Inflammation is a natural response to various forms of stress placed upon the body, be it physical stress from overtraining or psychological stress from your work or issues in your personal life. Stress signals an immune response from the body, mobilizing the function of white blood cells to fend of harmful disease or bacteria when the body is vulnerable for attack. This response is completely necessary for cellular and total body health however too much of an inflammatory response, or chronic inflammation, can cause harm. Therefore understanding natural ways which help alleviate inflammation symptoms and reduce inflammation are key.
The issue lies with everyday activity that continues to trigger an inflammatory response, this can lead to dysfunctional bodily functions and chronic pain. But what exactly causes this inflammatory response?
What are the causes of chronic inflammation?
Inflammation can be and often is a healthy response to an injury – for example if you weight train and cause micro-tears within the muscle, then this area will be slightly inflamed in order to help the muscle recover and form a stronger version of it’s previous self. However what if you’re training once or twice per day, constantly breaking down and damaging tissue without allowing it time to recover? You’re body will develop chronic inflammation, where in which swelling, dysfunction and immobility will arise.
There are also other stressors outside of weight training and exercising that can also lead to an inflammatory response, for example excessive sugar intake: leads to inflammation of the gut and poor digestion/energy yield. Daily psychological stress also sends signals to the brain that the body is under attack, again leading to an unnecessary and debilitating response.
How do I find out if I suffer with excessive inflammation?
In order to accurately determine your levels of inflammation within the body, you’ll need to get your blood assessed by a physician. Common markers that are taken include C-reactive protein (CRP) and plasma viscosity (PV). However prior to reaching this stage you should fully assess your lifestyle and ask yourself some fundamental questions which contribute to inflammation:
-Are you taking sufficient rest from training?
-Are you getting adequate amounts of sleep?
-Are you eating natural foods, or is your diet mainly made up of processed foods?
What are the symptoms of inflammation?
Acute inflammation is localized to the area which is injured and will involve some swelling and redness around just that particular area. However chronic inflammation leads to broader symptoms, including depression, stomach pains, joint pain and fatigue.
What can be done to improve inflammation?
Fortunately a lot of the symptoms can be relieved by making some lifestyle adjustments. The key things to understand and control are the stressors – previously mentioned – within your life, this can be in the form of psychological stress and physiological stress. To combat or reduce psychological stress – which can be caused by your work, relationships or even a pending ‘big event’ – you need to allocate time to exercise, getting sufficient sleep, meditation or a holiday/complete change of physical environment. All of these changes will relieve the stress and consequently your body will begin to alter at cellular level, easing inflammation.
If inflammation is the result of too much physical stress, such as over training, then you need to adjust your training regime allowing for rest, enabling your body to recover and repair. You can also look to make other lifestyle adjustments, such as altering your diet to include natural, anti-inflammatory foods, whilst cutting out foods which are processed and high in transfat and high-glycaemic sugar. If exercise is a major outlet in your life, look to adjust the intensity and types of workouts you complete, occasionally replacing the weights with yoga or Pilates.
What dietary nutrients increase inflammation within the body?
Transfats – Transfat is hydrogenated fat; a chemical alteration allowing it to remain a solid at room temperature – perfect for preserving the shelf life of food. It is commonly used to make baked goods such as cookies and pastries. Studies have linked dietary transfat with an increase in inflammatory markers IL-6 and TNF Alpha (1).
Sugar – Refined sugar as a high glycaemic load, ultimately leading to a high spike in insulin secretion. Repeating this two phase process over time leads to poor glucose regulation, as the body becomes desensitised to insulin; this can cascade into chronic inflammatory issues.
Omega-6 – Omega 6’s role in increasing inflammation is largely associated to omega-3 intake within the diet. A healthy ratio of omega 3 to omega 6, and a ratio we as human beings evolved on was 1:1. However the ratio now some believe to be 1:16, in favour of omega 6. A recipe for chronic inflammation in itself. Omega 6 is primarily found in vegetable based oils, nuts, eggs and poultry.
What foods help to reduce inflammation?
Omega 3 – omega 3 counteracts the inflammatory effects of omega 6, a nutrient abundant in a modern day diet which can quite often lead to a detrimental imbalance of these polyunsaturated fats. To combat this and keep inflammation at a healthy level, ensure omega 3 intake is factored into your diet and food which have an omega 3 to omega 6 ratio that is favourable. Omega 3 is found in abundance in salmon, mackerel, chia seeds and flax seed oil.
Other foods that help to fend of the negative effects of inflammation include leafy green vegetables, and fruits, including strawberries, blueberries and cherries.
Han et al. Effect of hydrogenated and saturated, relative to polyunsaturated, fat on immune and inflammatory responses of adults with moderate hypercholesterolemia. 2002. Journal of lipid research. 43 (3). 445-52.