Give your immune system a rest through whole-body wellness
By Danielle Larsson
Inflammation is the body's natural response to infections and injuries; it heals by releasing white blood cells and other factors to fight off pathogens and begin healing. That sounds like a good thing. And it is in small amounts, but it can cause far-reaching issues when it becomes chronic.
Chronic inflammation is when the body's natural healthy response to an infection or injury gets triggered for prolonged periods, several months or years, after the illness or injury is healed. Researchers have discovered that many diseases can be tied to chronic inflammation, also called systemic inflammation. Some diseases related to chronic inflammation are heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Yet, because chronic inflammation can continue for a long time, knowing its exact impact is not easy. When your body remains inflamed, the white blood cells and their counterparts stay active, causing damage. More than half of the deaths worldwide can be attributed to an inflammation-related illness, according to a 2019 report in the journal of Nature Medicine. Prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment are crucial to reducing the impact of chronic inflammation and reducing the mortality rate related to it.
Early signs of chronic inflammation can be ambiguous. Common symptoms are body aches, fatigue, changes in mood, brain fog, constipation, heartburn, weight gain, or new and ongoing skin irritation. Often people in their 40s and 50s chalk these up to just part of getting older, failing to realize they're just inflamed!
What puts you at increased risk of chronic inflammation? Excess weight is a huge factor, since weight and inflammation go hand in hand. Adipose (fat) tissue releases inflammatory contributing factors, and in turn, inflammation also drives weight gain, creating a vicious cycle. Chronic stress is another factor; it increases cortisol in the bloodstream. Cortisol at high levels and over prolonged periods leads to chronic inflammation. Your diet impacts inflammation significantly. Some foods like red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, white bread and packaged snacks, fried food, and sugar-sweetened beverages are inflammatory-inducing.
What can we do about it? Keep your diet in mind; choose foods that reduce inflammation naturally. Some great anti-inflammatory foods are salmon, cherries, beans, lentils, dark green leafy veggies and other plant foods. It's a great idea to "eat from the rainbow." A colorful diet will give you a variety of nutrients to support your immune system and reduce inflammation. Add good probiotics to your diet; think yogurt, kefir, kombucha, or you can supplement with a probiotic. Eating a high-fiber diet will also help you establish a healthy gut. Adding spices to your foods like paprika, turmeric, cayenne, ginger and garlic provide great antioxidants which help combat inflammation. Try to get a good night's sleep. This assists in several ways, but it helps reduce the amount of cortisol in your bloodstream. Reduce your alcohol intake and maintain a healthy weight by keeping an active lifestyle or exercising regularly.
We are all susceptible to chronic inflammation, but we can take an active role in our health to combat the effects. You can think of this as giving your immune system a much-needed break and building it up for any future illness or injury that may occur.
The risk of inflammation increases as we age; this could be partly attributed to easier weight gain. The older we get, the more we need to be proactive about our health and manage our inflammatory response to reduce the risks of chronic inflammation and disease risks.