What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a naturally occurring process in the body that may be brought on by circumstances like the immune system trying to protect you from an infection or in response to an injury. However, other causes of inflammation do not serve you and do more harm than good. The difference here is acute vs. chronic inflammation.
Not all inflammation should get a bad wrap. Acute inflammation is short-term and usually a protective mechanism to keep you safe and healthy. An example of acute inflammation you can both see and feel is when you have a sports-related injury and get the immediate response of swelling, redness, and warmth. On the other hand, acute inflammation that is not as apparent occurs at the onset of infection to help you fight infection. Both these cases of inflammation are short-term and are beneficial for your body.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation lasts for an excessive period of time (think: months to years) and is stressful on the body. Chronic inflammation is common in many diseases like arthritis, IBD, heart disease, etc. However, you may be suffering from chronic inflammation and not have any of these diseases. Rather, you are likely suffering from one or more symptoms, which we will touch on later in this post. The underlying causes of chronic inflammation are vast, ranging from being overweight, lifestyle factors like smoking, inactivity, or exposure to a virus or parasite. As you can see, chronic inflammation is the type of inflammation that is problematic and should be addressed through changes in diet and lifestyle.
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can come on slowly, which is why its symptoms may creep up on you, leaving you wondering why you feel this way. In our practice, we see many people suffering from chronic inflammation, so below are common signs and symptoms we see.
Common symptoms of chronic inflammation:
- Chronic fatigue and insomnia
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Brain fog
- Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders
- GI complications (think: constipation, diarrhea, acid, reflux)
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Frequent or recurring infections
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are so common that they are becoming normalized, but I can assure you they are not normal!
Sneaky sources of inflammation
Let’s get into what causes chronic inflammation and why it is so prevalent. Regrettably, it comes down to our diet and lifestyle. Granted, genetics play a role, with some being more prone than others; however, the lifestyle many live today is conducive to inflammation.
Common sources of inflammation:
- Diet (processed foods, low-quality oils, little diversity, under/overeating etc.)
- Weight (under or overweight)
- Alcohol and Smoking
- Low Sex Hormones
- Chronic Stress
- Poor quality sleep
- Food allergies/intolerances
- Mold and Parasites
- Household toxins (cleaning products, furniture, beauty products, etc.)
- Gut Dysbiosis
Foods to lower inflammation
To help combat inflammation, we often take a food-first approach. Your diet quality is SO essential and truly impacts your body’s levels of inflammation.
To start, we recommend focusing on whole foods first. This means prioritizing fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and proteins and ditching highly processed food laden with refined grains, added sugars, and inflammatory oils (think: sunflower, safflower, canola, etc.).
Then we like to focus on food quality. This looks like eating organic when possible and eating high-quality sources of protein like wild-caught fish, organic/grass-fed chicken/meat, organic tofu, and pasture-raised eggs. Note that we know this is not accessible to everyone, so do your best and focus on eliminating the processed foods one by one and swapping them out with a less-processed alternative.
There are specific foods we LOVE for lowering inflammation. Many of these are natural sources of omega 3’s that naturally lower inflammation, while others have unique properties to combat inflammation.
Our favorite food to help reduce inflammation:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Chia, flax, and hemp seeds
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Green leafy veggies
We suggest incorporating a couple of these foods into your diet every day to aid in reducing inflammation. Although, in some cases, we recommend using supplements alongside foods to boost anti-inflammatory effects.
Supplements to reduce inflammation
Certain supplements can be super powerful at reducing inflammation because of their potency and mechanisms in the body. There’s a whole bunch of supplements we love and recommend. Some are more generalized and are beneficial for many people, while others we only recommend for certain clients based on their needs.
Our favorite supplements to help lower inflammation:
- Turmeric (Curcumin)
- Omega 3’s
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin C
- Bone Broth
- Green Tea
We recommend working with a health professional like us to determine the right supplements and dosages for you!
Lifestyle factors that can help lower inflammation
In reading sneaky sources of inflammation, you may be wondering how you can change your lifestyle to reduce overall inflammation. There are many different things you can do, some more simple than others; however, you may be surprised how simple it can be!
The best thing we can do is reduce stress on our bodies! Stress comes in many different forms: physical stress, mental stress, or stress brought on by exposure to environmental toxins.
Here are 6 lifestyle tips we recommend for reducing inflammation:
- Make sleep a priority
- Engage in stress-management techniques daily (yoga, mediation, walking in nature, etc.)
- Swap out toxic household products for non-toxic alternatives (read more about this here)
- Spend time with family and friends and do things that make you happy!
- Get outside in nature as much as possible (bonus if it involves moving your body in a way that feels good)
- Listen to your body! Our needs change every day, so listen and respect what your body is telling you!
The Bottom Line
Not all inflammation is harmful; however, many of us suffer from chronic inflammation, which can be very problematic for our bodies! Inflammation may result from several different factors and manifest very differently depending on the person. Working to reduce inflammation through diet and lifestyle is key and will leave your body feeling much healthier!
Suffering from the symptoms mentioned above or want to know what you can do to reduce inflammation? Click here to work with us!
Written by Alison Richman MS, RDN