Inflammation: Why it matters and what you can do about it?

August 24, 2018

Inflammation: Why it matters and what you can do about it?

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What is Inflammation?

You have probably heard about inflammation and some of its negative effects, but small doses of it are actually good. Inflammation is a process that your body uses to heal damaged tissues or to fight pathogens. Everyone has experienced inflammation when their muscles are sore from a work out, when they stub their toe and it swells, or when an insect bite swells and itches. In these small doses, inflammation is the body’s way of healing. It is when inflammation continues for too long (i.e. it is chronic) that it becomes a problem.

 

Why does chronic inflammation matter?

Chronic inflammation is increasingly being linked to a host of diseases. So far, studies have linked chronic inflammation to:

  • Alzheimers;
  • Arthritis;
  • Asthma;
  • Bone loss;
  • Cancer;
  • Depression;
  • Eczema;
  • Heart disease;
  • Intestinal permeability;
  • Multiple sclerosis;
  • Obesity; and
  • Type 2 Diabetes.

If that weren’t enough, excess inflammation is involved in prematurely ageing the body and brain.

 

What causes chronic inflammation?

As your body produces inflammation in response to damage or threats, anything that stresses your body or can be interpreted as a threat can cause inflammation. Our modern lives are full of technologies, chemicals, and even foods that are very new to our bodies when compared to the timeline of human evolution.

 

Everyday we encounter things in our lives that our bodies have not yet adapted to. Our bodies can interpret these new things as stressors or threats and produce inflammation in response. Some of these new things include:

 

  • Chemicals in personal care products and foods
  • Pesticides on foods
  • Lights, especially after dark
  • Air pollution

 

 

Personally, I have Mast Cell Activation Disorder/Syndrome. This is not well heard of, but with more accurate diagnoses is becoming more common. Mast cells are part of the immune system and release chemicals that produce inflammation. Mast Cell Activation Disorder is when the mast cells become over-active, releasing more inflammation more often than is beneficial.

 

I have spent the last three years working to lower the levels of inflammation throughout my body and calm my mast cells.

 

Top Tips to Reduce Chronic Inflammation

It will hopefully be reassuring that the usual tips for living a healthier life also help to reduce chronic inflammation. However, there are certain tweaks to the conventional advice that I have found to be very helpful in lowering chronic inflammation. Diet Many foods that we now eat trigger inflammation in our bodies.

 

As discussed, processed foods contain chemicals that prompt our bodies to produce inflammation. Some foods like grains and dairy can be inflammatory just because of the structure of the proteins within them. Sugar has been found to cause inflammation in many studies. Other foods, such as vegetable oils, cause inflammation in our body as a result of the process of making them.

 

Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is a great start as an anti-inflammatory diet due to the focus on removing processed foods and vegetable oils. The less processed a food is, the better our bodies can recognise it as food, instead of a threat, and so the less likely it is to cause excess inflammation.

 

My personal tweaks on this are:

Don’t be afraid to eliminate foods. If you’re concerned about a food, you can always try eliminating it for 30 days and see if you react when you reintroduce it. Just because you have heard that a food is healthy, don’t feel that you have to include it in your diet if it doesn’t work for you. Even if a food has health benefits for most people, eating it despite a negative reaction will cause chronic inflammation.

 

Sleep

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that sleep effects your levels of inflammation. This is due to the interplay of hormones that are involved in sleep. Melatonin is the hormone that is produced in the evening, and is widely known as the sleep hormone: it also reduces inflammation. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, is responsible for waking us up in the mornings, but causes chronic inflammation when it is released too often.

 

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock and it dictates when melatonin and cortisol are released. By living in accordance with your own circadian rhythm you can optimise the effects of these hormones, leading to both better sleep quality and reduced inflammation.

 

My personal tweaks on this are:

Notice how your circadian rhythm works. Some people naturally feel better staying up until midnight and sleeping until 10am; others feel better sleeping from 10pm until 8 am. Find what works best for you. Reduce your exposure to blue light in the evenings because it suppresses the production of melatonin. Easy ways to reduce blue light exposure are to activate “Night Shift” on your Apple products, or download f.lux for Android devices. You can also get blue-light blocking glasses to wear in the evenings.

 

Avoid eating food too late in the evening. Studies have shown that when you eat can have an impact on your circadian rhythm. Restricting your eating so that you have at least a 12 hour fast overnight when you are asleep can help your circadian rhythm run more smoothly.

 

Exercise

We have all heard that exercise is good for us, but each time you work out your body releases inflammatory chemicals: If you do weight training, then each work out damages the muscle fibres. This triggers inflammation to repair them so that they grow back bigger and stronger.

 

If you are doing cardio training, then your body releases inflammatory compounds to help propel you through your work out as your reach exhaustion. The inflammation produced by exercise can be short term inflammation, which is essential for healing, and can have an anti-inflammatory effect. But too much too often can lead to excess chronic inflammation.

 

My personal tweaks on this are:

Make sure that you allow yourself ample time between work outs to let the inflammation die down. If you are still sore from your last work out, then at least work different muscle groups. If you keep adding more inflammation without letting it dissipate then it becomes chronic. Pay close attention to how your body feels. If you’re exhausted or ill before you start, then your body will have to release more inflammatory compounds to get you through a tough work out.

 

Stress Management

We’ve all heard that chronic stress is bad for our health. One reason is that stress means high cortisol levels, and cortisol triggers inflammation. There are plenty of different options for stress management from breathing exercises, to physical exercise, to meditation.

 

My personal tweaks on this are:

Don’t underestimate the stress relief from things that bring you joy. With so much to fit into life between work, family, friends, food, exercise and sleep, it can be tempting to focus on the things we feel that we “should” do. But sometimes doing the things that just make you happy can be the best stress relief of all.

 

Pay attention to the things that cause you stress and try to mitigate them. Not all stress can be avoided, but maybe there are some things you can do. For me, I have noticed that I get stressed when I am running late. Now I am working on allowing more time in my schedule so I don’t run so late, and I take time out when I can (once I am on the Tube) to relax.

 

In conclusion

Chronic inflammation is something everyone should be aware of and should be taking steps to mitigate. There are lots of potential triggers for chronic inflammation in our modern environment. The best advice that I can give is to try to pay attention to the things that affect you and your body most. If you really want to improve how you feel, try to keep a diary of your food, sleep quality, and any symptoms.

 

I spent the first 22 years of my life chronically inflamed, but I had no idea. Paying attention to how everything in my environment affects me is allowing me to reach new levels of feeling great that I never knew existed. You may be able to feel even greater than you do now and potentially avoid big health challenges down the road all by paying closer attention to the amount of inflammation in your body.

 

Guest blog by Victoria of Thriving Not Surviving.