Inflammation. Your body’s way of protecting you.
Redness, swelling and pain are just outward signs of what most of us think of as inflammation. In fact, these are just symptoms of the actual problem, infection or injury; the immune system’s way of asking for help.
The first step is for the body to summon the white blood cells, those “fighters” of the immune system that step in to fight any small infection or damaged tissue. When the immune system feels threatened, or just can’t handle the attack by itself, it manifests clearly in various degrees of inflammation. This is a healthy response; a sign that the immune system is working as it should. Just swelling and redness that may at first seem to have no obvious reason, to extreme pain or fever that just cannot be ignored. Rest, simple treatment is usually enough to treat this inflammation at first. The point is not to constantly ignore these calls for help from your body.
Chronic inflammation is when we are constantly abusing our bodies in one way or another and it can no longer repair itself.
Inflammation is caused by a variety of factors. Most common among them are our food choices, menopause (in women), environmental causes and physiological triggers.
Most of this chronic inflammation is caused by constant abuse to our digestive system. This is not something most doctors look into, at least to start with.
The digestive tract was created to process the food we eat, eliminate bacteria and viruses and separate the nutrients from the waste. Not surprisingly, we’ve thrown it into complete confusion. The food we eat is high in sugars and processed foods and low on nutrients. It is so processed and preserved, that the body can’t tell if its fresh or good enough to be called nutrition. And we eat large amounts, and at the wrong times. The immune system is in a state of constant full alarm mode.
Foods that fight inflammation
– Foods high on carbohydrates especially the refined variety, and low on protien count as inflammatory for most people. It has regularly been shown that people, most particularly women, who ease up on carbohydrates, immediately start feeling more comfortable in the gut.
- Brightly colored vegetables and fruits in the whole range of rainbow colors are good for you. They contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols which control the production of free-radicals. Examples are grapes, berries – blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and rasberries, carrots, all citrus fruits, squash, mangoes, nuts, beans, green tea, red onions, okra, turmeric, spinach, sweet potatoes, all the peppers, ginger. The best advice is to eat different colors through the day.
- Fish and fish oil. And if you don’t eat fish consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Salmon, mackeral, herring and sardines and the best packers of omega-3 fatty acid.
- Foods like onions, apples, red grapes and wine, and tea contain quercetin, an antioxidant that inhibits inflammation causing enzymes. Garlic, long known to encourage good health, stimulates the immune system and keeps it active.
- Nuts, especially freshly ground flaxseed and walnuts.
- Turmeric, a flavouring agent used generously in the east is known as a strong anti-inflammatory.
- Olive Oil is high in oleic acid, and has anti-inflammatory polyphenols
Foods to avoid
Refined Carbohydrates – These aren’t just shorn of all nutrients, they can also have unneccessary added sugars that drastically increase blood sugar and raise your glycemic index.
Animal products – Sea-food excluding shell-fish, and white chicken meat is your best bet.
Gluten found in some grains has a very negative effect on some people, and it’s not something that is considered very early. If you constantly seem to have minor digestive problems, try to stay off wheat products for 2 weeks. If things improve drasticly you know you’ve found your biggest culprit.
More rarely, certain ‘nightshade’ vegetables, among them eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, paprika, pimentos and peppers can trigger inflammation. This occurs only in very sensitive people and cooking can lower the alkaloid content in these foods making them digestable.
Dairy foods in excess, and even a little in the case of those highly allergic can start up very drastic inflammaition of the digestive system.
Soy, long touted as the solution to all health problems is also another cause of inflammation.
The best thing to do with the items on this list is to try an elimination diet. Swear off them for 2 weeks, one at a time, and you’ll discover if any of them is causing your digestive tract more than necessary inflammation. Though heaps of people never look into these foods as ‘problem foods’ swearing they’ve eaten them all their lives, it is important to remember that food sensitivites can emerge (and disappear) at any time of our lives, and as we grow older, foods that never caused us any problems may begin to trigger small problems starting with mild indigestion and reach extremes like diarrohea and even weakness, fatigue and depression.
We are under attack from our environments all the time, and Japan’s nuclear accident at Fukushima or industrial leaks of mercury or lead, and banning of asbestos are just extremes that we all hear about in the media. More insidious is the toxins we breathe in everyday.
Most of us work in environments that re closed, air-conditioned and cleaned with a range of artificial cleaners and chemicals. Plastics and glues, air-fresheners, cleaning fluid, gases that leak from refrigerators, coolers and air-conditioners, fibers from fabric or insulators, dust-carried particles and just the various infections co-workers bring in are just some of the poisons circulating in the air of our ‘sealed’ offices.
External pollution due to industry and traffic, poisonous metals in our drinking water or breast milk, and genetically engineered foods, or pesticide over-use are just the more visible and more maligned version of this environmental poisoning.
All these airborne irritants add up to an attack on the immune system that grows with time. Some people, or people growing up in more polluted areas of the world may just naturally fight these toxins better, but in the long run inflammation of the respiratory system is bound to show up in some way or the other.
This is much tougher to stay in control of than your diet. Be aware and study products you use. See that environments you visit are aired naturally once in a while.
The immune system reacts to both physiological and psychological stress. The latter may just be less recognized.
A panic attack, a bad dream, a sudden bad fright or long drawn out and constant stress causing extreme mental exhaustion. All these trigger a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol does a variety of things, from causing wildly fluctuating insulin levels, messing with your metabolism and taking a toll on your immune system in the long run, so that your body will finally give way to inflammation. This inflammation may be a ‘pause’ like a simple flu or a break-out of acne or other skin rashes, or even an upset stomach. More dramatic and harmful inflammation can be like ulcers, or an asthmatic attack or epileptic fit to those so inclined.
With the kinds of lives we live today, some amount of stress is impossible to avoid. It is more important to learn how to deal with it and control it. Some ways are :
- Meditation and breathing techniques,
- Learning and practicing yoga regularly
- Taking time out for oneself on a regular basis.
- Spending more time in the outdoors
- Having a hobby that you truly enjoy
One less understood kind of inflammation is the kind that most women suffer as they age into menopause. This is due to the fact that the hormones in the body rebalance and while they’re finding their levels, cause havoc in some systems. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone change levels, with estrogen decreasing. Simultaneously calcium is depleted, causing an increased risk of osteoporosis.
The inflammation – all the upheavals that are associated with menopause; sudden unexpected bursts of heavy bleeding, cold and hot flushes, weight gain are all connected to these changing hormone levels. Research in this field continues and hormone replacement therapies (HRT) have been giving mixed results. The best thing is to try some lifestyle changes.
- Take more care of your nutrition. The list of anti-inflammatory foods has been mentioned above. Increase omega-3 fatty acids and completely remove trans fats from your diet.
- Take a multi-vitamin supplement
- Cut down on caffeine
- Stop smoking. This is bad at any time of life but when a woman reaches menopause, her immune system has enough to contend with dealing with her fluctuating hormones without also having to fight poisons like tobacco smoke. Alcohol and drugs also act as poisons that the system has to fight.
- Exercise. Regular exercise releases endorphins into the blood stream and these are great to fight inflammation.
- Try stress reducing mechanisms such as deep breathing or learn yoga. Yoga is known to drastically cut the ill-effects of menopause.
- Rest. Sleep well, for a full 7-8 hours. Keep out disturbances like the TV and cell phones from bedtime hours.
Our bodies are under constant attack, yet most of us are lucky enough to have immune systems that fight back valiantly. However, we need to learn to be more aware of our bodies, and what it’s telling us. Constant inflammations of one kind or another are warning signs that all is not well, and in most cases, a simple awareness of the food we ingest or learning to de-stress mentally can drastically fight the slow poisoning of our bodies. It’s time to get in control of our own lives.