You see it all over the place, especially on the cover of those magazines at the grocery store checkout. Inflammation is now Public Enemy #1, at least in the health world.
Is it really that bad? What happens to you if you have it? How can you get rid of it?
All good questions.
Let’s be clear. They are not talking about the kind of short-term inflammation that happens when you get a cut or even a more serious injury. They are talking about chronic, low-grade, inflammation that mostly goes undetected. Until you go to the doctor and they check your blood for inflammatory markers, or you develop one or more of the related chronic diseases.
Yes, chronic inflammation IS an Evil Meanie. You can think of it as a sort of middleman. It comes along as a precursor to what they call “lifestyle diseases”. That would be metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, dementia, osteoarthritis. On top of that, it contributes to other things like kidney disease, liver disease, respiratory diseases, and even periodontal disease. Sorry to depress you, but knowledge is power, right?
Why is it an Evil Meanie? Because it slowly damages the cells and tissues of your body. Without exception.
How do you get chronic inflammation?
The main ways are obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and an unhealthy diet. It does not float around in the universe. It happens when you are carrying extra weight, you don’t exercise much, and/or you tend to eat a bunch of processed foods, saturated fats, and sugar.
By the way, these have all been shown to be INDEPENDENT ways to get the darn thing.
WAIT! There’s three more ways to get it! (Sorry, but you might as well know.) STRESS, lack of SLEEP, and GETTING OLD.
These also are independent of the rest. What that means is that if you want to get rid of chronic inflammation, you need to work on all of those areas (except of course getting old).
Before moving on, I would like to give a special shout-out to STRESS. Often I think it is overlooked as a contributor to disease, probably because it is so difficult to pin down and quantify. Here I will admit to something. Whenever I read that it is good to meditate to reduce stress, I kind of resist. I know it is good for stress reduction, but I guess I would rather exercise, relax with a hobby, or get out in nature. These work too, by the way. Just to get a little scientific here, it has been shown that reducing stress in any of these ways gets your vagus nerve involved. The vagus nerve takes care of many things below our consciousness, like digestion. Turns out that the vagus nerve reduces inflammation through inhibition of the inflammatory process. Wow.
Sleep is often in bed with stress as an independent cause of chronic inflammation. In fact, it is often difficult to tease them out. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work on getting better sleep any old time, even if you are stressed.
Now on to the solution.
What can be done to stop the march of chronic disease that comes from chronic inflammation?
There are 4 things. And, I bet you have heard all of these before. Maybe a bunch of times.
- Eat a healthy diet. Get rid of processed foods and meats, items high in saturated fat, sugary items, and all trans fats. Instead, focus on fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and certain herbs and spices (turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper to name a few).
- Get enough exercise. How much is enough? It’s in the guidelines you may see a lot: 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous exercise every week. Reducing inflammation is one of the reasons they suggest this amount.
- Get adequate sleep. If you are not a good sleeper, find out about gradually changing your sleep habits for better ones, or get some professional help for potential underlying health issues.
- Reduce stress. See above.
Those are the Big Four! Notice that they are indeed lifestyle issues. Nothing else.
BOTTOM LINE: Chronic diseases come from chronic inflammation. It’s that straightforward. Chronic inflammation itself is highly complicated, which explains why it takes the four approaches mentioned above to fight it. But, it’s worth it. Reducing inflammation keeps you healthier, feeling better, and even helps us age more energetically.
© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.