Inflammation plays a central role in healing and is important for our bodies. Left to run wild, however, and this process can lead to a number of chronic and debilitating diseases. These include arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Watch for the symptoms and avoid these behaviors to keep your inflammation in-check.
The Danger of Chronic Inflammation
It’s no secret that inflammation is linked to many serious diseases. The problem is that inflammation can also be an important part of the body’s natural healing process. We just don’t know how to harness its power for our own good. It’s a bit like trying to stop the fire from burning itself out. You can’t do it, but if you don’t, you’re likely to lose your house. The same is true for inflammation: If you try to shut it down completely, bad things will happen. (1)
“It’s a smoldering process that injures your tissues, joints, and blood vessels, and you often do not notice it until significant damage is done,” says Dr. Andrew Luster, of the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection. When we experience an injury or infection, our bodies release chemicals called cytokines that signal nearby immune cells to rush over and fight back against whatever caused the injury. This fight-or-flight response is essential for our survival. It helps us either avoid infection altogether or recover from it quickly so that we can get back to living our lives. (2)
What Is The Problem With Inflammation?
Unfortunately, when this process goes unchecked, it can turn into something more sinister: chronic inflammation syndrome (CIS). CIS is not a disease; it’s just a collection of symptoms related to excessive inflammation in the body. Some symptoms include:
- joint pain and swelling (arthritis)
- heart disease (atherosclerosis)
- stroke risk (ischemia)
- memory loss and cognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s disease)
- metabolic syndrome (diabetes)
- autoimmune diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)
- chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS)
- cancer and more.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation is caused by a variety of factors. These include poor diet, high blood sugar levels, excess body weight, lack of exercise, chronic stress, infections (bacterial and viral), environmental toxins (pesticides and heavy metals), and more.
What Are The Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation?
The symptoms of chronic inflammation can vary from person to person, depending on the cause. Most people experience fatigue and pain in their joints and muscles. Other common symptoms include headaches, food sensitivities, skin rashes, restless leg syndrome (RLS), brain fog, depression and anxiety.
Some people also experience digestive issues like heartburn, bloating and indigestion. In some cases, chronic inflammation can cause autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or lupus. These are progressive conditions that affect the body’s ability to fight infections.
How Can You Reduce Systemic Inflammation?
Researchers are still working to fully understand the causes of chronic inflammation. However, there are a number of lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce systemic inflammation. These include eating a healthy diet low in sugar and processed foods and exercising regularly (at least 30 minutes at least 5 times per week).
Foods That Fight Chronic Inflammation
Diet has a powerful impact on our health. This is especially so in the case of fighting systemic inflammation. There are also certain foods that have been shown to help fight chronic inflammation. These include (3):
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fish or fish oil supplements
- Turmeric, which is an ingredient in curry powder and has anti-inflammatory properties
- Green tea
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Dark chocolate (in moderation)
More Ways To Reduce Inflammation
Getting enough quality sleep (7-8 hours per night) helps, as does managing stress effectively with relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga. Avoid inflammation-causing behaviors such as alcohol and tobacco use. Take care of infections early on so they don’t become chronic and reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. You can do this by buying organic food as much as possible and using natural cleaning products instead of chemical ones.
If you’re overweight, losing weight can help reduce inflammation. Although reducing body fat is not the only way to reduce your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, it’s a good place to start. Talk with your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight, such as eating better and exercising more.
Keep Reading: Your Heart Is Not Always The Problem If You’re Feeling Pain Under Your Left Breast
- “Playing with the fire of inflammation.” Harvard. April 12, 2021
- “Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation.” Healthline. Adrienne Santos-Longhurst. August 20, 2021.
- “Foods that fight inflammation.” Harvard. November 16, 2021.