Inflammation – it’s not just something you treat with Bengay or Advil. Recently you’ve probably heard all about it from the media, your annoying friend Sharon, and whatever supplement company is trying to sell you something. So let’s take a look at what it is, whether you should be worried about it, and what you can do about it.
What is inflammation?
Very simply – inflammation in your body is generally a broad immune response that protects you from injury, infection, or the effects of illnesses. When something happens – like you twist an ankle, get a cut, or ingest a pathogen – your body dispatches a ton of white blood cells, immune cells, and other substances called cytokines to ward off infections. The result for ‘acute’ inflammation in response to one of those injuries is to see redness, swelling, feel pain and heat – you know, the stuff that happens when you hurt yourself. Not only is this completely normal, but it’s also required or else your body would never heal itself. So far, so good.
So what’s the problem with inflammation?
Above we talked about acute inflammation, which is totally normal and healthy. The thing Sharon keeps talking about (even if she doesn’t know it), is chronic inflammation. This relatively less understood type of inflammation is increasingly being linked to a massive number of health conditions, including diabetes, fatty liver disease, and even cancer. My own disease, Multiple Sclerosis, has also been linked to chronic inflammation (wait, you’re telling me I get two for one?!) and there are some interesting treatments that are being pioneered as a result.
This chronic inflammation is the condition we’d like to tamp down. Scientists believe these low levels of inflammation can be triggered by something your body perceives to be a threat – when in many cases there isn’t a disease to fight. The theory is this perceived threat tells the immune system to respond and the white blood cells, immune cells, and cytokines are produced, only to wander around the body like me without a GPS. These rogue good guys, we think, may eventually start attacking internal organs or other healthy tissues and cells, causing all sorts of madness.
The result? As I mentioned above, everything from cancer (an interesting article here from the National Cancer Institute) to heart disease (the number one killer of Americans – by far) looks to be caused, at least partially, by being in an inflamed state.
How is inflammation caused?
I’m sure this won’t surprise you – but chronic inflammation looks to be caused by many of the foods we eat and our activities (or lack thereof). In no particular order:
- Booze (or, rather, too much of it)
- Sugars and High Fructose Corn Syrup (of course, because HFCS is literally good for nothing)
- Trans-fats and highly processed food (especially in women, according to this study)
- An imbalance of Omega3 to Omega 6 fatty acids which, as you can guess in the Standard American Diet, is all too prevalent (basically we eat too much Omega 6 – think corn and other vegetable oils we eat – and too little Omega-3 (salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, etc).
- Sitting on your bum.
Well, this sounds bad. What can I do about inflammation?
So we’ve spent the last 600 words giving you a very brief overview of inflammation, why it’s so nasty, and why many of us have it (including me, post lifestyle change!) – so now it’s time to fix it. The good news – is that the same stuff we always preach on the Jetson blog is still relevant. It’s not overly complex, it’s affordable, and it isn’t a bummer for your life. Surprise: the solution lies in your gut. An imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut can cause chronic inflammation that throws your entire body out of whack.
We don’t preach about crazy diets here, you know that. But following the only ‘diet’ that has been proven to have life-extension properties is pretty much the answer. Which one? The Mediterranean diet. That means…
- Generally avoid lots of red meat, dairy, ultra-processed foods (if there’s an ingredient you wouldn’t use in your kitchen, you probably should think twice about eating it).
- Watch your sugar and refined carbs – no Wonder Bread or plain white rice for you.
- Avoid the non-nutritive oils (corn, sunflower) as they are Omega-6 bombs – and we don’t need more of that.
It also means you SHOULD be eating lots of:
- Vegetables: Anything cruciferous, dark and/or leafy: broccoli, arugula, kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, dark mixed greens.
- Chocolate: Dark chocolate – yes, seriously. Look for 70%+ cacao content – and the higher the better. And of course, don’t eat the whole bar.
- Fatty fish: Salmon is my go too. If you can stomach them, sardines and anchovies are an amazing source of good Omega-3.
- Nuts: Almonds and pistachios (sorry, peanuts don’t help!)
- Fruit: Mostly focus on dark berries, like blueberries and cherries
- Healthy fats: Avocados, olives, olive oil and Avocado oil
- Certain spices: Turmeric and cinnamon, although the jury is out on their actual efficacy.
- Tea: Green tea, although I stay away from caffeine, so a beautiful turmeric herbal tea from vendors like Numi are great.
- Red wine: Target 5 ounces of red wine per day for females and 10 ounces per day for males.
And of course, exercise. Again, even a few times a week for 30 minutes will give massive benefits for heart health and reducing overall inflammation.
You can do this – it’s less challenging than you think. Watch out for brightly colored packages in the middle of the grocery store- that is the danger zone. Focus on more whole, fresh foods that have been minimally processed and drink lots of water (of course!).