In this post, I answer what is inflammation, what inflammation means for your health, highlight common inflammation causes, and share evidence-based ways to lower inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
We all encounter some variety and level of inflammation every day — whether it’s through stress, disease, our environment, and more — but what is inflammation and how does it impact your health? In a nutshell, inflammation is a natural process that helps the body heal while defending itself from harm. It’s basically the process of recruiting immune cells to tissues in the body for their actions. (1)
Inflammation is part of the body’s inflammatory response when it increases white blood cell and immune cell production that work together to fight infection. Inflammation can appear in the short-term form, known as acute inflammation, as well as long-term form, known as chronic inflammation.
Is Inflammation Bad?
Inflammation isn’t technically “good” nor “bad”. Inflammation can be beneficial with regards to immunity and cell defense. You want your body to kick into gear to defend itself from getting sick and effectively fight pathogens, i.e. bacteria, from taking over your body. Along the same vein, you experience both forms of inflammation when you exercise. You experience acute inflammation with temporary soreness and discomfort after a workout, while working out will also reduce chronic inflammation like joint pain, accelerated signs of aging, and diseases like cancer or obesity in the long run. (1)(2)
Typical signs of acute inflammation may include redness, soreness, pain, and swelling. Chronic inflammation, while sometimes not visible to the naked eye, can occur as a result of long-term stress, (3) gut health issues and obesity, while leading to major health problems like diabetes, (4) cancer, (2) and heart disease. (5)
What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can be caused by a multitude of lifestyle factors and daily behaviors. Excessive alcohol consumption, for example, can create inflammation in the body. (6) You can read more about what drinking alcohol does to the body here on the NS Blog. Other common causes of inflammation include eating processed and packaged foods that are full of trans fat, (7) eating a diet heavy in refined carbs, (8) and having an inactive, sedentary lifestyle. (9)
5 Ways to Lower Inflammation Today
The good news? Once you recognize common inflammation causes and understand the risks, it’s simple to find ways to lower inflammation every day.
No. 1 — Get Active
Moving the body is one of the NS Pillars of Health for good reason. Movement is beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit. When it comes to inflammation, it’s especially important to find ways you enjoy moving your body and do that every day. A recent study suggests that one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system, producing an anti-inflammatory cellular response. (10) Additional research has echoed the sentiment. A study on exercise training on inflammatory biomarkers in the elderly suggested an anti-inflammatory effect (11), and another study linked sedentary behavior to influence markers associated with inflammation. (12)
No. 2 — Enjoy Whole Foods
This tip to lower inflammation is a no-brainer here at NS. By filling your diet whole foods, you’ll find that don’t crave the processed, packaged or refined “food” that brings nothing to the table health-wise. Whole foods — foods from the earth —work effectively to nourish every cell in your body. Think fruits, vegetables, healthful fats, proteins, “superfoods”, fermented foods, seaweeds, spices, and herbs. Check out our recipes to get nourished in hundreds of ways.
No. 3 — Limit Alcohol Use
As we delved into detail in What Drinking Alcohol Does to Your Health, heavy drinking can cause a multitude of physical and mental health problems, and a lot of them find inflammation at their root. Even as a light drinker, alcohol can throw off your metabolism and potentially lead to overeating, as well as difficulty absorbing important vitamins and minerals in a healthy diet. As part of a balanced lifestyle, drinking alcohol can be practiced in moderation, and it can be part of a celebratory activity when it’s not relied on for a therapy.
No. 4 — Avoid Refined Carbs
Refined carbs are risky in that they cause blood sugar levels to spike Research has suggested that diets excessive in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats are risk factors for insulin resistance. The study also showed that calcium, magnesium, vitamin-D, and the omega-3 fatty acids likely protect against inflammation and insulin resistance. (8) Moral of the story: inflammation is yet another reason to cut back on refined carbs, and make sure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet.
No. 5 — Manage Stress
Research has shown a direct link between stress and inflammation, making it even more important to learn stress management tools and strategies so that you can truly unwind and chill out. It starts with understanding stress’s biological impact on the body, having a plan for stress when it happens, making a simple shift in mindset, and some simple tips to keep stress at bay to fully unwind. Read more here on the NS Blog, and make 2018 the year of chill.
- Examine. Inflammation.
- Coussens, L. M., & Werb, Z. (2002, December 19). Inflammation and cancer.
- Slavich, G. M., & Irwin, M. R. (2014, May). From stress to inflammation and major depressive disorder: a social signal transduction theory of depression.
- Wellen, K. E., & Hotamisligil, G. S. (2005, May 02). Inflammation, stress, and diabetes.
- Pearson, T. A., Mensah, G. A., Alexander, R. W., Anderson, J. L., Cannon, R. O., Criqui, M., . . . Vinicor, F. (2003, January 28). Markers of Inflammation and Cardiovascular Disease.
- Oliveira, A., Rodríguez-Artalejo, F., & Lopes, C. (n.d.). Alcohol intake and systemic markers of inflammation– the shape of the association according to sex and body mass index.
- Bendsen, N. T., Stender, S., Szecsi, P. B., Pedersen, S. B., Basu, S., Hellgren, L. I., . . . Astrup, A. (2011, October). Effect of industrially produced trans fat on markers of systemic inflammation: evidence from a randomized trial in women.
- López-Alarcón, M., Perichart-Perera, O., Flores-Huerta, S., Inda-Icaza, P., Rodríguez-Cruz, M., Armenta-Álvarez, A., . .. Mayorga-Ochoa, M. (n.d.). Excessive refined carbohydrates and scarce micronutrients intakes increase inflammatory mediators and insulin resistance in prepubertal and pubertal obese children independently of obesity.
- Yates, T., Khunti, K., Wilmot, E. G., Brady, E., Webb, D., Srinivasan, B., . . . Davies, M. J. (2012, January). Self-reported sitting time and markers of inflammation, insulin resistance, and adiposity.
- Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation. (2016, December 21).
- Woods, J. A., Wilund, K. R., Martin, S. A., & Kistler, B. M. (2012, February). Exercise, Inflammation, and Aging.
- Henson, J., Yates, T., Edwardson, C. L., Khunti, K., Talbot, D., Gray, L. J., . . . Davies, M. J. (2013, October 29). Sedentary time and markers of chronic low-grade inflammation in a high-risk population.
Looking for more inspiration for living a healthy, balanced lifestyle that decreases inflammation? We’ve got you covered.
- The Basics of a Whole Foods Lifestyle, Nutrition Stripped
- 10 Plant-Based Proteins You Should Be Eating, Nutrition Stripped
- How to Manage Stress and Chill Like a Pro, Nutrition Stripped
- How to De-Stress in 10 Minutes, Nutrition Stripped
Let’s Hear It
Do you have additional questions about inflammation? Do you feel equipped to prioritize habits that will decrease your risk of chronic inflammation? Share your thoughts and questions below, and help others in the NS community learn more and live whole. Connect with NS on Instagram @NutritionStripped and #NutritionStripped.