By: Alison Mitchell, Naturopath
Inflammation...What is it?It hurts
Well, have you ever seen a cartoon where someone hits their thumb with a hammer and it turns red, swells up and throbs dramatically? That is an exaggerated picture of acute inflammation.
It appears to happen instantly, but inflammation is a complex chemical cascade that is controlled by our immune system in response to irritation, injuries and infections. Inflammation helps to protect us from foreign pathogens and allows us to heal from injuries by sending extra blood and immune cells to the area.
Stiffness, redness, swelling, pain, and heat - these are the symptoms of acute inflammation. In small doses, inflammation is protective and allows the body to heal itself. Unfortunately, this process can be constantly activated by an imbalance in our immune system leading to systemic inflammation. In this case, the inflammation can actually cause us harm. The inflammation isn't usually localised like it was during the acute inflammation, but is actually all throughout the body. It is harder to spot systemic inflammation as there aren't obvious symptoms in this version.
Auto-immune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are examples of inflammation that has gotten out of control, as are allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema. These conditions are seemingly unrelated, however they all have underlying inflammatory elements. Recent research has also shown that inflammation is linked to conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, depression and Alzheimers disease.
And there are even more reasons not to like inflammation!
It wears away joints → osteoarthritis!
Increases gut sensitivity → food allergies
It speeds up the aging process
It predisposes the body to store fat and burns off muscle
It increases the stress response
It reduces fertility
Why all the inflammation?
Inflammation is increasing in today's population due to modern food processing and eating habits that promote inflammation and lack the ability to 'dampen the fire'.
From a nutritional perspective inflammation may be influenced by:
Inflammation promoting chemicals i.e. saturated and rancid fats, large amounts of sugars and simple carbohydrates
Inadequate intake of anti-inflammatory foods i.e. good fats and antioxidants
Other factors which may influence chronic inflammation include:
High levels of long-term stress
An imbalance in the good and bad bacteria in our intestines (dysbiosis)
Imbalances in our immune system
Knowing that underlying systemic inflammation is a key factor in most conditions probably explains why the anti-inflammatory diet is one of my most commonly prescribed eating plans. Our diet and lifestyle has the potential to reduce or perpetuate inflammation in our body.
To reduce inflammation, limit your intake of the following:
Highly processed grains, oils and carbohydrates
Deep fried foods
Processed meats-e.g. salami, ham, sausages, frankfurts and devon
In certain people, the Solonaceae family may aggravate influence, these foods include potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums/peppers, aubergines, chillies, tobacco
In certain people, citrus fruits
To counteract inflammation, ensure the following anti-inflammatory foods feature regularly in your diet:
Fish (especially the oily ones like salmon and sardines)
Fruit and vegetables (except solonaceae and citrus)
Culinary herbs eg. Basil, Mint, Parsley
Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables eg. Berries, Carrot, Squash, Beetroot
Spices, especially Garlic, Ginger and Turmeric
Omega-3 fatty acids e.g. Fish, flaxseed, walnut, avocado
Drink lots of water!!!
It is also a good idea to rotate foods, which can help to prevent the development of food allergies. Rotating foods means that you don't have a food more frequently than every 3 days.
Remember to chew your food properly, as undigested food can be a trigger of inflammation. If you feel that your digestion isn't up to scratch (such as if you get bloating after meals or you can see undigested food in your stools) than try to have bitter tastes 15 minutes before meals, such as apple cider vinegar, olives or chew on some bitter greens like rocket.
Alison Mitchell is a naturopath who practices at Health Dimensions, a multi-disciplinary clinic located in Windsor and Bella Vista. Alison enjoys working with womens health, chronic pain and digestive health.
Bella Vista: 02 8824 6792, Windsor: 02 45776215