In many cases inflammation is a good thing—a lifesaving mechanism to defend against real dangers and restore health—but when it goes from being short-lived and localized to being long-term (chronic) it can lead to many serious diseases. Inflammation is often intricately intertwined with our own lifestyle choices and habits. So here’s the scoop on inflammation and what you can do to moderate it.
How does inflammation occur in the body?
”Good” inflammation occurs as the body’s defense against bacteria, viruses, allergens and foreign bodies, and to repair damaged tissues. If you burn your hand or bruise your knee, inflammation is your body’s way of dealing with the injury and promoting healing. Blood vessels dilate so that more blood can get there (causing redness). Fluids leak out of the bloodstream and into the surrounding tissues (causing it to swell). Hormones, proteins, white blood cells, and many chemical compounds are released to contain the damage and repair tissue. Whether it’s occurring in a visible location or internally, the symptoms and signs of inflammation are similar: swelling, redness, pain, and heat.
What happens if inflammation lingers?
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is thought to be an underlying cause of many medical conditions today. From heart disease, cancer, alzheimer’s, and diabetes, many common disorders are linked by abnormal inflammation. Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard educated world-renowned expert in integrative medicine says, “The current growing body of evidence suggests that it’s chronic, low-level, imperceptible inflammation throughout the body that eventually creates the foundation for these age-related diseases.”
A study conducted by Yale University School of Medicine to understand the connection between the inflammatory response and cancer concluded that inflammation has long been associated with the development of cancer. The research stated that “long-standing inflammation secondary to chronic infection or irritation predisposes to cancer… [and] chronic inflammation states associated with infection and irritation may lead to environments that foster genomic lesions and tumor initiation.”
What are the causes of lingering, chronic inflammation?
Thankfully the list of things that cause inflammation is relatively short:
- – Poor diet: mostly sugar, refined flours, processed food and inflammatory fats such as trans and saturated fats
- – Lack of exercise
- – Stress
- – Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites
- – Hidden allergens from food or the environment
- – Toxins such as mercury and pesticides
- – Mold toxins and allergens
What are symptoms of inappropriate inflammation?
Signs of inflammation are joint pain, redness, swelling, high blood pressure, foggy headed-ness, fatigue, hot spots or flu-like symptoms.
Can you test for inflammation?
Body-wide inflammation is not always apparent. But one of the best indicators is a test for C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein made by the liver when you have inflammation somewhere in the body. CRP is considered the best predictor of who’s going to have a heart attack, much more so than LDL cholesterol. Research has shown a two- to four-fold increased risk of future cardiovascular events in healthy people with elevated levels of CRP whose lipid levels are considered normal and who may not have other risk factors for heart disease. You can get a test done here for only $79. The simple blood test won’t tell you where the inflammation is located or what’s causing it. Still it can give you and your doctor a general idea that levels in your body are higher than normal.
What can you do to limit chronic inflammation?
What often tips the scales in favor of chronic inflammation are lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity, inactivity, and stress, which can all promote inflammatory reactions in the body. Smoking, high blood pressure, a lack of sleep, and exposure to toxic chemicals and air pollutants can also increase chronic inflammation. Here are several steps you can take to prevent or reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body and be healthier.
Along with stress and environmental toxins, diet has a huge impact on the body’s inflammatory status. Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid provides simple dietary guidelines to counteract chronic inflammation. It centers around fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and seafood – think Mediterranean.
Starting at the top level… some healthy sweets! If you choose to indulge with chocolate, he recommends dark chocolate as it contains polyphenols with antioxidant properties.
Second tier—red wine! A study conducted by the American Heart Association showed “a 32 percent risk reduction of atherosclerotic disease with red wine intake, which was greater than the 22 percent risk reduction for beer consumption.” If one chooses to drink, Dr. Weil recommends organic red wine and no more than one to two glasses per day.
What else to do during the day? Take your vitamins! Dr. Weil encourages supplements that, depending on an individual’s circumstances, may include antioxidants, co-enzyme Q10, distilled fish oil and vitamin D3. Additionally, instead of that cup of java in the morning, try tea. Dr. Weil highlights that tea, whether it be white, green or oolong, contain antioxidants that can reduce inflammation.
Ever thought about growing an herb garden? Turmeric, garlic, ginger, rosemary and thyme are just some of the herbs that contain anti-inflammatory properties. Dr. Weil suggests using them in your daily dishes.
Dr. Weil suggests one or two servings of protein every day, including high-quality cheeses and yogurts, and grass-fed lean meats. Asian mushrooms, including Shiitake, enokidake, maitake, oyster and wild mushrooms, are a favorite for this diet because they can build up the immune system but Dr. Weil recommends minimizing commercial button mushrooms, and avoiding raw mushrooms altogether.
Omega-3 fish oil from salmon and other cold-water fish have been indicated to reduce the risk for heart disease and slightly lower blood pressure. Dr. Weil encourages two to six servings of fish during the week, rich in omega-3 fats, such as Wild Alaskan salmon, herring, sardines or black cod.
Healthy fats are from foods such as avocados, wild-caught fish, nuts, and seeds. Olive oil is a good fat; soybean, safflower, canola oils are not.
For carbs look to grains, pasta and beans – the goal is to choose pure, whole, real ingredients.
The foundation of Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet pyramid is fruits and vegetables. People need to eat a lllllot more of them. He emphasizes the importance of coloring up your plate with more fruits and vegetables. Certain fruits and vegetables are rich in flavonoids and carotenoids and possess both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. Fruits such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, apples and pears, among others, are recommended, as well as cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, onions, and raw salad greens.
To learn more about the Anti-inflammatory Diet, visit drweil.com and read his book Healthy Aging.
What else can you do for inflammation?
Get Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been shown to have positive anti-inflammatory effects, such as being able to increase vasoactive intestinal peptides, a molecule that has anti-inflammatory properties that is released in the body (1). Acupuncture has also been shown to reduce edema and inflammations in animal studies (2). At The Point Acupuncture in Denver we diagnose and treat each individual according to their own physiological disharmony and create a treatment plan best fit you to live in balance with your environment.
Be active: moderate aerobic exercise lowers inflammation.
Maintain a healthy weight: having more fat cells, especially in the abdomen, encourages higher levels of inflammatory compounds.
Practice mind-body approaches: stress has been found to increase inflammation, as well as anger, hostility, and mild to moderate depression.
Consider supplements: taking daily antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, resveratrol, selenium, and fish oil can help contain chronic inflammation by curbing the destructive tendencies of free radicals.
Sleep: seriously, it’s so important and so often neglected. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
Looking for a Denver acupuncture clinic to help you with all of your general health, fertility, chronic pain, gynecological, digestive and / or respiratory needs? Contact The Point today at 720.523.3351 or book an appointment online.
(1) He TF, Yang WJ, Zhang SH, Zhang CY, Li LB, Chen YF. 2011. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 290489. Epub 2010 Sep 14.
(2) Li A, Lao L, Wang Y, Xin J, Ren K, Berman BM, Tan M, Zhang R.2008 Electroacupuncture activates corticotrophin-releasing hormone-containing neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalammus to alleviate edema in a rat model of inflammation. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2008 May 12;8:20.