It's no secret that we're having some major problems with chronic preventable diseases in the United States. Conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity are very common - and some are becoming more common. They take an enormous toll on our vitality and well-being at a personal and community level. Consider these statistics:
- 2 in 3 U.S. adults over age 20 are overweight or obese
- More than 1 in 3 U.S. adults has pre-diabetes or diabetes
- More than 1 in 3 U.S. adults has metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors - increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels - that are associated with heart disease and other metabolic diseases)
- 1 in every 4 deaths is from heart disease
As we learn more about these conditions, it is becoming clear that inflammation is a driver for them all. New research is continually helping us discover the sources of inflammation, and what we can do to prevent it.
Inflammation in our bodies involves a complex cascade of reactions. Inflammation can lead to healing, but chronic inflammation leads to imbalances in a number of systems — such as our metabolism and our immune system.
Longterm inflammation can come from stress, food sensitivities, allergies, excess abdominal fat, environmental pollutants, imbalances in the microbiome, sedentary lifestyle, vitamin deficiencies, smoking, inadequate sleep, and unhealthy dietary choices.
If you have multiple risk factors for inflammation, they may work together to increase your risk. For example, a recent study found that overweight or obese people who were exposed to stressful events had significantly stronger inflammatory reactions than their lean counterparts.
Fortunately, there are several ways that you can turn down the heat of inflammation:
1) Address your stress — Be proactive about developing practices that help stimulate your body's relaxation response and all the associated health benefits. Set limits on your work life. Make sure to get enough sleep. Aromatherapy oils like lavender and herbal teas like chamomile can promote calm. Yoga and meditation are two strategies that have demonstrated success in reducing markers of inflammation. One herbal supplement called Protandim Nrf2 Synergizer has been shown to reduce stress at the cellular level, allowing your body can heal itself more effectively.
2) Choose healing, anti-inflammatory foods - whole unprocessed foods that are rich in fiber and phytonutrients (such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains) help activate your body's natural healing response. The fiber in whole foods is important nutrition for helpful bacteria in the colon, who break it into an anti-inflammatory substance called butyrate. Colorful foods contain phytonutrients and antioxidants which also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil, nuts, and cold-water fish (Omega-3s) also decrease inflammation. The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet have both been linked to reduced inflammation. Dr. Andrew Weil has a Anti-inflammatory food pyramid which is a helpful visual.
3) Avoid inflammatory foods — foods that are high in sugar, or that quickly break-down into sugar (starchy foods) stress your body and create inflammation. Other inflammatory foods include red or processed meats, trans fats, and alcohol. Particular individuals may have allergies or difficulty digesting foods and they should avoid these irritating foods also.
4) Avoid environmental pollutants - Exposure to smoke or other environmental pollutants like smog are also linked to inflammation and an increase in free radicals.
5) Get moderate, regular exercise - Research has demonstrated that people who exercise regularly have fewer markers of inflammation.
Most of these self-care recommendations are common-sense habits that we learned from our grandparents: Eat Your Veggies, Go for a Walk, Get Enough Sleep, and All things in Moderation. There are some different challenges that weren't such a problem for our grandparents, though — like 24/7 connectivity, sedentary jobs, processed food, rush hour traffic, and smog. As we learn more about the science behind inflammation, we are all challenged to find sustainable approaches to self-care in our busy world — so we'll be around to pass those smart strategies on to our grandchildren!
Have you tried any of these approaches to reducing your risk for inflammation? Could you tell a difference? Please share about your experiences below!