Inflammation is the body’s natural system of fighting infection or injury. The immune system activates when it recognizes a foreign body, such as plant pollen or a chemical, which then triggers the process known as inflammation.
There are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is induced rapidly and generally short-term, lasting only a few days.
But sometimes the immune system goes into overdrive and activates without an infection to fight. With nothing to heal, immune system cells start to destroy healthy organs and joints. This is when inflammation can become a problem.
Chronic or long-term inflammation often occurs when causes of acute inflammation are left untreated. Often lasting for months or even years, chronic inflammation damages DNA and has been linked to many major diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Whilst pain and swelling are common symptoms of acute inflammation, many people often ignore the more subtle signs associated with chronic inflammation. Some of the most common symptoms that develop with chronic inflammation include:
- Fatigue and insomnia
- Abdominal pain
- Anxiety, depression and mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
Although blood tests are often the first step, there are no effective laboratory tests to assess patients for chronic inflammation. Instead, the diagnosis is often made in association with another medical condition.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
Rarely is one cause of chronic inflammation identified. As inflammation is our body’s natural response, identifying a specific cause can be difficult but is generally due to:
- Untreated causes of acute inflammation such as tissue damage or infection
- Exposure to irritants or chemicals
- Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Many other risk factors have also shown to cause some amount of inflammation. These include:
- Poor Diet
- Low Sex Hormones
- Stress and Sleep Disorders
Treatment and Management of Inflammation
As the root cause for many diseases, chronic inflammation can be devastating if left untreated. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to reduce your risks and treat the condition.
Foods that Fight Inflammation
As many foods cause inflammation, one of the most powerful tools in combating the condition is to start with your diet. The below foods all feature anti-inflammatory properties:
- Fruits: berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, cherries, apples, and oranges.
- Vegetables: leafy greens like kale and spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, artichokes, and avocados
- Fish: especially those that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, cod, and tuna.
- Beans: red beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
- Nuts: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and almonds.
- Healthy fats from olive oil and flaxseed.
- Herbs and spices such as turmeric, garlic, and ginger.
An anti-inflammatory diet is widely considered healthy, and studies have even shown it to be beneficial in fighting conditions such as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), arthritis, psoriasis, and even chronic pain. Many people follow a Mediterranean Diet when trying to avoid inflammatory foods.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
If you’ve ever eaten a big greasy meal, you’ll know that sluggish feeling you get afterward. Certain foods help accelerate the inflammatory process so are best avoided. Steer clear of the following inflammatory foods:
- Refined carbohydrates: white bread, rice, and many kinds of cereals fuel the production of advanced glycation end (AGE) products that stimulate inflammation.
- Omega-6 fatty acids: often found in vegetable oils like corn and sunflower oil, excess consumption of omega-6 acids trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Red and processed meat: studies show processed meat can increase your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
- Sugar: processed sugars found in soft drinks, juice, candies, and snacks can trigger the production of inflammatory messengers called cytokines.
- Alcohol: excess alcohol consumption can cause intestinal inflammation, as well as damage to the gastrointestinal tract and liver.
Many foods identified as inflammatory are also considered unhealthy, contributing to weight gain which itself is a major risk factor for inflammation.
Treating Inflammation Medically
An anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to stay healthy, but sometimes a change in diet alone isn’t enough to get rid of inflammation from the body. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can have a long-term impact on your health. If you’re suffering from chronic inflammation, discuss the following treatment options with your doctor:
- Metformin: commonly used to treat type II diabetes, Metformin has been shown to lower inflammation and promote insulin production
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): often available over the counter, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and aspirin inhibit enzymes that contribute to inflammation.
- Supplements: ginger, fish oil, and curcumin all have natural anti-inflammatory properties and may help regulate your condition.
- Statins: multiple studies exist showing the high anti-inflammatory properties of statins, which effectively interrupt the way inflammation cells communicate.
- Corticosteroids decrease inflammation and suppress the immune system, which is especially important when it’s attacking healthy cells. Be aware that the long-term use of corticosteroids has been linked to serious side effects such as high blood pressure and osteoporosis, among other conditions.
It’s highly recommended to speak with your doctor to weigh up the possible side effects associated with any new medicines.
Inflammation can be the body’s response to many external triggers. It’s been linked to many serious health conditions and if left unchecked, could have dire consequences.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks chronic inflammatory diseases as the greatest threat to human health. Now that you know how to get rid of inflammation in the body, follow an anti-inflammatory diet and limit foods known to cause inflammation.
If you suffer from any chronic inflammation symptoms, speak to your doctor about a blood test and treatment options. With the right diet, lifestyle changes and medical advice, you can live an inflammation-free life.