Inflammation is quite the buzz word these days. You’ve probably heard:
- Anti inflammatory foods
- Inflammation leads to disease
- We need to reduce inflammation
We hear this a lot these days so I thought it was time to have a look at what inflammation is, why it occurs in the body, when it’s good, when it’s bad and what you can do when it all gets too much.
First of all, it’s worth acknowledging that our bodies are incredible, complex machines that are designed to run optimally (when we care for them). When well nourished, hydrated, rested and exercised, the human body is capable of healing, cleansing and detoxing without outside influence.
So, what is the story with inflammation?
Very simply: it is the body’s internal healing army.
Harmful threats to the body cause a release of chemicals which in turn trigger a response from the immune system to fight the threat.
It is the body’s front line protection against infection, injuries, toxins, disease, bacteria, viruses
For example, a cut on the hand heals on its own without intervention (besides a little cleaning) because the body goes to work sending immune cells, blood clotting agents to the site to eliminate inflammation from the damage and start repairing the tissue.
Inflammation is a generic response and is therefore considered an “innate immunity”, as opposed to “adaptive immunity” which is a more specific response to individual diseases or poisons.
Signs of inflammation
When the body is working to repair, you might notice:
- Loss of function
If we didn’t have an inflammatory response in the body, cuts wouldn’t heal, infections would take over and disease could set in.
When it goes “wrong”
So as you can see, we need inflammation to keep infection out of the body. But, if the body starts to go into over-drive and have too much inflammation, it can start to attack itself. This is when inflammation can be linked to a range of human diseases and allergic reactions.
Disorders associated with inflammation include:
- autoimmune disease
- coeliac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- some cancers
- heart disease
The inflammatory response must be actively stopped when not needed any more, to avoid “bystander” damage to healthy tissues. If not stopped, it can result in chronic inflammation and destruction of cells.
Inflammation has also been linked to depression, often triggered by stressors.
So why are we so concerned about anti inflammatory foods?
When our lifestyle is less than ideal, our stress levels rise which knocks our hormone levels off balance.
Long term low grade inflammation can result in the the body fighting lifestyle factors such as stressors, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, hydration and exercise.
What can you do to minimise the excessive inflammatory response?
Since 70% of our immune system is in the gut, looking at gut health and the microbiome is a good starting point.
By nourishing the trillions of gut bacteria, microbes and organisms with a variety of plant based foods, cutting back on processed foods and avoiding sugar and alcohol, we give the microbiome the chance to flourish and do its job efficiently.
It’s worth noting that we need a healthy, varied microbiome for good health, but the microbes don’t need us for survival.
Some foods to consider including in your diet:
- Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles)
- Dark leafy greens
- Oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
Another factor is stress management. Stress, like inflammation, has a purpose in life, but it’s when it becomes a constant factor in every day life that problems occur. Constant low grade stress can lead to trouble sleeping, hormone imbalances and weight gain.
So, whilst inflammation is key to helping the body heal, repair and fend off infection, it is important to consider lifestyle factors to minimise the chances of chronic inflammation.
Key lifestyle factors to manage:
- Diet – eat real food and watch portion sizes
- Sleep – aim for 7-9 hours a night
- Exercise – a daily non-negotiable
- Stress – recognise your stressors and have a plan to manage them
If you’re a woman over 40, you may recognise many of these lifestyle challenges. Our 40s and 50s are a busy, demanding time with work and family commitments. Add to that the hormonal changes of menopause, and it can end up a perfect storm of high stress, poor sleep, not enough exercise and poor food choices.
It’s all enough to send your stress levels sky rocketing, right?
So rather than adding to your stress, take a moment to consider your current lifestyle and choose one area to address:
Making small changes in one area, can have a big impact on how you feel. Once you are ready, you can then address another factor.
Small, regular changes, add up to a big difference, so take heart and remember: Your Choices Matter, so Choose Wisely