5 min|Rhiannon Lockhart
Exploring the Healing Power of an Anti-Inflammatory LifeNutrition
Finding BalanceInflammation is currently a hot topic. Although it plays a crucial role in our body’s defense mechanism, one form of inflammation is associated with numerous diseases and ailments.
Two types of inflammation exist: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the body’s response to sudden damage. Examples include a broken bone, sore throat, itchiness from a bug bite. Acute inflammation is essential for our body to heal and is not usually cause for concern.
In contrast, chronic inflammation occurs when there isn’t any sudden damage to deal with, but our cells are sending signals for help. Often, we associate this inflammation with chronic conditions like autoimmune illness, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
What can contribute to chronic inflammation?
- Agents causing acute inflammation (i.e. gut bacteria) (1)
- Regular exposure to low level of toxins
- Lifestyle including exercise, stress and sleep
Here are some foods that you want to include to reduce inflammation:When looking to reduce chronic inflammation, there are two main areas you want to focus on including: antioxidant-rich foods, and those high in omega-3 fatty acids. Both of these have compounds that help to combat damage and reduce inflammation and disease.
To understand the importance of antioxidants, we need to understand how they affect what is called a “free radical” in the body. Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons that make them highly reactive. They can cause cellular damage if not balanced by antioxidants, contributing to inflammation and its associated issues.
Antioxidants are widely discussed in mainstream media due to their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Various studies have shown that a lack of antioxidant compounds in the daily diet can lead to the development of degenerative diseases and various inflammatory illnesses. (2) Foods high in antioxidants include: berries, mushrooms, peppers, green tea and deep green vegetables. Realistically, any vegetable or fruit will provide you with a substantial amount of antioxidants, along with teas, organic coffee, nuts, and chocolate.
Omega-3 fatty acidsOmega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats that play a crucial role in supporting heart health, brain function, and reducing inflammation in the body. Historically, we have evolved on a dietary ratio of 1:1 for omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids. In recent western times, we now consume a ratio of 1:15. While omega-6 fatty acids are necessary, this increase can impact levels of inflammation in the body.
Focus on increasing omega-3 rich foods like: salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, omega-3 enriched eggs, grass-fed/finished meats and seaweeds. These are preferred as they are easily used by the body. Plant based sources of omega-3 include various nuts and seeds, however don’t convert to the form our body can use very easily.
Here are some foods you want to avoid to reduce inflammationEveryone has different triggers. That means, in addition to the foods below, there may be others like dairy or gluten, that cause more inflammation for you. If inflammation is causing major disruptions for you, it can be helpful to add in testing that targets foods specific to you.
Generally speaking, there are three big triggers that most people can avoid to reduce overall inflammation: ultra-processed foods, white breads and pastas, and refined sugar.
Ultra-processed foodsUltra-processed foods include fast food, many granola bars, breakfast cereals, microwave dinners, processed meats, etc. Essentially, it is the food with ingredients we can’t always name.
These foods are typically high in omega-6 oils and refined sugar and have a higher-glycemic index, spiking insulin and promoting a pro-inflammatory state. (3)
Commonly, the consumption of ultra-processed foods replaces that of whole foods. Meaning we are under consuming high-antioxidant plants or quality animal proteins. Similarly, the taste of ultra-processed foods leads us to overeat them.
Refined carbohydrates and sugarAs it is a refined carbohydrate, white breads have a high glycemic load, which often causes the pro-inflammatory state as outlined for ultra-processed foods. Additionally, many people find that gluten-containing breads and pastas increase overall inflammation and disrupt digestion, even without known Celiac's disease.
This also includes fruit juices and sodas, which contain high levels of fructose. Although, it is important to remember that our body utilizes fructose found in whole fruits differently than what is found in juices and pop.
Here are some areas of your life to consider:
StressInflammation from stress has been linked with various ailments including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. (4) Stress can alter how cortisol impacts the inflammatory response in long-term situations. (5)
SleepYou’ve likely been told to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Not only can this help with your day-to-day cognition, but studies show that decreased sleep amounts have been associated with pro-inflammatory states. (6) (7)
ExerciseGetting regular exercise works on inflammation by reducing fat mass and adipose tissue inflammation. This is known to contribute to systemic inflammation. (8) In addition, exercise increased the muscle production of anti-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-6.
If you’ve been dealing with chronic inflammation, chat with one of our experienced practitioners about how you can utilize diet, lifestyle and supplementation to reduce inflammation and reduce your risk for disease.
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Rhiannon is the Registered Holistic Nutritionist at Integrative. She has a passion for making healthy eating easy, accessible and fun, loves getting outside, and enjoys spending time with her dog, Chloe!