Arthritis. Headaches. Depression. Snoring. What do these seemingly unrelated conditions have in common? Inflammation.
Understanding inflammation and how to get it into balance can make a life-changing difference in recovering from a wide range of health conditions.
We all instinctively get the concept of inflammation. Everybody at some point in their lives has had a condition that was painful, swollen, red, or hot. These symptoms – in addition to loss of function – are the hallmarks of classic inflammation. You also know intuitively when that twisted ankle is still swollen, or a scar is still painful, that the healing process isn’t complete. This is because inflammation is ultimately a healing process – when it works the way it should. More on that shortly.
What triggers inflammation? It can arise due to a traumatic injury, such as that classic sprained ankle, or from gradual wear and tear over time. It can also be triggered by an infection, like bacteria in a wound, or from a virus.
Notice how your mood takes a dive when you’ve got the flu? That’s inflammation affecting the brain. Any irritation can also be a trigger. Even emotions and stress are forms of irritation that can spark the fire. Diet is potentially the biggest promoter of all, with certain foods being notorious for provoking inflammation in the digestive tract and throughout the body.
Inflammation is not all bad. Think of it like the gas and the brakes on a car. You need both pro-inflammatory compounds (the gas) and anti-inflammatory compounds (the brakes) to complete the healing journey. But the body can get stuck in acceleration mode and is not able to finish the healing process – and the inflammation that once healed becomes a problem itself. Inflammation can also exist without those telltale symptoms. We now understand depression and dementia, for example, to be manifestations of inflammation. This may be why some natural anti-inflammatory botanical medicines are showing promise in preventing and treating these conditions.
In order to combat inflammation it helps to understand what might be triggering it, but that’s not always possible. The good news is that even if you have multiple factors potentially contributing to inflammation – or factors you can’t identify – then simple steps can make a big difference in putting out the fire. What we eat, for example, can help or hinder our health with each meal and snack. Foods that raise blood sugar such as white flour products and sweets are foes in this department, while blood sugar stabilizing fibre, protein, and fat are friends. Not all fat is created equal when it comes to inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils tend to promote inflammation, especially when they have been damaged by cooking. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory. You can find these in grass fed animal foods, deep cold water fish such as salmon and sardines, or in a high-quality fish oil supplement.
Curcumin is a natural, plant-based anti-inflammatory that deserves special mention. The decades-long scientific interest around this extract of the herb turmeric has generated enormous popularity – and a few misconceptions. While the herb turmeric can be part of a healthy diet, sprinkling it on food or drinking it as a tea will not allow you to reap the benefits seen in clinical trials of curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously hard to absorb and while supplements can be extremely helpful in managing inflammation, it can be difficult to compare apple to apples when purchasing curcumin supplements. Shop for professional grade curcumin products where staff are knowledgeable and can answer your questions.
A FEW MORE TIPS
for maintaining a healthy inflammatory response
Butt out: Is it any surprise that smoking promotes inflammation?
Keep moving: Regular moderate exercise is great protection against inflammation.
Sleep tight: Getting 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep nightly will reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions.
Open wide: Regular dental checkups – along with oral hygiene – are critical to guard against gum disease, which can be a sneaky source of inflammation.
Express yourself (appropriately): Dealing with difficult relationships, inner conflict, and holding in negative emotions cause the body to produce inflammatory compounds. Working through those challenges can improve overall health.
This article was written by:
Kate Rheaume, ND (doctor of naturopathic medicine) and author of the best selling book “Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life” (HarperCollins)