Inflammation is the body’s natural system for fighting infections or injuries. The immune system activates when it recognizes a foreign body, such as plant pollen or a chemical, which then triggers the process called inflammation.
There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is induced quickly and usually in the short term, for a few days only.
But sometimes, the immune system races and activates itself without fighting an infection. With nothing to heal, the cells of the immune system begin to destroy healthy organs and joints. It is at this point that inflammation can become a problem.
Chronic or long-term inflammation often occurs when the causes of acute inflammation are not treated. Chronic inflammation, which often lasts for months or even years, damages DNA and has been associated with many major diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
SYMPTOMS OF CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
While pain and swelling are common symptoms of acute inflammation, many people are often unaware of the more subtle signs associated with chronic inflammation. Some of the most common symptoms that develop with chronic inflammation include:
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Abdominal pain
- Anxiety, depression and mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
Although blood tests are often the first step, there is no effective laboratory test to assess patients’ chronic inflammation. Instead, the diagnosis is often made in combination with another medical condition.
CAUSES OF CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
A cause of chronic inflammation is rarely identified. Since inflammation is our body’s natural response, identifying a specific cause can be difficult, but is usually due to:
- Untreated causes of acute inflammation such as tissue injury or infection
- Exposure to irritants or chemicals
- Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Many other risk factors have also shown some inflammation. These included:
- A poor diet
- Low sex hormones
- Stress and sleep disorders
TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT OF INFLAMMATION
As a root cause of many diseases, chronic inflammation can be devastating if left untreated. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk and treat the disease.
FOOD AGAINST INFLAMMATION
As many foods cause inflammation, one of the most powerful tools for fighting this disease is to start with your diet. The foods below all have anti-inflammatory properties:
- Fruits: berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, cherries, apples and oranges.
- Vegetables: leafy greens like kale and spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, artichokes and avocados
- Fish: especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, cod and tuna.
- Beans: red beans, black beans and pinto beans.
- Nuts: nuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds.
- Healthy fats of olive oil and flax.
- Herbs and spices like turmeric, garlic and ginger.
An anti-inflammatory diet is generally considered healthy and studies have shown that it is beneficial in combat conditions such as irritable bowel disease (IBD), arthritis, psoriasis and even chronic pain. Many people follow a Mediterranean diet to avoid inflammatory foods.
INFLAMMATORY FOODS TO AVOID
If you have ever eaten a big fat meal, you will know that feeling of slowness that you feel afterwards. Some foods help to speed up the inflammatory process and are therefore best avoided. Avoid the following inflammatory foods:
- Refined carbohydrates: white bread, rice and many types of cereals fuel the production of advanced glycation products (AGEs) that stimulate inflammation.
- Omega-6 fatty acids: Often found in vegetable oils such as corn and sunflower oil, excessive consumption of omega-6 acids causes the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Red and Processed Meat: Studies show that processed meat can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
- Sugar: Processed sugars found in soft drinks, fruit juices, sweets and snacks can trigger the production of inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
- Alcohol: Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause inflammation of the bowel, as well as damage to the gastrointestinal tract and liver.
Many foods identified as inflammatory are also considered unhealthy, which contributes to weight gain, a major risk factor for inflammation.
TREAT MEDICINAL INFLAMMATION
An anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to stay healthy, but sometimes a simple change of diet is not enough to eliminate inflammation of the body. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can have a long-term impact on your health. If you have chronic inflammation, discuss the following treatment options with your doctor:
- Metformin: commonly used to treat type II diabetes, metformin has been shown to reduce inflammation and promote insulin production.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Often available without a prescription, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin inhibit the enzymes that contribute to inflammation.
- Supplements: Ginger, fish oil and curcumin all have natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help regulate your condition.
- Statins: Many studies show the high anti-inflammatory properties of statins, which effectively interrupt the communication of inflammatory cells.
- Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system, which is especially important when attacking healthy cells. Know that long-term use of corticosteroids has been associated with serious side effects such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis, among other conditions.
It is strongly recommended that you consult your doctor to evaluate the possible side effects of any new medication.
Inflammation can be the body’s response to many external triggers. It has been associated with many serious diseases and, if left unchecked, could have disastrous consequences.
The World Health Organization (WHO) regards chronic inflammatory diseases as the greatest threat to human health. Now that you know how to get rid of inflammation in your body, follow an anti-inflammatory diet and limit foods known to cause inflammation.
If you have chronic inflammatory symptoms, talk to your doctor about a blood test and treatment options. With good nutrition, lifestyle changes, and medical advice, you can lead a life without inflammation.