Chronic inflammation is like a raging fire inside of you that can eventually cause several diseases and health problems. Combat inflammation naturally with these anti-inflammatory foods.
The hotter your internal inflammatory fire is burning, the more likely you are to suffer from weight gain, obesity and poor health. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that the flames of inflammation are building up inside them, compromising their health, body composition and vitality. If you can cool inflammation with better food choices (and exercise), you can significantly upgrade your memory and brain functioning, trim your waistline and fight off chronic disease.
How do you know if you’re chronically inflamed? If you are overweight, obese, eat a high-carb diet or have excess belly fat, the fires of inflammation will be burning hotly. If you suffer from digestive problems like gas, bloating, heartburn, IBS, leaky gut or autoimmune conditions, then the fires of inflammation will burn hotter. If you regularly take pain medications like ibuprofen, you’re also at much greater risk of chronic degeneration. Unfortunately, it can be also be a silent condition, the fires of inflammation burning inside you WITHOUT any of these overt symptoms.
Addressing the root causes of why you’re inflamed (i.e., processed carbohydrates, medications or general digestive distress) will go a long way to improving your energy levels, boosting brain functioning, healing joint pain, and maintaining your ideal body weight.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural and essential bodily reaction to trauma, injury or infection.
It is the primal immune system signal that sounds the alarm bell to take action. The classic signs of an inflammatory reaction are heat, redness, swelling, and pain—all of which are your body’s best effort to resolve your injury or infection.
The problem starts when acute inflammation becomes chronic. You continue to gain weight or can’t trim your belly fat, your digestive distress (i.e. gas, bloating, constipation, food allergies) never resolves, or you just can’t get seem to wean yourself off the pain medications.
Cytokines are the key players released by the body to fight inflammation. After injury or infection, your inflammatory response is triggered and three main pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced: tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF), interleukin 1 (IL-1) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). The food you eat, how much you move, and your ability to control stress can all combat these pro-inflammatory compounds
Inflammation & Chronic Disease Risk
In America, chronic disease is increasing every year with cardiovascular disease (60 million), allergies (50 million), autoimmune diseases (24 million), diabetes (14 million), and cancer (10 million) leading the way. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the growing connection between high blood sugar levels, inflammation and the progression of degenerative chronic disease. (1) It doesn’t matter if you suffer from high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, cancer or diabetes, all chronic conditions seem improve when inflammation is cooled.
Foods That Trigger Inflammation
1. Simple or Excess Carbs
Poor blood sugar control is one of the absolute major driving forces behind chronic and systemic inflammation that wreaks havoc in the body. If you’re active and have lots of lean muscle, the carbs you eat and directed primarily into your muscle tissues and stored as glycogen. If you’re sedentary, overweight or out of shape and don’t have a lot of muscle, excess carb intake quickly gets converted into fat and stored in the liver or on your body.
Inflammation is a hallmark symptom of most obese individuals. (2) The accumulation of fat around the mid-section is visceral fat, also called white adipose tissue (WAT), that acts as a powerful trigger for inflammation.
The more extra weight you’re carrying, the greater your inflammatory levels.
The chronic internal fire of weight gain also causes significant oxidative damage to cells and tissues, leading to an inflammatory response. The more weight gain, the more oxidative stress, the more inflammation in the body. It’s a downward spiral that can make it very difficult to shed those unwanted pounds.
2. Too Much Gluten
Gluten can be a very problematic food because it exerts a major detrimental impact on your gut. The research has shown that gluten-containing foods interfere with the function of an intestinal protein called zonulin, wreaking havoc on your digestive system. Zonulin effectively acts as the gatekeeper of your intestinal tract, responsible for regulating your intestinal permeability by keeping your gut cells tightly packed. The gliadin protein found in gluten interferes with your zonulin function, leading to increased intestinal hyper-permeability or leaky gut. (3) Ultimately, this leads to an inflammatory response by the body.
Interestingly, this gut damage occurred in all populations, not just celiac patients. Furthermore, if you’re overweight, it significantly worsens your zonulin function and predisposes you to an inflamed and leaky gut. (4)
3. Too Many Pain Killer Medications
Over-the-counter medications to treat pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, are the most common drugs recommended to treat pain. If you’re overweight or sit at a desk all day, you’re much more likely to suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain. While NSAIDs can help in the short-term, in the long-term they take a serious toll on your digestive system.
A recent study found that chronic use of pain killer medications like ibuprofen significantly damage the lining of the gut and increased likelihood of a leaky gut. (5) Of course, when the gut is damaged inflammation is the first response to injury, so you actually worsen your long-term systemic inflammation.
Other common causes of chronic inflammation include a diet too high in omega-6 fats (i.e. typically vegetable oils), chronic infections, high stress levels, nutrient deficiencies or over-exposure to environmental toxins.
The Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Addressing the root causes is the first step to cooling chronic inflammation and increasing your intake of powerful anti-inflammatory foods is the next step. Add the following ten foods to your diet regularly and protect your body from dangers of inflammation.
1. Cold-Water Fatty Fish
The extra-long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help cool inflammation by supporting the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, powerful hormone-like substances that turn down the body’s internal fires. (6) Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and black cod should be staples in your diet. A typical 3-4 oz. servings contains about 500-750mg of EPA and DHA.
2. Grass-Fed & Wild Game Meats
We’ve been told for decades to avoid red meat, however when you feed cows grass like nature intended, it’s incredible how the distribution of healthy fats and the quality of the meat radically changes for the better. Grass-fed beef and wild game meats have much greater levels of extra-long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA compared to standard agricultural practices. (7) Add these nutrient-dense foods to your nutritional arsenal to fight off chronic inflammation.
3. Turmeric Root
Turmeric root is a staple of Indian cuisine and contains a specific compound called curcumin that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Curcumin inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, just like ibuprofen, to reduce inflammation and accelerate healing. (8) Although not as potent as an NSAID, the natural herb has the benefit that it does not cause ulcers, liver and kidney damage, and leaky gut like chronic use of NSAIDs.
Like curcumin, ginger acts as a potent anti-inflammatory that inhibits the COX-2 enzyme. The research shows the consumption of ginger can reduce inflammatory markers after only 7 days. (9) If you enjoy juicing, add ginger to your favorite juice, sprinkle on top of salads or meals, or add into herbal teas to boost your inflammation protection.
5. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens are packed full of antioxidants like vitamin A, C, and E that protect the body from the oxidative damage that occurs with chronic inflammation. Be sure to eat leafy greens daily, such as kale, spinach, arugula, chard, radish greens, mustard greens, salad greens, etc.
6. Hot Peppers
Capsaicin’s are the active components of hot peppers that give them their spicy kick and they also help act as potent anti-inflammatory. Capsaicin’s impact inflammation via your brain, interacting with a specific receptor to increase BDNF (brain-derived neuropeptide factor) that cools inflammation and combats low mood. (10) Try sprinkling cayenne on your food or in your smoothies and add hot peppers to your meals to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory benefits. Just don’t go overboard, moderation is key here.
The perfect breakfast addition to your morning smoothie or afternoon snack also provides a nice anti-inflammatory and antioxidant punch. Dark-colored berries contain quercetin, a potent antioxidant that protects your body against the oxidative damage caused by inflammation, whether from a trauma or simply being overweight. Furthermore, the polyphenols in blueberries also trigger the genetic pathways that provide a great COX-2 anti-inflammatory effect. (11)
Beets are an incredibly nutrient-dense root vegetable packed full of the antioxidant betalain, as well as being a phenomenal source of dietary nitrates that help to boost arginine levels and support better flow to accelerate healing and recovery. (12)
There is nothing like a cold, sweet pineapple on a hot day to quench your thirst and sweet craving. Your joints also love bromelain, as its been shown to reduce swelling, bruising, healing time, and pain after injuries and surgeries. (13) If you choose to supplement with bromelain for joint support, be sure to take it on an empty stomach. If taken with meals, bromelain will act as a digestive aid and not an anti-inflammatory.
Broccoli is an absolute superfood. It packs a major antioxidant punch, is loaded with powerful phytonutrient glucosinolates, and contains anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids like kaempferol that help cool inflammation and fight off the effects of weight gain and oxidative stress. (14) Make broccoli a staple in your diet to reap these benefits.
To keep inflammation under control, address the root causes and maintain a healthy weight (and body composition), avoid excess gluten and omega-6 vegetable oils, and do you best to avoid medications or use sparingly when needed. Combine this with adding these 10 anti-inflammatory regularly in your nutrition arsenal and your body, your brain and your health will thrive.
(This article first appeared @Paleohacks.com)
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
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