Inflammation is the process by which white blood cells are produced in response to illness or injury to trigger the body’s immune system.
It is one of the body’s most pivotal defence mechanisms and is essential for a healthy lifespan.
“As such, inflammation if often viewed as a positive force. But look a little closer and it can also play a part in many chronic diseases. These include arthritis, heart disease, bronchitis, acid reflux, diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia,” says Dr Trisha McNair of the British Medical Association.
This is due to an imbalance of pro-inflammatory chemicals within the body and anti-inflammatory mechanisms that regulate the process, which leads to excess inflammation.
This growing level of inflammation begins in mid-life, but often goes unnoticed for years. The damage caused then becomes apparent in the form of chronic illness.
Though the triggers behind persistent inflammation are not entirely understood, there are many simple measures you can take to prevent it occurring…
Avoid pro-inflammatory foods
Several studies have indicated that saturated and trans-fats trigger adipose (fat tissue) inflammation. This worsens the inflammation in conditions such as arthritis, and is an indicator for heart disease.
Avoid processed foods, refined carbohydrates and other high glycaemic index (GI) foods. Instead, “opt for oily fish, nuts, berries and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and aubergine. These are high in antioxidants and will act to reduce inflammation,” advises Trisha.
Maintain a healthy weight
“Fat stored around your midriff and clings to your internal organs is known as visceral fat,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “This fat differs from fat elsewhere in the body as it responds to stress hormones by pumping out inflammatory chemicals that travel straight to your liver, affecting the way it processes cholesterol, glucose, triglyceride, and other factors linked with inflammation, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy weight. Regular exercise is vital for a healthy lifespan. In line with government recommendations, we should all be taking part in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week – around 30 minutes each day.
If you’re concerned about inflammation, or suffer from arthritis or high blood pressure, avoid high-intensity exercise. “Intense workouts can cause inflammation levels to rise for several days. They may also strain joints and cause a spike in blood pressure,” says Dr Brewer. “If you’re at risk, ditch the spinning class and opt for gentle exercise like walking and swimming.”
Cigarette smoke is packed with irritant chemicals which promote inflammation. This is a contributing factor to conditions such as heart and lung disease.
A study, conducted at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York, showed that women who quit smoking had major reductions in inflammation after just a few weeks. For advice on how to quit smoking, contact your GP or visit www.smokefree.gov.
Research is starting to identify some useful anti-inflammatory properties in certain supplements.
According to a study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, daily consumption of Omega 3 fish oil supplements helped reduce inflammation and anxiety.
Moreover, a Texas study investigating the effects of turmeric on inflammation and muscle damage following exercise, reported a significant reduction in the chemical markers for inflammation among participants who consumed curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), compared to those who consumed a placebo.
Keep stress at bay
According to a recent study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, people with a strong emotional reaction to stressful tasks are more likely to develop inflammation than those who don’t. Inflammation occurs as stress increases blood pressure and heart rate, forcing blood vessels to work harder.
To combat stress levels, try taking part in relaxation methods, such as meditation or yoga. A 2010 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine showed that women who took part in yoga for 90 minutes twice a week had lower levels of inflammatory chemicals than those who didn’t.
According to research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago, getting less than six hours of sleep per night is linked to a significant increase in key inflammatory chemicals within the body.
If you struggle to drop off, try sprinkling a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow, suggests Dr Sarah. “It’s a natural sedative which can help you relax and will improve sleep.”Last modified: June 10, 2021