Inflammation has been identified as part of the body’s healing process since 30 BC, where rubor (redness), tumor (swelling), dolor (pain) and calor (heat) were described. These signs are easily recognised – think of an acute sporting injury such as an ankle sprain. More recently, it has been defined as the “reaction to injury of the living micro-circulation and related tissues”. It’s what happens to our body when there is injury, infection, allergy, or an autoimmune, environmental or genetic trigger.
The cause for inflammation can often be located, and in most cases inflammation is expected and helps the body heal in a short time frame. What we don’t understand well as a medical profession is why inflammation doesn’t turn off in some people and persists, to the extent it can harm our body. Ongoing inflammation contributes to plaque in arteries, cancer, obesity, asthma, allergies, osteo arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimers disease, chronic kidney disease, retinitis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), acne, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and neuro-degenerative disease. Some studies have linked inflammation to longer life span – a study of centenarians (people living over 100 years of age) have pinpointed inflammation as the most significant and controllable risk factor.
The body’s inflammatory process consists a vast range of immune system cells, including T-cells, neutrophils, B cells, basophils and mast cells. The process is itself regulated by different modulators such as cytokines, growth factors, peptides, complement factors and prostagladins. Suffice to say its a complex bodily process with signals that turn on or up-regulate the inflammatory process, or signals that downplay or dampen the process.
Whilst inflammation is vital to fighting infection or repair after tissue trauma, the inflammatory basis of many chronic health conditions underpins further investigation by many medical research teams around the world. We know that stemming ongoing inflammation can help – for example, the use of steroids and anti-inflammatory medications in conditions such as asthma (preventer inhalers), dermatitis (steroid creams) and arthritis (disease modifying agents).
As the evidence builds for chronic inflammation and its causative relationship with chronic disease, it is worth reviewing practical things we can do now to reduce inflammation in our bodies. Here are some dietary recommendations:
Eat a low-glycemic diet: Inflammatory foods include soft drinks, refined carbohydrates and anything with fructose corn syrup.
Reduce saturated fat & trans fats: These dietary fats aggravate inflammation, while omega-3 polyunsaturated fats can be anti-inflammatory. Avoid processed and packaged foods and baked goods with soybean and corn oil
Eat colourful fruits and vegetables: High antioxidant foods such as blueberries, apples, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale, avocados, cauliflower, cherries protect against inflammation
Ensure adequate fibre: Soluble or insoluble fiber have been shown to lower inflammatory mediators such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin (IL)
Consume nuts: Almonds lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and are thought to work through reducing inflammation
Drink green or black tea: Polyphenols in tea reduce an inflammatory protein called C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
Try curcumin: this ingredient in turmeric has shown mild anti-inflammatory properties in clinical studies and is used by arthritis sufferers
Include fish oil or fatty fish in your diet: Omega-3 fatty acids is associated with lowering levels of TNF, CRP, and IL-6
Eat mung beans: These beans are rich in flavonoids which has been known to be anti-inflammatory
Ensure micro-nutrients: Magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc and selenium can reduce inflammatory markers in the body and act as strong anti-oxidants
- Use sesame and olive oil: Sesame oil reduces prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes in the body, all which contribute to inflammation. Olive oil has oleocanthal which has natural anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies have also shown that regular exercise lowers inflammatory molecules and cytokines (independently of weight loss). Improving sleep and reducing stress helps alleviate inflammatory mediators, and medications such as anti-inflammatories, steroids, statins (for cholesterol) and metformin (for diabetes) can reduce the severity and amount of inflammation in the body. Even herbal remedies have mild anti-inflammatory properties – examples include ginger, turmeric, cannabis and hyssop. And keeping up with 6 8 glasses of water every day helps.
Diagnosing inflammation can be difficult, but blood tests can offer clues on the extent and type of inflammation that is occuring. Specifically, your GP can test for CRP; fibrinogen; cytokines such as TNF, IL 1, 6 & 8; and hypoalbuminaemia and raised gamma globulins thorugh serum protein electrophoresis studies. Innovative companies like DropBio are conducting trials to examine different inflammatory markers early on, in order to help people receive preventative healthcare.
Talk to your GP about inflammation if you feel that it is a health risk or issue.