body, but they're also known to increase inflammation in the body. You shouldn't cut them out completely. Instead, keep your omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid intake in balance to better regulate possible inflammation.
Again, it’s not about avoiding foods altogether, it’s more about being aware of what you’re eating, and adopting the 80/20 rule — more good than bad — and maintaining a balanced diet.
Drink enough water
Make sure you also drink enough high quality purified water for your body weight. Sparkling mineral water or unsweetened herbal tea are other hydrating options.
Monitor your caffeine response and adjust your consumption accordingly
Interestingly caffeine can have a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effect on the body. As to how you react to caffeine really depends on you as an individual. I see this with my clients: some people do fine on three or four cups of black coffee in the morning, while others get jittery on a cup of green tea.
Hi, I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Pain & Stress Management Therapist, and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.
I help people elevate their mind and body health by addressing diet, nutrition and lifestyle symptoms. Let's work together to optimize how you feel and function.
Gut Health Plan
90 Days of healing to optimise your gut function. Improving your gut health isn't just beneficial for digestive complaints. Did you know that 60 - 80% of your immune system and 90% of your feel-good hormone serotonin, resides in your gut?