As I stated in my last post, Myths About Inflammation, we live in a world where systemic inflammation (internal and external inflammation affecting all body systems) has become "normal." The past 20 years have also seen an incredible rise in auto-immune conditions causing systemic inflammation.
People with systemic inflammation may experience any of the following symptoms: digestive disturbances, pain, joint achiness and stiffness, increased blood pressure, fatigue, "brain fog," depression, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol, and many more. The problem with many of these symptoms is that they are very non-specific and often are not recognized as being induced by wide spread inflammation. There are blood tests that can test for systemic inflammation: The C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test can be used to check for systemic inflammation; and the Highly Sensitive CRP (hs-CRP) can be used to check for inflammation in the cardiac system. Many MDs consider the hs-CRP test to be a better predictor of heart disease than cholesterol tests. (See my post, Blood Tests Almost Everyone Should Request, for more info on these tests and others.)
Anyone with inflammation can reduce its effects and potentially avoid letting it become systemic using the following methods:
- Avoid inflammatory foods: The simplest way to reduce and avoid inflammation is to follow an eating plan that is high in whole, unprocessed foods, high in vegetables and low in processed grains and sugars. Foods causing the most inflammation in the body include: sugar; vegetable oils (other than extra virgin olive and extra virgin coconut) that are high in Omega 6 fatty acids; hydrogenated oils and margarines; alcohol; and refined grains. Some studies indicate that CAFO meats and dairy are also inflammatory. My favorite book on eating to reduce inflammation is The Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Recipe Book. I highly recommend it!
- Eat non-inflammatory foods: Foods containing anti-inflammatory nutrients include salmon and wild-caught fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids; vegetables (raw or lightly steamed); cherries; blueberries; papaya (high in the anti-inflammatory enzyme papain); pineapple (high in the anti-inflammatory enzyme bromelain); turmeric; green tea; extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil. There is some evidence that night shade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, egg plant, etc.) increase inflammation and pain, although some people are far more sensitive than others. Many people find that avoiding the inflammatory foods listed above and incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into their eating plan makes a huge difference in their inflammatory levels and in how they feel in general.
- Get enough sleep: Researchers at UCLA measured the inflammatory response and blood levels of inflammatory proteins during a 2006 research study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The researchers found that cytokine (inflammatory protein) levels and monocyte (disease-fighting white blood cell) levels dramatically increased after a single night of deficient sleep. The researchers also found that decreased sleep triggered an increase in inflammatory enzymes that trigger the body's protective inflammatory response. They concluded that a lack of sleep causes an auto-immune reaction caused by the stress created by the lack of sleep. The researchers suggested that increased sleep could be a beneficial therapy for systemic inflammation. I conclude that an extra hour of sleep could be especially helpful for anyone suffering from systemic inflammation caused by an auto-immune condition. A summary of this study can be read at: Sleepless Night Triggers Immune System’s Inflammatory Response;Findings Reveal New Avenue for Fighting Autoimmune Disorders.
- Maintain a normal body weight: Excess weight puts stress on joints, muscles and blood vessels, thereby causing a protective inflammatory response. Maintaining weight at a healthy level is known to helpful for decreasing coronary disease, diabetes rates, etc., but is also now knonw to decrease inflammation.
- Drink enough water: Dehydration causes an inflammatory response that may be partially responsible for the negative symptoms caused by dehydration. I strongly recommend drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water daily. So, if you weight 150 pounds, you should be drinking a minimum of 75 ounces of purified water daily. Staying hydrating improves cell function and helps the body eliminate toxins that could contribute to inflammation.
- Avoid allergenic foods: Although it may be tempting to occasionally indulge in a food you know you have a mild allergy to, doing so creates a cascade of systemic inflammation. Please don't.
- Get moderate exercise: The key word here is MODERATE. People who exercise regularly are known to have lower levels of C-Reactive protein, a blood protein that increases in response to inflammation. People who do intense forms of exercise actually have higher levels of C-Reactive protein due to the damage caused to muscles and blood vessels. In my practice, I consistently see higher levels of cholesterol in long-distance runners, probably because the body produces extra cholesterol to repair the damage done to blood vessels during excessive training and racing.
- Maintain normal pH: Acidity in the body increases inflammation. When foods are digested, by products are left behind which are either acidic or alkaline. These byproducts are often referred to as "ash." The most alkaline foods include fruits and vegetables, millet and buckwheat, almonds and brazil nuts. The most acidic foods include meats, grains (other than millet and buckwheat), and nuts (other than almonds and brazil nuts.) The ideal balance to aim for is to eat 80% alkaline foods and 20% acidic foods. This coincides with a healthy balance of high amounts of fruits and vegetables.