How to reduce inflammation
Inflammation is the immune system’s natural response to infection, injury, and other harmful agents. The goals of inflammation are to eliminate the cause of the threat, clear out infected or damaged cells and tissue, and begin the healing process. Everyone has experienced acute inflammation in response to illness or injury at some point- many of the symptoms we experience from a cold, infection, cut, or fall are caused by the inflammatory response. Common symptoms of acute inflammation include swelling, fever, pain, and redness.
However, inflammation can also occur and persist in the body when no injury or threat is present. Without anything to protect or heal, the immune system can damage healthy joints, organs, and blood vessels. This is called chronic inflammation, and is linked to heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). As such, identifying the causes of chronic inflammation and learning how to reduce them are an important part of preventing certain chronic diseases. In this blog you can read more about the causes of chronic inflammation and how to reduce your risk with lifestyle changes.
Causes of chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation has several potential causes. The most common causes are autoimmune diseases, past untreated acute inflammation, and exposure to certain environmental toxins. Lifestyle factors also can contribute to chronic inflammation, such as:
- Chronic stress
- High alcohol consumption
- Not enough exercise, or too much extreme high-intensity exercise
Source: Cleveland Clinic, 2021
While some causes of chronic inflammation cannot be controlled, certain lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk and potentially lower inflammation levels with time.
How to reduce inflammation
You may not feel it, but chronic inflammation could be damaging your body over time. Luckily, inflammation can often be reduced through diet and lifestyle. Follow these tips to reduce inflammation:
1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
One important way to fight inflammation is through diet. Certain foods have been linked to increased inflammation, while others have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Make an effort to include the following anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:
- Avocados: These superfoods are a good source of healthy fats and antioxidants that can reduce the body’s inflammatory response and promote good heart health (Caldas, 2017)
- Extra-virgin olive oil: while saturated fats are associated with increased inflammation and cardiac disease, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants that can reduce inflammation (Berg et al., 2020, McManus, 2022).
- Leafy green vegetables: Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and bok choy are high in antioxidants like beta-carotene that have been shown to reduce markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (Schultz, 2019).
- Fruit: Many fruits contain antioxidants and other compounds that can fight off inflammation and provide other disease prevention benefits. Reach for strawberries, cherries, cranberries, and oranges regularly for their anti-inflammatory properties (Harvard Health, 2021).
- Oily fish: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and are an important part of an anti-inflammatory diet (Harrington, 2010). Oily fish such as herring, salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are highest in omega-3 fatty acids, while some people choose to take fish oil supplements for their omega-3 content.
2. Exercise regularly
While regular exercise has a range of health benefits that include strengthening the heart and bones, weight control, and boosting mood, it has also been shown to reduce markers of inflammation (Fedewa, 2016). Exercise does not need to be extremely high intensity or long in duration to be beneficial- even a regular 20 minute session of moderate exercise, including fast walking can be beneficial for health. In fact, too much intense long exercise can increase inflammation levels over time, and moderate to vigorous exercise with appropriate rest may provide the most benefit (Cerqueira, 2019).
3. Manage Stress
Chronic stress is linked to increased inflammation and heart disease (Liu, 2017). Managing your stress levels is important in reducing inflammation and the other health risks of chronic stress. Consider including yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation exercises into your daily routine, as well as making time for leisure activities, getting enough sleep, and practicing realistic goal-setting.
4. Control your blood sugar
Food that causes dramatic spikes in blood sugar and the insulin resistance from type 2 diabetes can activate the immune system, creating an inflammatory effect (Tsalamandris, 2019). Limiting foods that cause your blood sugar to spike as well as diagnosing and treating diabetes are important in reducing chronic inflammation. Sugary drinks, refined carbs, and processed foods like soda, white bread, pastries, and fast food are examples of items to limit in your diet.
If you have diabetes, ensuring it is well controlled is also important to reduce chronic inflammation. This means regularly checking your blood sugar, following a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Are you curious what your blood sugar is or believe you may have diabetes? Homed-IQ’s Blood Sugar Test allows you to check your average blood sugar over the past three months from home (HbA1C). This value can indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes.
5. Get enough sleep
Short and long-term sleep deprivation are associated with increased inflammatory markers (Grandner, 2013). Getting enough high quality sleep every night is an easy way to help reduce your risk of chronic inflammation. Do your best to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, and ensure your sleep environment is dark and free of distracting noises.
Testing chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with higher markers of inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein produced by the liver and is a common marker of inflammation. Homed-IQ’s Vitamin D and Inflammation Test measures vitamin D levels along with highly sensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), a marker that may indicate an increased risk of heart disease. By measuring vitamin D along with CRP, users can ensure they do not have an undetected deficiency that could be contributing to increased inflammation in their bodies.
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Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Foods that fight inflammation. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation
Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21660-inflammation
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