New research is showing chronic inflammation is implicated in a range of serious health conditions – but these seven simple lifestyle changes can bring it under control
Inflammation can be a friend or a foe. As our body’s natural response to infection, we all need a tiny dose to remove damaged cells and irritants and speed up healing, This ‘acute’ inflammation appears as redness or swelling when you pull a muscle or cut a finger. But if the immune cells begin to overreact to a ‘threat’, they can sometimes turn against us. Chronic inflammation is when the immune system gets a faulty distress signal from the body and sends white blood cells to attack healthy tissue and organs. Scientists are still trying to understand its effects, but early studies show it could be at the root of arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and autism. Inflammation might even be the cause of depression. But rather than reach for the ibuprofen, or something stronger in your fight against inflammation, try these natural ways to reduce the triggers.
Early research has suggested that fatty foods not only dump excess sugar into our bloodstreams, which can set off inflammation, but being overweight itself can put stress on cells. According to a study by the University of Oslo, overeating increases the immune response. So when fatty acids accumulate in the cells as excess energy, the mitochondria become stressed and damaged. This long-term stress causes meta-inflammation – a low-grade chronic inflammation that is difficult to detect.
Cutting back on processed food and instead packing in the omega 3 fatty acids has long been shown to lower the chances of chronic inflammation. In particular, they seem to have a positive effect on the brain. A 2015 study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed adults at risk of lateonset Alzheimer’s performed better than their peers on cognitive tests when they had a high omega 3 diet. Another showed omega 3s had protective effects against atherosclerosis, which can lead to stroke. Dose your diet with fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, or vegetarians can add olive or flaxseed oil to meals. And keep an eye on your omega 6s (found in red meats, dairy, margarine and baked goods). Although they are a diet essential, evidence shows over-consumption could in fact trigger chronic inflammation.
Leafy greens, purple berries, onions and turmeric may all help with inflammation reduction thanks to their rich polyphenol content. A 2016 study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed antioxidant-rich foods lowered the marker for inflammation in the body. Another good reason to eat a Mediterranean diet.
Regular exercise is a no-brainer when it comes to good health, but recent studies have shown a link between physical exertion and lowering inflammation levels. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports studied 5,000 men and women and found those who were physically active had 33 percent lower levels of the inflammation marker C-reactive protein (CRP) than their inactive peers. But you don’t have to sweat it out on the treadmill. Further research by the University of California- San Diego School of Medicine found just 20-30 minutes of fast walking could reduce inflammation by five percent.
Water or green tea helps to flush out the toxins that can trigger inflammation, and as our bodies are 70 percent water, it needs constantly replenishing. Dehydration can lead to a foggy head, hunger pangs and fatigue but also trigger inflammation as the body struggles to rid itself of irritants.
With 70 percent of our immune cells found in our gastrointestinal tract, it makes sense that a healthy digestive system equals less inflammation. A study that analysed 20 clinical trials of probiotics found they could significantly lower the inflammatory marker CRP, support friendly bacteria that populate the intestinal lining and soothe inflammation.
Research has shown that chronic stress can trigger change to our immune systems, which can promote inflammation – so taking time out to relax, whether through yoga or a long bubble bath, is crucial. New research by Carnegie Mellon University has suggested that mindfulness mediation in particular can reduce inflammation. They recruited 30 stressed-out adults and sent half on a three-day mindfulness course and half on a three-day relaxation retreat. Brain scans before and after the programme showed those who did the meditation increased functional connectivity between two brain areas that normally work in opposition, and had lower levels of the inflammation marker ‘interleukin-6’, compared with those who just relaxed.
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