Inflammation may be the underlying cause of many serious health problems, but the good news is that there are many simple things you can do to change it.
Recently on Health Trip we talked about the foundations of naturopathy. Our core belief centres around treating the whole person not the “disease”. Conventional medicine, on the other hand, has always liked to segment the body to different systems and to some extent see them as unrelated to each other.
Slowly this way of classifying health conditions is changing and heading back towards holism. A great example of this is the increasing understanding of how inflammation is triggered in the body and its role in seemingly disparate health issues.
It may seem that conditions migraine, acne, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, endometriosis, auto-immune conditions like arthritis, heart disease, some cancers and premature aging may seem to have little in common. In traditional naturopathy they’re classified as “acidic” conditions (a confusing term at the best of times), we now refer to the same underlying condition as inflammation. It’s exciting to see that medical research now sheds more light onto one of naturopathy’s central beliefs.
What is inflammation?
When we’re injured, such as when we bang our knee, the site of the trauma gets red, hot, swollen and sore due to inflammation. The body does this to increase the blood flow to the damaged area, so it can heal faster. This also happens when the body fights infections.
But sometimes our immune system gets the wrong trigger and starts attacking its own tissues instead, this is what happens in inflammation due to autoimmune conditions like diabetes, lupus and arthritis. A joint inflammed by rheumatoid arthritis is also red, hot, swollen and sore – just like when we’ve banged our knee. It is the same inflammatory process, only this time the cause triggered by a process within the body, not a traumatic blow to the area.
Another example is gingivitis. If your gums bleed when you brush your teeth, it is likely that you have this inflammatory disease in your gums. While you might think the condition is localized to your mouth, in fact gingivitis has been linked to other more serious problems like heart disease and premature labour in pregnancy.
What causes inflammation?
A physical injury or even an infection can set of an inflammatory reaction in the body. In normal circumstances depending on the severity of the attack, the inflammation should only last as long as we are sick or injured. But this chronic inflammation leading to a range of serious health problems has at least two factors that you can change – stress and diet.
Stress, depression and anxiety can have a major impact on our immune system. For example, we know that the stress caused by being a full time caregiver slows down the body’s ability to repair a wound.
Increasingly research is examining the connection between stress, depression and our immune system, and how it increases inflammation, such as this paper on glucocorticoid resistance (for the geeks out there, who love science as much as I do).
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
Food that may reduce inflammation
Most unrefined plant and sea foods prevent inflammation forming. Here are a few of my favourites that are inexpensive and easy to include in our daily diet.
- Omega-3 rich fish e.g.: sardines
- Fruits – most deeply coloured fruits like blueberries, cherries and pomegranate seeds
- Fresh, raw seeds and nuts
- Most vegetables (not fried)
- Oils from seeds and nuts (cold pressed, eaten raw not cooked)
It’s also important to drinking at least two litres of pure water a day.
Foods that may trigger inflammation
As Michael Pollan says “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” If you can’t see the plant in what turns up on your plate, it’s probably going to trigger inflammation. A grain growing in the field looks different once ground into a flour, and a cake bears no resemblance to the original plant.
- Refined foods e.g.: flour
- Meat especially beef and pork
- Nitrates (e.g.: in cured meats like ham, bacon and salami)
- Solanine – a specific trigger for joint pain (a plant chemical in tomato*, eggplant, capsicum, chilies, potato and tobacco)
- Heated oils
- Animal fats (including dairy products)
* Tomatoes are a clear trigger for arthritis though other research shows they can help protect against prostate cancer. I’d suggest you totally avoid tomatoes and tomato products if you have active arthritis. Otherwise enjoy fresh tomatoes in season.
An anti-inflammatory diet plan
Putting all this advice altogether – you might be booking your yoga or meditation class and are sipping water all day, what can you eat? Here’s an example of what you might like to eat today.
Breakfast: Carrot and celery juice plus fruit salad with berries and LSA (linseed, sunflower and almond meal).
Lunch: Canned salmon and salad, or vegetable soup.
Dinner: Brown rice with a dhal and vegetable curry (with lots of turmeric and ginger). Or steamed fish and vegetables.
Snacks: raw nuts, fresh berries, hommous with raw vegetables.
Articles to help you reduce inflammatory provoking stress
- Changing our reaction to stress
- Lifting our spirits
- Reducing anxiety
- Practicing meditation
- Restful sleep
Research update 2015
Some promising research has connected inflammation with depression, according to a recent Guardian article.
Can infection (which triggers inflammation) cause depression?
Don’t forget smoking is a major inflammatory trigger