you’re like me, wherever you look, inflammation gets painted as the bad guy – a
villain of The Joker magnitude, a merciless killer with a deeply unsettling
cackle and green suit in desperate need of a dry-clean. The media,
unsurprisingly, portrays the issue as pretty much black-and-white: avoid
inflammation at all costs!
reality, the picture is less clear than what many would have us believe. I’m
here today to help alleviate some of the confusion over this so-called “bad
guy”, and to offer some tips on dealing with inflammation effectively.
start with the most basic: what is inflammation? The ancient Romans were among
the first to notice and study this phenomenon, and they observed four key
characteristics of inflammation: heat, pain, redness, and swelling. The body
initiates this immune response anytime it detects that you are hurt, such as
when you break a bone or contract some icky virus. This response is designed to
be protective by eliminating whatever
irritant may be causing the inflammation, and by starting the healing process.
Thus we have disproved
Myth #1 about inflammation: it can’t be 100% bad if its
purpose is to help the body heal, and we all need some amount of inflammation
in order to survive.
wait – actually, the above description only applies to one form of
inflammation: acute inflammation.
Myth #2 is that there is only one type of
inflammation. In fact, there are two: acute
inflammation and chronic (or
The difference between these two can be most easily
determined by the presence or absence of pain; it’s fairly obvious when someone
is suffering from acute inflammation, but often someone with chronic
inflammation isn’t even aware of it. This is why Dr. Barry Sears refers to it
as “silent inflammation.” Sounds like a creepy killer, no? Well it turns out
that silent inflammation does kill.
is becoming increasingly agreed-upon in the medical and health communities that
silent inflammation is responsible for most chronic diseases we are seeing
today: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and pretty much
any condition that ends with “-itis.” Because the symptoms caused by this type
of inflammation are extremely varied and so general that they could be related
to a number of other health problems, silent inflammation often goes unnoticed
You might say that, in essence, chronic inflammation speeds up
the rate of aging; it is now understood that signs of unhealthy skin (wrinkles,
ashy skin, loss of elasticity, and of course, skin cancer) are linked to
inflammation is a bit like chronic stress: when the body is forced to mount
acute inflammatory responses over and over again for a long time, eventually
the immune system’s soldiers (cells that fight inflammation) become a constant
fixture. This means the body is perpetually on the defensive, and over time
this weakens the immune system and can cause all of the diseases mentioned
above, not to mention premature aging.
of the Debbie Downer news – there is a silver lining to all this nasty
inflammation! The great thing about
inflammation is that it’s very much in your control. Remember, you don’t want
to render your body incapable of producing inflammation, because you need a
little bit in order to heal. But if you follow these tips, you should be able
to vastly limit the negative effects of inflammation!
1) Aim for no greater than a 4:1
omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid intake in your diet. A 2:1 ratio is even
better, and 1:1 is ideal. Quick background: according to Dr. Andrew Weil, omega-6
fatty acids are the body’s building blocks for hormones that “tend to
increase inflammation, blood clotting, and cell proliferation, while [hormones
made] from omega-3 fatty acids decrease those functions. Both families of
hormones must be in balance to maintain optimum health.” Those who eat a
modern diet typically consume enough (usually too much) omega-6 fatty
acids, as these are found abundantly in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and
pretty much any processed food. Therefore, the goal is to limit these fats
and increase omega-3 in the diet to achieve a healthy ratio.
Action plan: limit intake
of nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, and processed foods. Increase consumption
of oily cold water fish (such as salmon, sardines, or black cod), add
flax seed oil to your salad dressing, and consider taking an astaxanthin
supplement. Your body (and skin!) will thank you.
2) Consider not only the
glycemic index (GI) of the foods you consume, but also the glycemic load (GL). Glycemic load takes into
account both the amount and quality
of the food you’re eating, so that you can properly compare how a food
affects your blood sugar. For example, a carrot has a GI of 71%, while a
soft drink’s GI is 84%. Not all that different considering they are
percentages of 100. But a carrot has a glycemic load of only 4g, whereas a
soft drink’s GL is 33g – huge difference! This means far less insulin will
be released into your blood stream to lower your blood sugar when you eat
a carrot as opposed to drinking a can of Coke. If you can stabilize your
blood sugar throughout the day by avoiding foods with a high glycemic
load, over time this will be incredibly effective in limiting silent
Action plan: be
discriminating about what carbohydrates you eat. The more refined they
are, the more work your body has to do to even out your blood sugar.
Avoid processed carb-rich products that are full of white flour and
sugar, breakfast cereal, sweet beverages (even fruit juice has a high
GL), and even certain high-sugar fruits. For smarter carb consumption,
stick to whole grains and legumes prepared
properly, and fruit such as apples, oranges, grapefruit, and berries.
If you like desserts, it’s best to make them from scratch using unrefined
sweeteners (raw honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar) and doing so only
3) Health practitioners are becoming
increasingly aware of the connection between gut health and immunity. It
has been shown that when you let the “bad” bacteria proliferate in your
gut, they interfere with proper absorption of nutrients into the body and
produce toxins that weaken your immune system – both of which contribute
to chronic inflammation. One of the best things you can do for your body
is to build and maintain a community of good bacteria in your gut!
Action plan: all of the
above tips will help with this one, as well as making an effort to
include some fermented foods in your diet. These include traditionally
prepared sauerkraut, pickles, and chutneys; and fermented dairy products
such as kefir and yogurt. You can lacto-ferment virtually
any fruit or vegetable – they taste delicious and help create a
4) There’s one hormone that’s
been implicated as the most significant contributor to inflammation:
cortisol, a.k.a. the stress hormone. Keeping your cortisol low will help
immensely with controlling chronic inflammation.
Action plan: make sure you
are getting enough sleep (I know it’s
nearly impossible hard, but
aim for 8.5-9.5 hours per night, and getting to bed before 10:30pm will
greatly improve your quality of sleep). Additionally, to maintain low
levels of stress (and therefore cortisol), find some healthy activities
that keep you calm. Meditation is one practice that has been shown
countless times to reduce stress and improve happiness. Other ideas:
perhaps walking your dog, being outside, or a low-impact exercise such as
yoga, swimming, or cycling helps you to unwind. Try to do these
activities at least 2-3 times per week to keep your cortisol low.
5) Here’s a biggie that doesn’t
get the recognition it deserves: most of us are exposed to extremely high
levels of toxins on a regular basis. Many of us use household cleaning
products, microwaves, skin care, and makeup that add up to such a large a
toxic load that our bodies struggle to cleanse themselves – again leading
to chronic inflammation.
Action plan: reduce your
exposure to toxins by using natural, organic skincare and household
products. Organic home cleaning products can be found at most organic
shops and even some supermarkets. As for makeup and skin care, look no
further than Flora Organica’s superb selection!
hope you’ve learned a thing or two about inflammation and gained a more
in-depth understanding of its complexities. It turns out that inflammation
isn’t quite the evil villain with a horrendous makeup job: if we institute a
few simple lifestyle changes and exercise a bit of caution, we can be sure to
make a clean getaway.
Melissa David is a holistic health consultant, yoga instructor, and owner of Bennett Street Health & Wellness. She has a *healthy* obsession with nutrition, wellness, and natural healing. Her philosophy is that to attain true health, equal attention must be given to physical, mental, and emotional well-being. When she's not posting on her Facebook page or updating her website, you can bet she's either in downward dog or getting her hands dirty in the kitchen!