Let’s address the 500 lb. Gorilla in the room: If inflammation is so bad why do our bodies resort to it so much?
The answer to that will inform the follow up questions: Do we want to stop it or just control it?
Are there foods we can eat ( or avoid) to help put our health under our own command?
Read on for answers to these and other frequently asked questions.
Inflammation All Around Us!
Inflammation is the body's natural reaction to safeguard itself from invaders such as viruses, damaged cells, toxic compounds, and microbes such as bacteria. When these intruders contact your body, the immune system releases inflammatory cells to trap them and heal the affected tissues. If the offending agents are too numerous the immune system will send cytokines; chemicals that stimulate the release of more inflammatory cells.
It turns out that inflammation is a good thing we need to survive. The problem fits into the category of “too much of a good thing.”
The body can release excess inflammatory factors that lead to severe swelling, pain, redness, and bruises. In other cases, the immune system may trigger inflammation even if there is no outside danger. For instance, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks healthy body cells by mistake, resulting in painful inflammations that come and go. Over time, swelling might damage joints and cause deformities.
Sometimes there are simply too many problems requiring inflammation. Imagine living in a neighborhood that had so many fires and explosions and toxic leaks that it was filled with fire engines and ambulances and police cars and hazardous materials control units 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Perhaps it’s next to an active volcano on a fault line in a tornado zone. The sirens and alarms would never let you sleep, the roads would be blocked so you couldn’t travel and eventually your food would run out. The streets would collapse under the stress of all the heavy equipment.
Just like your neighborhood needs emergency services available for occasional use, your body needs inflammation… for occasional use. If conditions are such that it is always an emergency, it’s those conditions that have to be changed!
Types of Inflammation
We can divide all inflammation into two categories: Acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation occurs when there's sudden body damage. For example, if you cut your finger your immune system will send inflammatory cells such as cytokines to the injury to initiate healing. The inflammation will then subside as the cut heals. Signs of acute inflammation typically appear and disappear within days, depending on the particular agent or the body part they have affected.
Chronic inflammation occurs when your body continually releases inflammatory cells, even without invasion by pathogens or irritants. As a result, the immune system ends up attacking healthy cells and causing severe pain and damage to the affected areas.
Chronic inflammation is not something to take lightly: It can sometimes require you to seek expert help. It can snowball into severe issues leading to tissue breakdown and permanent damage to the inflamed area. In the case of gut inflammation there can be a reduction in nutrient absorption and devastation of your gut biome and all the issues that go with that.
Common activators of acute inflammation include:
- Injuries / Physical Trauma
- Exposure to irritants, such as sawdust
- Bacterial, viral, fungal. or parasitic infection
Triggers of Chronic Inflammation
You can develop chronic inflammation if you have the following:
- An auto-inflammatory disease, such as Behcet’s disease *(this isn’t merely a trigger, the disease literally is forcing constant inflammation/swelling of blood vessels)
- Habit of Smoking
- Overexposure to industrial chemicals and irritants, including 2nd hand smoke.
- Autoimmune disorders in which your body to detects and responds to false alarms.
- A persistent source of acute inflammation
All too often conventional medications address the immediate symptoms of the problems caused by inflammation or block the ability of the immune system to activate inflammation. Often this is necessary to save a patient in the moment, such as in the case of anaphylactic shock! Sometimes it’s because the root problem is too subtle and buried beneath layers of complications, so Doctors deal with the levels they can deal with to address their patient’s symptoms.
Sometimes the deeper treatment is simply too long term or remedies are too unproven. Few people realize that medications don’t simply have to work with reasonably controlled side effects, we have to have a working idea of how and why they work. Modern medicine requires higher standards, but sometimes misses out on the ability to make use of things for generations while waiting for the understanding to catch up.
Fortunately, we can help the medical establishment by taking some control of our own situations. There are foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. In contrast to medications, in anything close to normal amounts they don’t have the power to overpower our immune system’s ability to save us, they just add a level of control. And definitely unlike the story with medications, there is no drawback to eating well for the long term!
Some of these foods directly soothe the inflammatory response, others relieve the underlying causes and triggers. Here we are dealing with foods that help but be aware there are also foods that can increase the problems and their intake should be regulated.
Always consult your physician before making substantial changes. We are not suggesting replacing medications that you may require, and some nutrients can interfere or react with some pharmaceuticals. It is not uncommon to improve the situation to the point your doctor will ease you off some medications.
Certainly, if you aren’t on any medications, the right foods can help keep it that way.
Colorful Fruits & Vegetables
Intense colors often show that a fruit or vegetable is rich in antioxidants and fiber. Examples of colors to look out for include:
- Purple and blue: Vegetables and fruits such as blueberries, red cabbage, and purple cauliflower have resveratrol and anthocyanin. These powerful antioxidants reduce oxidative stress levels, helping you prevent stress-related inflammation.
- Green: Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and spinach have lots of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll's antioxidant abilities can help your body prevent auto-inflammatory reactions and cellular damage.
- Orange and yellow: Foods rich in beta-carotene, such as carrots and pumpkins, can protect your skin from swelling due to the heat of the sun. Beta-carotene enhances your ability to absorb UV light, reducing the chances of sunburns.1
- Red: Fruits like watermelons and tomatoes are high in lycopene, an antioxidant that can help lower your susceptibility to heart diseases and diabetes. Other red fruits, like beetroots, have high levels of nitric oxide, which enhances blood circulation by supporting the dilation of vessels.
- White and brown: Although white and brown vegetables, such as onions and cauliflower, may not be aesthetically appealing, they have several nutritional benefits. This includes the powerful antioxidant sulforaphane, which has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and even slow the growth of cancer cells. 2,3
Most nuts can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic body inflammation. They have fiber, healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and several other anti-inflammatory biomarkers. We recommend taking these nuts raw without added oils for the best results. The following are six nuts you should eat and their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Walnuts: According to a recent study by the Journal of The American College of Cardiology, including walnuts in your daily diet can reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your body's concentration of most inflammatory biomarkers.4 Walnuts are also rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid with potent anti-inflammatory abilities.
- Peanuts: The arginine amino acid in peanuts helps the body build muscles. Research shows that muscle building can help manage the effects of chronic inflammation.5
- Almonds: This nut has three grams of fiber per ounce, more than all the other nuts on this list. High fiber consumption lowers cholesterol and can reduce body inflammation.
- Pecans: Like walnuts, pecans have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. These nuts can also reduce the rate at which your body creates inflammatory mediator molecules.
- Pistachios: Studies by The Journal of Nutrition show that pistachios have several antioxidants and can help lower oxidative stress levels. High oxidative stress levels often lead to Inflammation.
- Hazelnuts: These nuts are perfect for lowering LDL(low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol is one of the most common causes of inflammation.
The body metabolizes healthy fats into protectins and resolvins, compounds with impressive anti-inflammatory effects. Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines are some common sources of healthy fats. If you don't love eating fish, you can use fish oil compliments. Keep in mind though that many large fish sources such as tuna can be high in mercury content and should be limited on how frequent you consume them.
Other sources of healthy fats include:
- Nuts (see Above)
- Olive oil
- Ground flaxseed
- Omega-3 fortified foods
- Dark chocolate
Nutritionists affirm that fermented foods, such as yogurt, cultured milk, fermented vegetables, miso, tempeh, brine drinks, and kimchi, can lower your chances of suffering from chronic inflammations resulting from rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and chronic stress. These foods increase the diversity of the body's microbiome, Reducing glut inflammation and improving your immune system.
Microbiomes are most notably the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. Studies suggest that the probiotics in fermented foods can improve their diversity. The more diverse they are, the lower your risks of inflammation and related conditions, like diabetes and obesity.
Please note, many of the great benefits of pickled products are lost in the modern variations. True pickling is done with brine, but vinegar is faster. Vinegar is actually a miracle food by itself, but unfortunately, doesn’t play well with the probiotic microbes we want from fermented foods. In fact, that same microbe-killing acidity is the reason vinegar and foods with vinegar such as ketchup and some pickles don’t have to be refrigerated.
Herbs & Spices
Humans have used herbs and spices as sources of medicine for thousands of years. These foods have several active compounds that can help reduce your body's inflammatory markers. For example, the National Institute of Health says that black pepper's piperine is quite a potent anti-inflammatory compound. Other herbs that are popular for their anti-inflammatory properties include:
- Green tea
Before taking any of these foods, ensure you're not allergic to them. If you're not sure, consult a doctor or dietitian. All the best in your chronic inflammation reversal journey.
- Kopcke W, Krutmann J. 2007 Protection from sunburn with B-Carotene _ Meta-Analysis. Photochemistry and Photobiology. 82(2): 284-288.
- de Figueiredo SM, Binda NS, Nogueira-Machado JA, Vieira-Filho SA, Caligiorne RB. The antioxidant properties of organosulfur compounds (sulforaphane). Recent Patents on Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Drug Discovery. 2015;9(1):24-39.
- Tortorella SM, Royce SG, Licciardi PV, Karagiannis TC. Dietary Sulforaphane in Cancer Chemoprevention: The Role of Epigenetic Regulation and HDAC Inhibition. Antioxidants & Redox Signal. 2015 Jun 1;22(16):1382-424.
- Cofán M, Rajaram S, Sala-Vila A, Valls-Pedret C, Serra-Mir M, Roth I, Freitas-Simoes T, Bitok E, Sabaté J, Ros E. 2020 Effects of 2-Year Walnut-Supplemented Diet on Inflammatory Biomarkers, Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 76(19): 2282-2284,
- Chen Z, Li B, Zhan R-Z, Rao L, Bursac N. 2021. Exercise Mimetics and JAK Inhibition Attenuate IFN-γ-induced Wasting in Engineered Human Skeletal Muscle. Science Advances. 7(4):