One of the main functions of our body’s immune system is to produce inflammation as a way of protecting an area that has been compromised. This acute inflammatory process helps remove harmful invaders from our system to prevent infections and aides in the healing process. In this way, inflammation is like stress; it can be beneficial in small doses at appropriate times but when it gets out of control it is damaging.
Chronic inflammation is a completely different story. It can affect our organs and bodily systems in such a negative way as to destroy homeostasis, which is the body’s normal state of internal balance. Many serious diseases and conditions, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s, pancreatitis, lupus and autism are believed to develop as a direct result of this imbalance. Many diseases share the same largely ignored element- chronic inflammation.
The causes of chronic inflammation are basic and largely manageable for most people; poor hydration and diet, inactivity, chronic stress, environmental pollutants, and lack of quality sleep. Sound like a day in your life? It’s not surprising that the US has the highest rate of degenerative disease in the world given our less than ideal daily habits.
Fortunately for most people, poor lifestyle choices are just that- choices. By now, most of you reading this have had some experience with the pain that inflammation causes but the good news is that with a commitment to a few lifestyle changes you can manage and sometimes even reverse the damaging effects on your body.
Inflammation Free Lifestyle
In my younger years I would always try to make big sweeping changes overnight. “I am never going to eat xyz again” or “I will get on the floor every single day and stretch out” . I would start out all gung-ho but my will would fade quickly. In my older, somewhat wiser years I now ease into any lifestyle changes incrementally. One thing at a time until it becomes a habit. I have found that I am more likely to stick to something if I have time to get used to it gradually. The following suggestions can be slowly incorporated into your habits and routines as a way to get some control over your chronic inflammation or better yet prevent it from happening!
Cook at home whenever possible using fresh, whole foods with minimal sugars & trans fats. Try to avoid fast food and anything processed. Include foods high in antioxidants to protect cells from the effect of toxins and oxidative stressors, which can lead to damage and inflammation.
Get (at the very least) a few hours a week of structured movement. Mix it up to prevent boredom with some vigorous exercise for cardiovascular health, some weight bearing activities for muscle and bone strength and some yoga type movement for flexibility and balance. Anything is better than nothing when it comes to moving your body.
Find something to help manage your stress- write in a journal (or blog), pray, meditate, exercise, relax with a hobby or try my personal favorite, massage! Any of these will also help you get more quality sleep.
Speak to your healthcare provider or do your own research on nutritional supplements and certain foods such as pineapple, turmeric and almonds that have significant anti-inflammatory effects. Incorporate these into your diet whenever possible.
Take probiotics. One of the most common underlying causes of chronic inflammation is imbalance in the digestive system including overgrowth of bacteria, yeast and fungi. Probiotic supplements help repopulate the digestive tract with healthy organisms that restore balance and gut health.
Western medicine has its own pharmaceutical answer. Many drugs are available to control inflammation however as with all prescription medications, they have side effects.
Our bodies are constantly striving for a state of internal balance and well-being. The more we try to live in a way that supports our body’s needs, the happier and less inflamed it will be.