Inflammation is a normal and healthy immune response that occurs when there is injury or infection. Usually we think of inflammation as something that we can see or feel, like when we have swelling from stubbing a toe or redness from a bite or reaction. But how often do we think of chronic inflammation at the cellular level ? This is low-level inflammation that goes undetected until eventually disease develops and we experience symptoms. Many of the diseases we see today, including diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, strokes, asthma, Alzheimer's, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, Celiac disease, and many more, are actually results of chronic inflammation caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, as well as stress. Many other common symptoms like allergies, reflux, constipation/diarrhea, and heartburn can be caused by chronic inflammation. Fortunately, we all have the power to keep this type of inflammation under control and prevent these deadly diseases!
There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation occurs when we are injured or under sudden stress and can be noticed physically when we experience redness, swelling, or pain. Two stress hormones are responsible for inflammation, and they are adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases blood flow to the extremities, increases muscle contraction and is responsible for what we know as the "fight or flight" response. Cortisol travels to the liver and signals for glucose to be released into the blood, providing the muscles with fuel. Since these hormones are released in response to injury or stress they temporarily decrease the function of our digestive and reproductive systems, as well as our immune systems in order to provide as much energy as possible to most crucial areas of the body needed for survival, namely the heart, brain, lungs, and limbs. In a life or death situation, this is a very useful tool for survival, but when these hormones are released chronically and continuously, diseases are more likely to appear in the body.
Chronic inflammation is mainly the result of poor diet and exercise, as well as high stress levels. Foods such as a trans-fats, omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable and soybeans oils), refined sugar and grains, dairy, alcohol, food additives, and red meat all increase levels of inflammation in the body. Stress, anxiety, anger, and all negative emotions increase cortisol production and therefore inflammation. Even though adrenaline and cortisol are necessary hormones for survival, they are meant to be released only when needed; they are supposed to be temporary. When our diets and lifestyles illicit the constant release of these hormones our bodies are forced to live with constant inflammation, decreased digestive function, and compromised immune systems. Over the course of several months or more commonly many years, the once undetectable chronic inflammation appears as symptoms or even disease for which we then turn to medications or surgical procedures to fix. The problem here is that these medical interventions do not address the underlying cause, and so disease will persist and inflammation will continue to present itself in various and often painful ways.
Luckily, each of us has the power to lower our cortisol levels and decrease inflammation in our bodies. Below are some simple and effective ways to decrease inflammation. If you are suffering from any of the above illnesses or symptoms, I highly recommend you do some more of your own research or contact me for support. By incorporating these into your daily life, you will begin to notice the changes fairly quickly!
1) Increase consumption of anti-inflammatory foods and decrease consumption of inflammatory foods. As mentioned before, trans-fats, omega-6 fatty acids, refined sugar and grains, dairy, gluten, alcohol, additives, and red meat are all inflammatory foods. The easiest way to reduce your consumption of these foods is to avoid processed and fast foods and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods. The best choices to fight inflammation are blueberries, dark chocolate (70% and above, my favorite is raw cacao powder), green tea, fresh ginger and turmeric roots (some of the most potent anti-inflammatory substances available!), extra virgin olive oil, dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, etc.), sweet potatoes, sea vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw apple cider vinegar and lemon juice also powerful anti-inflammatory foods. By incorporating more fresh foods into your diet you are not only providing your body with optimum nutrition while decreasing inflammation, you are also creating a more alkaline environment in which diseases are less likely to develop.
2) Daily exercise and sleep. As with many of my blogs posts, I am again stressing the importance of daily activity and quality sleep. Exercising can be as simple as walking. You don't have to go to a gym. Find what you like and commit to 3-5 days a week for at least 30 minutes a time. Exercise decreases stress levels which will lower cortisol production and increase your overall mood. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol production in order to provide the body with extra energy, and since glucose stores are being depleted intense sugary cravings result. If you have trouble getting quality sleep, please read my blog post on simple ways to improve your sleep.
3) Stress management and positivity. Not only are these important for overall better quality of life, they play a huge role in cortisol levels. When we are constantly stressed, bitter, angry, or anxious, our bodies are constantly on edge thanks to all the adrenaline and cortisol being released. Negative emotions have the same as effect, and that is exactly why stress is known as the "silent killer". It's pretty scary, but it's actually a GOOD thing because we have the ability to control it! Meditation and breathing techniques are extremely effective at lowering cortisol and stress levels, as well as decreasing depression and anxiety and promoting healthy sleep. My favorite breathing technique is the 4-7-8 technique. It only takes a minute and can be done before bed to help you fall asleep or any time during the day when you find yourself tense or stressed. Meditation can be done for as little as 5 minutes as a day and you will see results if you are consistent! Another great stress management technique is practicing yoga. It not only lowers stress levels, it is also a physical activity that allows you to connect your body and mind and develop better awareness of your body. Find what works for you and make the commitment to create a consistent practice.
When we understand the effects that our diets and lifestyles have on our bodies, minds, and overall health, we become empowered and begin to learn how to heal ourselves from the inside out. These tips are safe for everyone, have no harmful side effects, and they address the ROOT CAUSE of many common symptoms. Have you taken any steps towards reducing inflammation, and if so, what has worked for you? Leave a comment and share below!