Research shows that inflammation is often the root cause of major diseases in the body. Learn how to defend yours from it daily and with ease.
Inflammation is the health buzzword of our time. It's linked to just about every ailment and disease, and to countless diets promising to reverse it. But what causes the condition, and can we really quell it?
The real culprit is chronic inflammation, an ongoing immune response triggered by stress, processed foods, poor sleep, and other modern-day menaces. Essentially, your body is pumping out white blood cells to protect you from perceived threats. (Acute inflammation, on the other hand, is a helpful, temporary influx that helps heal a paper cut or fight a cold.)
Persistently heightened levels of white blood cells and their by-products (like cytokines, proteins that can trigger inflammatory reactions) can damage tissues and organs and impair immune function, says Christopher D'Adamo, Ph.D., director at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. That damage can outwardly manifest in symptoms like skin rashes and persistent joint pain, fatigue, or digestive problems—and contribute to diseases including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and depression.
6 Changes You Can Make to Protect Your Body Against Inflammation
The occasional scoop of ice cream is A-OK, but too many high-glycemic foods (treats and snacks with lots of added sugars and refined carbs) can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall rapidly after eating. Oxidative stress can also ensue, which is when unstable free radicals outnumber the body's antioxidant defenses and contribute to cell and tissue damage, sparking inflammation.
Colorful, Aromatic Foods Are Best
These helpers, which include flavonoids and carotenoids, are abundant in deeply pigmented, aromatic foods like citrus, berries, tomatoes, red cabbage, broccoli, dark leafy greens, parsley, garlic, ginger, dark chocolate, turmeric, and tea.
When bad bacteria (including potentially harmful pathogens like E. coli) are disproportionate to good ones, we can develop gut dysbiosis. This condition lets harmful substances (toxins produced by gut bacteria) to leak from the intestines into the bloodstream, which can cause chronic inflammation throughout the body.
Anything from saturated fats to stress can drive this process, but plants help undo it.
Opt for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated (from fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil) rather than saturated (common in fried foods). In high quantities (more than 13 grams a day, for most people—think a bacon cheeseburger), the latter may decrease the diversity of beneficial microbes in your gut, priming you for a flare-up.
Working out causes normal, short-term bouts of acute inflammation (which help your muscles repair and grow), but it can also have net benefits over time. A study found that just 15 minutes of strength training a day led to changes in the gut microbiome associated with higher levels of short-chain fatty acids and reduced inflammatory markers. Exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is important because excess fat tissue releases pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Quality shut-eye helps your body regulate cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone secreted in response to stressful events to boost alertness and prime you for physical activity. When it flows unchecked, it may increase inflammation. Stress also often leads to poor eating habits, compromised immune function, and digestive issues—all of which contribute to chronic inflammation.
“Reduce inflammation to treat the root of many issues. If your gut isn't working right it can cause so many other issues.”
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