Inflammation: what is it and how do we turn it off?
Inflammation is a term that is widely used these days. You’ve probably heard doctors, dieticians and health care professionals ask you to take steps to “decrease the inflammation, inflammatory response or chronic inflammation.” So, what does this mean, and how can we use food to help our body to heal?
First things first. Inflammation is a response from your immune system, that is trying to help protect you from disease and injury. When you hurt yourself, say for example cutting a banana, an inflammatory response takes place, dilating blood vessels, speeding immune cells to the site of injury, and engulfing any foreign microbes that may have been on your skin or the knife you used. This helps to heal the area. Once the area has healed, the inflammatory response shuts off. This type of response is known as acute.
Chronic inflammation is a different situation, governed by different immune cells. It represents a disconnect between tolerance and action: too much action, not enough tolerance. It is caused by a myriad of inputs, such as chronic stress, poor diet, inactivity and even pollution. When chronic inflammation is firing, other normal metabolic functions don’t work as well as they should, and cellular damage occurs. This is when inflammation isn’t serving us, and unfortunately, chronic inflammation is implicated in many chronic conditions that are rampant in our society.
Some of the conditions that have been associated with chronic inflammation include cardio-metabolic diseases (obesity, diabetes, and heart disease), cancer and arthritis. Then we have chronic pain conditions (i.e. fibromyalgia), autoimmune disease, digestive disease (i.e. celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBS), and skin conditions (acne, eczema, and so on.)
The good news: there are some nutritional changes we can make to decrease chronic inflammation.
- Cultivate a variety of foods. When we eat different foods, we are able to nourish our bodies with a good mix of nutrients to prevent deficiencies. Additionally, we increase chances of a balanced microbiome, which plays an important role in disease prevention, mood stability and brain function.
- Minimize hyper-processed foods like sugary coffee drinks, snack foods and fast food. Instead, load up on whole plant foods.
- Choose whole foods to help prevent and control disease. They are rarely the root cause of chronic inflammation; however, there are cases where they may be not as beneficial due to specific food reactions. This is when a professional should evaluate your situation. Any other potential food restrictions, including dairy, gluten or soy, need to be tested and applied on an individual basis.
The best nutrition advice is always individualized to your unique needs. Every person is different and what might work for one person’s anti-inflammatory response might be another’s inflammation stoker. If you are having inflammatory symptoms, make sure you work with a qualified professional to guide you!