Keys to Taming Chronic Inflammation in the Body
Inflammation might be a chronic and pervasive feature of contemporary life, but we still have a lot of control over what goes into our bodies.
Acute inflammation usually has a sudden onset and lasts for a few days to a week. This is the body’s response to help rid itself of a foreign invader. Chronic inflammation is a prolonged or persistent inflammation originating from either an extended acute inflammation or prolonged low-grade irritation(1). This chronic form of inflammation often underlies such varied conditions as diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and arthritis.
Signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation depend on where the inflammation is most pronounced. For example, inflammation in the pancreas can result in diabetes and complications of diabetes such as kidney failure. Inflammation of the joints presents as the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Inflammation of the arteries often presents as heart disease or possibly Alzheimer’s Disease.
So, if inflammation is so common and pervasive, what can the average person do about it? The answer is a lot! While we may not have much control over environmental influences, we do have control over what goes in our bodies and what we do with our bodies.
Let’s take a look at the taming of inflammation from the perspective of the four pillars: nutrition, spirit, sleep, and activity.
Pillar 1: Nutrition
There are many “food-like” products that will act as pro-inflammatory factors once introduced into the body. Most processed and packaged foods contain ingredients not found in nature. These ingredients are foreign to the body.
The body knows how to react to foreign substances–inflammation! If this foreign invader is something we eat everyday, the body is continually responding with a chronic low-grade inflammation, in an attempt to rid itself of this intruder.
Thus, in order to prevent and treat inflammation, we need to eat as cleanly and as closely to what nature provides for us as we can. Pure, clean, filtered water, organic fruits and vegetables, healthy animals that are fed their natural diet and have lived a cage-free existence, and organic grains in moderation should be the basis of our anti-inflammatory diet. Dr. Weil has an anti-inflammatory food pyramid that is simple and easy to follow.
Pillar 2: Spirit.
This is a broad category that includes paying attention to our emotions, connecting with nature, connecting with something bigger than ourselves, meditating, and expressing our own unique talents and gifts. If we are able to balance the busyness of our lives with these pursuits our bodies are able to get off constant alert. This constant alert keeps a cycle going that produces inflammation inside the body, as the body views stress as an invader.
Stress has been shown to actually turn on our inflammatory gene expression, increasing the hormones associated with stress (2). Journaling is an amazing way to help release the emotions from the day, and even those emotions from much earlier in our lives, that may have accumulated. Through journaling, we lessen the stress burden in our bodies and interrupt the inflammatory response.
Pillar 3: Sleep.
Deep sleep provides the body and brain time to repair itself. The deep relaxation as well as the processing of events that occurs during sleep helps to reset the inflammatory response to a healthy level. Although each person varies in the amount of sleep needed, seven to eight hours a night is still the recommended amount.
Being able to function on less sleep is not the same as being at your best health. “Alterations in sleep due to lifestyle factors, the aging process, and disease states have all been associated with increases in a range of inflammatory markers,” according to a summary in Nutrition Reviews (3).
Pillar 4: Activity.
Our bodies are meant to move. When we do so, toxins are more easily removed by our lymphatic system, we bring in more oxygen which allows all our cells to function at their best, and our muscles (including the heart) become more efficient at using nutrients. This ability to remove toxins and use nutrients decreases the burden on the immune system which means it does not need to call out the inflammatory police at every turn.
The conclusion from a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states, “More frequent physical activity is independently associated with a lower odds of having elevated inflammation levels among apparently healthy US adults 40 years and older, independent of several confounding factors.”
Paying attention to these four areas in our lives will decrease the inflammatory burden on our bodies and put us in the best position to stay healthy for the remainder of our lives.
- Medical Dictionary – Inflammation
- Powell, Nicole D. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol.110 (4). 16574-16579, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1310655110
- Simpson, Norah & Dinges, David F. Nutrition Reviews abstract, Dec, 2007. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.tb00371.x S244-S252
- Abramson JL, Vaccarino V. Arch Intern Med. 2002 Jun 10; 162(11):1286-92 Relationship between physical activity and inflammation among apparently healthy middle-aged and older US adults.