Inflammation isn’t all bad. Inflammation is the way your immune system responds to an injury perpetrated against your cells, whether it’s a blow to your body or an infection in your blood. Inflammation signals the release of leukocytes—white blood cells that help clean up an injury site.
Leukocytes take away pathogens and signal to the body that something’s wrong. Without inflammation, for example, you would continue to use an injured leg. Inflammation creates swelling and pain, letting your body know that you need to stay off your leg for a few days to allow it to heal.
Likewise, the inflammation and pain associated with an infection tells you that you might need to stay in bed and rest until your immune system has successfully fought off the threat.
Sometimes, however, inflammation can spread out of control and cause pain and swelling even when there is no immediate injury to stabilize. Inflammation is behind chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. So how does the inflammatory system end up getting triggered by a “false alarm,” so to speak? There is much evidence to suggest that eating the wrong kinds of foods can send out the inflammatory cavalry when there’s no invading pathogens or injury in sight.
Sugar and/or saturated fat, when consumed in excess, have been tagged as substances that push the immune system into over-activity. Basically, foods fall into one of two categories: either they can activate your immune system or shut it down. In order to minimize the chances of your diet triggering painful inflammation, here are six tips for fighting inflammation naturally.
1. Eat a balance of omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids. Way back in our history on this planet, humans ate a diet that contained the proper proportions of omega fatty acids. Today, omega-6s tend to be over-represented.
Consuming too many saturated fats is also an equally prevalent problem. In fact, some of us are consuming 30 times the number of bad fats that we should be. This dramatic imbalance causes the inflammatory response to go into overdrive.
2. Eat vegetarian or fish sources of protein. Eating too much red meat has been shown to trigger inflammation. Studies have shown that replacing red meat with fatty fish could help to reduce inflammatory symptoms associated with arthritis.
3. Add some flaxseed to your breakfast meal. Flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which help to keep inflammation from spreading needlessly throughout the body.
4. Consume only healthy oils and in moderation. That means olive, flax, wheat germ, and/or hemp oil. These oils are free from the fats that are associated with inflammation. If you don’t mind the taste, fish oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory food.
5. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. These foods are good for helping to prevent just about every disease out there, including those most linked to inflammation. Fruits and vegetables contain both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. There’s no reason not to enjoy these tasty foods every day!
6. Choose whole grains over processed wheat flour. It’s time to boost your intake of anti-inflammatory whole grains such as oats, barley, quinoa, millet, brown rice, and cous cous. Take a break from consuming gluten flours at every single meal and eat some of these gluten-free grains instead.
- Beck, L., “How to fight inflammation: Start with some diet tips,” The Globe and Mail web site, March 4, 2013; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/video-how-to-fight-inflammation-start-with-some-diet-tips/article9035556/, last accessed Dec. 5, 2013.
- MacMillan, A., “14 Foods that Fight Inflammation,” ABC News web site, June 19, 2013; http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/14-foods-fight-inflammation/story?id=19421185, last accessed Dec. 5, 2013.
Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter. Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).