Inflammation… It’s a word that has almost become part of our daily language although arguably it’s one that’s more abused than used correctly. Everyone’s looking for the best way to reduce inflammation and improve their health. However, are you really clear on what this word means, what it’s doing to you and more importantly what you’re doing to create it?
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation can be described as ‘the body’s immune response to a stimulus’. Whilst not all inflammation is bad (after all its essential in the healing process) it’s important to be able to identify when it’s burdening us for the wrong reasons. Acute inflammation typically occurs as part of the body’s fight response mechanism. However, over a prolonged period of time chronic inflammation can lead to a variety of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS or IBD is almost on trend these days), some cancers, atherosclerosis and arthritis. Despite the body being clever, in some cases it fails us and inflammation occurs when white blood cells attempt to remove a non-existent stimulus and consequently end up attacking our own cells.
Inflammation can cause cell damage, tissue damage, swelling, gastrointestinal stress and even cell death. Inflammation often manifests in skin disorders (spots and rashes) and gastrointestinal disorders. What’s more is that inflammation is very much associated with oxidative stress (this is the imbalance of proxidants and antioxidants causing a rise in free radical production).
WHAT ARE WE GETTING WRONG?
Inflammation can occur through a variety of symptoms, as mentioned above it can be displayed through skin disorders, bloating, flatulence, fatigue, swelling or pain of the muscles and joints.
So whilst we’re not all walking (or rushing) around with inflammatory diseases just yet, our daily routines might be contributing to the potential development of them.
You’re probably trying to fit a thousand and one things into a day, this often results in a reduction in sleep, a tank fuelled with coffee and scoffing down convenient meals either hunched over a laptop or en route to your HIIT session. So let’s discuss why this lifestyle might not be doing you the good you thought it was…
Whilst you may be under the impression that sleep is for the weak research has shown very much the opposite. Those of us who scrimp on sleep (often for an extra workout) are more at risk of accelerated aging, inflammation and consequently risk of inflammatory diseases. One study showed that participants who sleep less than 4 hours a night experienced increase muscle pain and a rise in inflammatory markers (IL-6).
Whilst there is a lot of conflicting research surrounding the health implications of coffee, some studies have shown that coffee can stimulate inflammation. Should you be someone who suffers from chronic inflammation it might be worth reconsidering your intake and swapping your coffee for either herbal teas or matcha.
Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower levels of inflammation (yes, the Med diet triumphs again). Foods rich in antioxidants, polyphenols and omega-3 can help to reduce inflammation. Think a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and oily fish to name a few sources.
On the flip side the Western diet which is high in red meat, saturated and trans fats, refined sugar and low in fruits and vegetables is associated with increased inflammation.
It’s also recommended to eat slowly and focus solely on your meal to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort. More often than not whilst we’re eating we’re distracted by Instagram, work or all round multitasking.
MICRONUTRIENTS + BIOACTIVE COMPOUNDS
Finally, there’s plenty of focus on macronutrients whilst micronutrients and bioactive compounds often get lost and forgotten about. Deficiency of many micronutrients can result in inflammation one key nutrient which should be mentioned here is magnesium. Studies have shown a relationship between magnesium deficiency and inflammatory diseases. You should be consuming plenty of green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and fish.
The use of bioactive compounds such as curcumin (found in turmeric), polyphenols and resveratrol have gained more attention recently. Research has shown as association between these bioactive compounds and reduction in inflammation. Maybe your turmeric latte isn’t such a fad after all. One final factor to be aware of is the dose of these compounds – some show benefits in extremely high doses. As an example red wine is a source of resveratrol although, you’d need to consume 40 bottles to exert a significant effect and by that time inflammation will be the least of your concerns. Resveratrol is also found in foods such as berries, grapes and dark chocolate.
So there you have it… an outline of factors which are affecting inflammation in your body. Consider sleeping a little more (if you’re a scrimper), eating slower (if you’re a scoffer) without distractions, reduce your coffee intake (if you’re a caffeine addict), eat a few more fruits and vegetables, the odd square of dark chocolate and of course indulge in a glass of red wine every now and again (although don’t be fooled by this one, this is for pleasure – not so much health!)
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