So you’re minding your own business, walking along with headphones on, enjoying a brisk walk in the crisp autumn air with a bounce in your step as you listen to your favorite tunes. All of a sudden, you slip and hit the ground! Who knew wet leaves could be that unsuspectingly dangerous.
Once the initial embarrassment of wiping out in public subsides, you look down and see you’ve banged your knee — it’s red, painful, and starting to throb. Immediately you notice swelling coming on. It feels warm and sensitive to the touch. It’s beginning to get inflamed.
What causes inflammation?
Put simply, inflammation is the way your body reacts to injury or infection. Think about the white blood cells and protective chemicals in your body as military troops. When there’s a threat to your body, these healing troops visit the site of invasion to defend us with healing chemicals and cells. The “threat” can be caused by foreign organisms such as bacteria, viruses, or injury. Due to the increased number of troops at the site, there will be irritation and swelling, which is what causes inflammation.
Before exploring what causes inflammation, it’s important to understand the different types of this condition. Acute inflammation occurs at the site of the damage. It’s short-term and happens within minutes or hours. Classic signs include redness, pain, swelling, and heat.
Think about that injury you got when you slipped earlier and scraped your knee. Sometimes annoying symptoms are there for a good reason, as they increase blood flow, mobilize immune cells (such as white blood cells) to the area and promote healing.
Symptoms of acute inflammation:
- Pain: Nerve endings are stimulated and make the area more sensitive
- Redness: Capillaries (small blood vessels) fill with more blood to facilitate healing chemicals and cells
- Limited movement: This encourages you to slow down so that the white blood cells are able to be effective and do their work
- Swelling: Fluids and healing cells come to the damaged site
- Heat: With more blood flow, it will feel warm to the touch
Chronic inflammation is when your body makes continual attempts to repair and contain a source of injury or infection over an extended period of time — up to weeks or months. It may follow acute inflammation, tissue injury, or be caused by an autoimmune disorder. In the case of autoimmune disorders, your body’s immunity starts to work against the very body it’s meant to heal, damaging the body’s tissue instead of repairing it. A handful of disorders associated with chronic inflammation include asthma, Lupus, Crohn’s disease, Psoriasis, Celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis to name a few.
Of the two types of inflammation, chronic inflammation is the more dangerous one, as it has been associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, allergies, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s. It occurs when your body’s usual protective defenses, don’t work correctly or work overtime. In the case of joints (think arthritis) our body may initially be trying to protect the injury, but slowly start to wear the cartilage down.
Causes of chronic inflammation:
- Accumulation or long exposure to toxins
- Allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities
- Continual infections
- Excess fat tissue
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Low or autoimmunity
How to reduce inflammation in the body fast
To reduce chronic inflammation, first, it’s vital to identify the cause and manage inflammation, which will in turn support healing. For example, if you have an allergy to a food such as gluten, determine what food products contain gluten, remove them from your diet, then increase nutrient-rich foods to support digestive healing. Follow the three-step process of controlling or slowing down the underlying disease, avoiding or modifying aggravating entities, then relieving pain through prescribed medications and anti-inflammatory substances (e.g. turmeric, leafy greens, beets, blueberries, pineapple, walnuts, coconut oil, etc.). Try our Beet & Berry Smoothie!
It may not always be possible to determine what the causes of inflammation on your own. In this case, seek a physician, dentist, and/or nutritionist’s advice whenever possible. If you have chronic inflammation, your doctor may give you medication and in more extreme cases, may recommend surgery. In those instances, make sure to rest, move gently, and include more anti-inflammatory foods and herbs into your diet, while lessening inflammatory ones. Doing all this will help you manage inflammatory conditions on your own.
Did you know?
Foods that increase inflammation
It’s essential to feed your body with more of those anti-inflammatory foods — the ones that combat free radical damage and promote healing– and less of the inflammatory ones. Limit or avoid the following foods:
- Processed meats: Sausage, deli meat, pepperoni, fast food meat
- Processed meat alternatives: Tofu burgers, vegan nuggets or ground beef
- Trans-fat: Fried foods and some packaged foods such as chips and crackers
- Refined carbohydrates: White bread, white pasta, baked goods
- Sugary drinks: Soda, sweetened teas, flavored coffees
- Excess alcohol: Particularly sugary cocktails and mixers
- Desserts: Cookies, candy, ice cream
As previously mentioned, inflammation may also be triggered by an underlying food allergy or sensitivity. As allergy tests can be expensive and sometimes unreliable, you may want to try an exclusion diet where you leave out a certain food for several weeks. This is followed by re-introducing one food at a time and observing if it causes any reaction. If you’re sensitive to the food, you may experience flare-up symptoms within a few days, including flu-like symptoms such as aches, fatigue, joint pain, headache, stomach problems.
Food that decrease inflammation
An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods that reduce inflammatory responses in the body. In it, the emphasis lies on cutting down on foods that cause such flare ups and and replacing them with nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory substitutes. Nutrition and meal plans that promote whole foods and healthy fats, including the Mediterranean diet and the 8fit meal plan can help reduce inflammation and support your cardiovascular system.
Include more of these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet:
- Leafy green vegetables: Kale, spinach, bok choy
- Cruciferous vegetables: Cauliflower and broccoli
- Fatty fish: Wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Berries: Fresh strawberries, blueberries, cherries
- Legumes: Beans and lentils
- Nuts: Walnuts, pistachios, almonds
- Herbs: Garlic, ginger, turmeric
- Oils: Virgin olive oil and olives
- Teas: Green tea
Not only does nutrition lend a lot towards anti-inflammation, but to support overall wellness and healing, focus on a combination of diet, herbs, and anti-inflammatory lifestyle approaches.
- Stress management: Reduce cortisol and increasing mindfulness has anti-inflammatory benefits
- Physical activity: Moderate, regular exercise stimulates anti-inflammatory immune cells and normalizes cortisol levels. Keep in mind that intense exercise can temporarily increase inflammation as a natural response to heal muscles after they have been torn.
- Rest: Sleep and rest can help your body heal. Some ways to improve sleep is regular exposure to light, set meal times, as well as a good pre-bedtime routine.
- Water: Water helps flush out toxins. Men should drink about 3 liters of water (≈ 13 cups) and women drink 2.2 liters (≈ 9 cups) per day.