TO YOUR HEALTH
Why you should increase your body’s anti-inflammatory response
Inflammation can be either your friend or your enemy. While acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense response to injury, chronic inflammation may lead to cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, research shows. It has also been found to be the underlying cause of a number of autoimmune issues, and, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, one in five people suffer from autoimmune disease in the United States.
What’s the difference between the acute and chronic forms of inflammation?
Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s the immune system’s natural response to harm, such as a scrape or burn, and can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of days. It increases blood flow and permeability to the affected area to allow the healing process to begin. That’s when you would experience pain, redness, heat and swelling as blood and fluids rush to repair the damaged tissue.
Then, there’s chronic inflammation, which is the opposite—it’s long-lived and often goes unnoticed. It begins with the same cellular reaction, but if an inflammatory response is constantly triggered by unhealthy lifestyle choices or an underlying medical condition, it can continue, damaging the body instead of healing it.
According to a report published by the Harvard Medical School, during chronic inflammation “the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, which then plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and even Alzheimer’s.”
Dietary habits that increase inflammation tend to be high in refined sugar, starches and saturated and trans fats, and low in omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants and fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Some of the worst Western dietary tendencies warm up inflammation, while more prudent dietary patterns cool it down. Choosing healthy sources of carbohydrate, fat and protein, paired with regular physical activity and avoidance of smoking and alcohol, are critical to keeping chronic inflammation at bay. There are, however, a few more items to consider adding to your diet and lifestyle regimen. SPICES WITH ANTI-INFLAMMATORY COMPOUNDS If you’re a fan of cinnamon buns, they may not be as bad for you as you think. Yes, they still have too much sugar and starch, but their cinnamon content can keep your blood sugar in check. This spice has been used in naturopathic medicine to treat diabetes in India. Plus, it has been found to have blood-sugar regulative properties and to control glucose levels in diabetic and prediabetic patients. Besides helping your cells regulate insulin, the hormone that’s responsible for pushing sugar into your cells, cinnamon extracts can increase anti-inflammatory proteins and fight against free radicals in your body. Two kinds of cinnamon are available on the market today: Cassia and Ceylon. The former is more commonly used but is considered lower quality, while the latter is the “true” cinnamon originating from Sri Lanka and southern parts of India.
Another commonly recommended spice to treat inflammation is turmeric and, more importantly, the chemical it contains, called curcumin. Because of its anti-inflammatory and healing benefits, it’s often used for myriad health issues, from skin or gut problems, to flu, to arthritis. FOODS HIGH IN OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS The American Heart Association’s report, Strategic Impact Goal Through 2020 and Beyond, recommends more than
two 3.5-ounce fish servings per week, preferably oily fish such as salmon and sardines. Yet studies published in the National Library of Medicine found that a significant number of American adults are not meeting those recommendations. Flax seeds, flax oil and walnuts should also be in the kitchen at all times as omega-3 sources. These healthy fats give rise to anti-inflammatory and inflammationresolving mediators.
Antioxidants decrease the oxidation process in cells that could lead to oxidative stress, which is a direct cause of inflammation. Through oxidation, molecules called free radicals form in the body and can cause oxidative damage. It’s a natural process, and the body naturally produces antioxidants to fight the free radicals. The problem, however, comes when the levels of antioxidants and free radicals are out of balance. Because of unhealthy lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking), as well as environmental pollution and excessive exposure to UV lights, the body may be incapable of keeping up with detoxifying the free radicals. That’s when foods that are high in antioxidants come into play: blueberries; yellow, orange and red vegetables (peppers, carrots); dark leafy greens (spinach, Romaine lettuce); citrus; black and green teas; and allium vegetables (onions, garlic) are all great sources of antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and repair damaged molecules.