Inflammation is a natural & important process that occurs
in the body as a response to injury or infection. It is a complex
immune system response which involves white blood cells travelling
to the affected area and the release of chemical compounds there.
Acute inflammation is a necessary and crucial part of the natural healing process, as it helps to remove harmful stimuli and repair tissue damage. However, increasingly, we are learning that chronic (long-lasting) or excessive inflammation can contribute to the development of various diseases.
Doctors had until recently assumed that inflammation was a consequence of a disease, but now they are increasingly seeing it as a cause of many illnesses.
Recent studies have shown that chronic inflammation may be contributing to diseases such as:
Cancer - studies have shown that chronic inflammation can promote the growth and progression of cancer cells. For example, chronic inflammation in the colon is linked to the development of colon cancer.
Cardiovascular Disease - inflammation plays a key role in the development of atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the arteries which supply the heart and brain with oxygenated blood. This can lead to the obstruction of blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Autoimmune Disorders - these are diseases in which there is an abnormal and excessive immune response and the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. Chronic inflammation plays a key role in the development of these disorders by contributing to the destruction of healthy tissue.
Diabetes - this has recently been linked to inflammation, with the inflammation playing an significant role in the development of insulin resistance.
Depression - multiple studies have found higher levels of inflammation in people experiencing clinical depression.
One of the best ways to reduce chronic inflammation is by having a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods. Not surprisingly, such a diet is in many ways what we consider to be a healthy diet anyway i.e. lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Such a diet has two main effects - foods that are high in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens, can help reduce inflammation by neutralising the harmful effects of free radicals. Also, these foods help by providing the body with the necessary nutrients to repair and heal damaged tissue.
There are also quite a few supplements that have been shown to effectively reduce inflammation. The ones with the strongest evidence are omega-3 fatty acids, ginger, turmeric and its active component curcumin.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, such as salmon and tuna, and in supplements like fish oil. These fatty acids help reduce inflammation by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body. There are studies showing that omega-3 fatty acids can help with arthritis and maybe even depression, and it probably does this by reducing inflammation. Similarly, ginger and turmeric contain compounds called gingerols and curcuminoids, respectively, which can help reduce inflammation.
And it's not just diet and supplements that can help. Surprisingly (to me at least), practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to reduce inflammation. How can they do this? Probably by helping to reduce stress and anxiety, which can trigger the release of inflammatory compounds in the body. In addition, they can improve overall physical and mental well-being, which can help the body cope better with inflammation.
My final tip is to get plenty of sleep, as a lack of sleep can increase the production of inflammatory markers in the body, and can also make it more difficult for the body to repair and heal itself.