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Inflammation...Friend & Foe!

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

It’s safe to say you’ve probably heard of inflammation before but do you really know what it does and why?

As a ‘Friend’ Inflammation it can be seen as:

  • An integral part of the body’s immune response, a primary line of defense against pathogens, damaged cells & invaders of any sort.

  • The means in which the body attempts to protect itself from harmful stimuli & begins the healing process.

  • A part of our Innate Immune response. This is the immune response we were born with & remains present throughout life keeping us as healthy as it can.

  • Commonly associated with pain, redness, swelling, heat, & even restricted movement around the site of injury or infections depending on the severity.

Inflammation in response to invaders like bacteria, viruses, & damaged cells within the body is a good thing naturally acting to help us heal.

The Innate immune system is always present & working away while the Adaptive or Acquired immune system is one more specific, only initiating when a true foreign invader gets into the body.

The Adaptive immune system has a memory, so each time you get a common cold for instance, the immune system remembers that pathogen (bacteria/virus) & knows how to respond. This is why colds & flu's often don’t take us out for days or weeks at a time because our immune system is able to recognize & react.

As a ‘Foe’ or in the case of Acute/ Low grade chronic Inflammation it can be seen as:

  • Joint pain, due to the constant use of our body often results in no rest for the area & so the inflammation is able to persist in spite of the body’s attempts to heal.

  • Fatigue due to the constant utilization of the body’s resources to help you heal, resulting in a classic robbing Peter to pay Paul scenario within the body.

  • Lack of motivation & even depressive symptoms as inflammation affects our dopamine pathway (our reward centre) making some people more sensitive to the effects of the immune system.

  • Physical effects like fever, rash, mouth ulcers, chest or abdominal pain

Acute Inflammation is the likes of: A sore throat - Ingrown Toenail - Cut on the skin - Tonsillitis - Physical trauma. These start & increase in severity quickly taking days or weeks to heal. The healthier you are the faster you heal in most cases. Diets rich in vitamins & minerals, especially Cs, Bs, zinc & iron, antioxidants, protein, good quality fats & fibre will help the body to recover quicker & stay healthier for longer duration's.

Foods to include for better health:

  • First and foremost WATER it is essential to every function in your body, brain to toes, see post here for more details

  • Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring - full of omega-3’s that reduce inflammation & support brain & cardiovascular health

  • Dark leafy veg like broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, collard, cabbages, kale, even beets - full of vitamins like B’s & C, minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron & some zinc, even fibre & protein.

  • Bright veggies & fruits like bell pepper, carrots, squash, tomatoes, peas, berries, melons, apples, oranges & bananas - full of vitamins C, B’s, A, & minerals potassium, magnesium & sulphur, plus fibre.

  • Good quality fats like - avocados, nuts (walnuts, brazil, cashews, almonds, pistachio, macadamia), seeds (chia, flax, pumpkin, linseed, sunflower), organic butter, whole fat dairy (greek yogurt, aged cheeses, kefir), olive, avocado or coconut oils - full of various omega-3's (DHA, EPA & ALA), protein, vitamins, minerals & of course fats which we need in from the right sources.

  • Protein from lean meats or vegetarian sources like turkey, chicken, fish, lean beef, plant based alternatives, tofu, tempeh, soya, some dairy. Nuts & seeds also fall in here.

  • Complex carbohydrates (slow release) like oats, root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beets), whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgar wheat, beans (navy, chickpeas, kidney, lentils, black).

For a more extensive list of where you can get beneficial nutrients from your foods see Vitamin & Mineral posts

Chronic Inflammation is the likes of: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Asthma - Crohn’s Disease - Hay Fever

These can be the result of the body's inability to rid itself of whatever is causing the inflammation, an autoimmune disorder where the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, or exposure to a low level irrant over a long period of time. Diets that consist more of processed foods, high sugar & low protein will not help us to heal & often enhance our chances of illness & inflammation.

Foods to avoid for better health:

  • Pop, soda, fizzy drinks of any sort diet or otherwise - DRINK WATER instead

  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread, rolls, pastries, pasta, crackers, chips or crisps, cakes, donuts

  • Processed foods in general like boxed or bagged foods, yes some have their place but if there are more than 5-10 ingredients & you don’t know them all, don’t eat it!

  • Processed meats like sliced ham, chicken or turkey (ever read the ingredients?) try a local butcher instead

  • Take away food, limit or avoid all together. The excess sodium, saturated fats, & refined carbohydrates is not worth the convenience.

Inflammation can often be painful & the longer & more severe the inflammation the worse the pain can become, this can happen internally or externally. The internal inflammation can be harder to detect though.

Unlike a cut or physical cause of Inflammation we are also subject to self made inflammation due to being overweight or obese. This is known as low grade chronic inflammation & can have some pretty unwanted long term effects on health. Simply put our fat cells store energy in the form of triglycerides & produce a variety of molecules called adipocytokines which modulate energy homeostasis & metabolism, amplify inflammation, immune response & tissue damage which in short can alter or influence other body systems which leads to disease.

So what can we do to help reduce our risk of developing or worsening inflammation in our body?

There is no magic pill but the following will help:

  • Move your body more, walk 15 min if that’s all you can do to start & aim for 60 min daily within 3-4 weeks. See post here for more on why & tips on how.

  • Add in more beneficial foods to your diet as listed above. Start by swapping 1 or 2 foods a day for healthier alternatives & increase these swaps as often as possible.

  • Drink water, if you don’t drink any start with 1-2 pint glasses daily, swap a soda for a bottle of water or your coffee for a green tea (extremely beneficial), build up to 2 litres daily within 2 weeks & you’ll be amazed at how much more energy you have & better you feel.

  • Eat your fruit & veg daily, 5-7 servings is not hard to get, see post here, & the benefits the vitamins & minerals will have will get you hooked on healthier options.

  • Increase protein in your daily diet, fish, lean meats, eggs, some dairy, whole grains, tofu, tempeh, soya, nuts & seeds, oats, beans, & even many of our veggies have good amounts of protein

Drugs, alcohol, inactivity, poor diet & lack of sleep can all contribute to low grade inflammation as we’ve discussed. These aspects of life are often linked to an increase in weight & reduction in immune function, which brings the circle back around to inflammation. Reducing weight can often be key in reducing low grade inflammation, so start with more movement & some dietary changes to get you headed in the right direction.

Health doesn’t have to be hard but it does have to be something we continually monitor & just like anything you do or have done in the past, it will get easier the more you do it.

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