Despite it being a bit of a dirty word, inflammation isn't all bad. In fact, it is a natural response of the body's immune system to injury or infection, and is essential for healing.The process involves a series of steps, including:
Recognition: The immune system recognises that there is a foreign substance or injury present in the body.
Activation: Immune cells, such as white blood cells, are activated and begin to migrate to the site of injury or infection.
Release of chemicals: Activated immune cells release chemicals, such as histamine and prostaglandins, which cause blood vessels to dilate and become more permeable. This allows more immune cells to migrate to the site of injury or infection.
Influx of immune cells: White blood cells, such as neutrophils and macrophages, flood the site of injury or infection to engulf and remove foreign substances or damaged cells.
Tissue repair: As the immune cells remove foreign substances or damaged cells, the body begins to repair the damaged tissue. This can include the formation of new blood vessels and the growth of new tissue.
Resolution: Once the foreign substance or injury has been removed and the tissue has been repaired, the inflammation subsides and the body returns to a state of homeostasis.
However, it's important to note that there are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is a short-term response that occurs immediately after an injury or infection. Chronic inflammation is a long-term response that can last for months or even years, and its this type of inflammation that we should be concerned about, as it can lead to the development of chronic diseases.
So, What Causes Inflammation?
Some common causes of inflammation include:
Physical injury: Inflammation can be caused by physical injury, such as a cut, burn, or broken bone.
Infection: Inflammation can also be caused by infection, such as a bacterial or viral infection.
Allergies: Allergic reactions to certain substances, such as food or pollen, can also cause inflammation.
Autoimmune disorders: In some cases, the immune system may mistakenly attack healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation. Examples of autoimmune disorders include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental toxins, such as pollution and smoking, can also cause inflammation.
Lifestyle factors: Poor diet, lack of physical activity, and chronic stress can also contribute to the development of inflammation.
It's important to note that chronic inflammation can also be caused by a combination of these factors over a prolonged period of time, and it can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
What Role Can Diet Play?
Diet can cause inflammation in a few different ways:
Saturated and trans fats: Diets high in saturated and trans fats can cause inflammation by increasing the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol, in the blood. This can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can restrict blood flow and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Refined carbohydrates: Consuming large amounts of refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation by raising blood sugar levels and increasing insulin resistance. This can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Omega-6 fatty acids: While omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the body, an overconsumption of these fats can contribute to inflammation by creating an imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance can lead to the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body.
Processed meats: Processed meats are high in sodium, preservatives, and other additives that can contribute to inflammation by increasing the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body.
Alcohol: Consuming large amounts of alcohol can cause inflammation by damaging cells and tissues in the body and increasing the risk of chronic diseases.
On the other hand, Some foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains have anti-inflammatory properties, as they contain compounds that help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Some examples include:
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are found in fish, such as salmon and sardines, and in flaxseed and walnuts. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease the production of pro-inflammatory compounds in the body.
Vitamin D: This vitamin, which is produced by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight, helps to reduce inflammation by regulating the immune system.
Vitamin E: This vitamin, which is found in foods such as almonds, avocado, and spinach, is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation by neutralising free radicals in the body.
Vitamin C: This vitamin, which is found in fruits and vegetables such as oranges and bell peppers, is an antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation by neutralising free radicals in the body.
Curcumin: This is a compound found in turmeric, which is a spice commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. Curcumin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases.
Resveratrol: This is a compound found in red grapes and red wine, it's a polyphenol with anti-inflammatory properties.
Flavonoids: These are a group of antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, tea, and chocolate, they have anti-inflammatory properties.
Probiotics: Beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods and supplements, may help to reduce inflammation by regulating the immune system.
It's important to note that inflammation is a complex process and can be caused by multiple factors, including diet, genetics, and environmental factors.
Incorporating these foods into your diet, while limiting or avoiding the pro-inflammatory foods mentioned above, may help to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases, however, it may not be able to completely replace steroids in treating severe or chronic inflammation.
Furthermore, it's important to note that the anti-inflammatory effects of these compounds may vary depending on the dosage, timing and the individual, so it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional or registered nutritionist/dietitian before making any changes to your diet.
My door is always open if you need that individual help from a professional, but in the mean time I've created an Anti-Inflammatory Meal Guide to get you started. Not only is it useful if you are confused with what a typical anti-inflammatory diet should include, and what you should be eating more and less of but its also helpful if you just lack inspo in the kitchen and need some recipe ideas.
It gives you breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack ideas AND the RECIPES so you know exactly how to prepare and cook them, a SHOPPING LIST so you know what to buy, the NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION for each dish (including what KEY nutrients it contains) AND the total calories, fats, carbs and protein for EACH day - just because some people like this information, and that's A-OK!