Inflammation has become a bit of a buzzword recently, and rightly so. Did you know that systemic inflammation plays a role in the development of many chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease? With 2 out of every 3 deaths in North America attributed to these lifestyle diseases, it makes sense to nip inflammation in the bud.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening inside the body as we get older, factors contributing to aging, and what you can do to age gracefully and inflammation-free!
What is inflammation?
Inflammation plays a central role in the body’s healing process—it is an essential part of our immune response. Short-term inflammation protects us against invaders like viruses and bacteria by triggering heat and swelling after an injury. But when the immune system is overactive or dysfunctional, it mobilizes a defense against harmless substances, and can even damage its own cells. That is when inflammation becomes chronic. In fact, uncontrolled chronic inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease.
Why does inflammation become chronic?
Inflammation can become chronic for a variety of reasons, and sometimes the reason isn’t apparent at all. It may be brought on by a condition such as obesity, an abnormal immune reaction, environmental toxin exposure, or an infection that doesn’t go away. Or it may stem from a disease that is characterized by inflammation such as colitis, pancreatitis or hepatitis. As time goes on, this inflammation can damage the body’s tissues and even DNA, leading to conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer.
Genetics are also believed to play a strong role in our susceptibility to chronic inflammation. Research has identified a number of genetic SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that cause some individuals to quickly produce large numbers of inflammatory cytokines, making a preventive lifestyle particularly important.
Lifestyle factors can contribute to inflammation
Far from being passive within the body, recent research shows that fat is a major player in systemic inflammation. The more fat we have, the higher the risk of chronic inflammation. And because we tend to put on weight as we age, this further increases inflammation risk. Understanding these relationships allows us to make the changes necessary to live a lifestyle that is preventive in nature, reducing our chances of developing chronic disease.
Nine ways to prevent and reduce inflammation
1. Exercise: Research points to exercise as the single most effective step you can take to reduce systemic inflammation. Our current sedentary pandemic lifestyle is not making us any healthier—in fact, one 2019 study coined the term “inflamm-inactivity” to reflect that lack of exercise and the resulting fat accumulation may be the main drivers behind inflammation.
2. Drink enough water: Our bodies are made up of 70% water, and it is absolutely crucial for cell-to-cell communication; the formation of gastric juices and enzymes; helping the muscles of the digestive system to function properly, and off course as the vehicle that provides mobility to the toxins and cellular refuse that needs to leave the body.
The recommendation is to make sure to drink at least 8 glasses of clear, filtered water per day. This shouldn’t include any other beverages, although it is a good idea to add herbal teas, such as rooibos or green tea, on top of that.
3. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet: Let food be your medicine! The right diet can increase your lifespan and improve markers of inflammation. New thinking about gluten notes that gluten causes temporary leaky gut in all who consume it and it may cause a pathologic response in many people and this can irritate inflammation that is already present in the body.
Consume less of these inflammatory foods:
Consume more of these anti-inflammatory foods:
Leafy green vegetables
Nuts & seeds
4. Take turmeric: Turmeric’s active component, curcumin, has been heavily researched of late for its ability to reduce acute and chronic inflammation, and is recommended as a food based supplement to patients with arthritis, metabolic syndrome and cancer. Turmeric powder can be taken as a capsule, tea or whipped into a chai latte. You can also buy the fresh root and blend it into any smoothie, or add it to salad dressings and hummus.
5. Practice intermittent fasting: Did you know that digestion takes up 80% of the body’s energy? That’s why intermittent fasting (eating for only a set number of hours per day) so effectively frees up the body’s energy to focus on tasks like removing senescent cells. Start easily by eating an early dinner so that you are naturally fasting for 12 hours a day, and slowly increase the time to 14-16 hours a day. Remember to drink your water during the fasting time!
6. Improve your sleep hygiene: Inadequate rest may make you more sensitive to stress, which in turn causes inflammation.
7. Get a massage: A massage isn’t just a treat. It can play an integral part in staying healthy.
8. Reduce stress: If you have an inflammatory condition such as Crohn’s disease, you know very well the effect that stress has. The high cortisol levels that stress triggers increase inflammation throughout the body. Stress also increases blood pressure and heart rate, making your blood vessels work harder and creating damage. If that damage happens over and over, inflammation persists.
A daily relaxation, meditation or yoga practice is key. Take 10-30 minutes daily to be with yourself and bring your cortisol levels back to neutral – this will allow you to approach each day anew.
9. Look after your gut microbiome: A good quality probiotic supplement is not only soothing to the gut. Researchers have found that taking probiotics for 8 weeks helped to reduce markers of inflammation in arthritis patients. Try to find a high-quality professional supplement, or if you prefer you can take your daily probiotics in food form such as kefir, kombucha or kimchi.
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is a woman’s hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Join the introductory virtual seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, offered monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.
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