May 24, 2013
Inflammation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Everyone who has had a sore throat, rash, hives, or a sprained ankle knows about inflammation. These are normal and appropriate responses of the immune to infection and trauma. This kind of inflammation is good. We need it to survive -- to help us determine friend from foe.
When you sprain an ankle, or bruise your arm, you feel the effects of inflammation almost immediately: pain; redness; swelling; warm, tingling sensation, and sometimes even a loss of function. Although this may be uncomfortable and annoying, without the inflammatory response, it is safe to say that none of us will be able to survive for long.
This is due to the essential role inflammation plays in the body’s defense response. When you suffer a cut, for example, acute inflammation helps to summon microscopic soldiers to get rid of foreign invaders like bacteria, fungi and viruses which cause infections, diseases and even death. Once the invaders have been wiped out or contained, inflammation subsides and the healing process takes over.
While short-lived acute inflammation is crucial to keep us alive, chronic inflammation that persists for a long period is detrimental to our health. When low doses of inflammatory substances continue to be released into the body for extended periods of time, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. These attacks may NOT always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen, unlike a bruise or a cut sustained to the skin. Like a slow poison, an over active immune system, overzealous inflammatory cells and hormones destroy our body gradually as we continue to live, work and play with a false sense of good health.
It is now widely believed that chronic inflammation that goes undetected for years is at the root of many dreaded illnesses such as type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (e.g. colon cancer), neurological diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia), autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease), as well as other diseases which have unknown causes, like allergies, fibromyalgia and migraines.
These conditions are not necessarily inevitable, and neither is chronic inflammation, but you have to know what lifestyle and dietary steps to take in order to avoid them, many of which are fairly simple and straightforward. When the root causes of these imbalances are properly addressed, chronic illness in general stands a far less chance of taking hold and running its natural course.
"Inflammation is your body's response to stress -- whether from your diet, lifestyle or environment," says a 2006 article by Body Ecology. "Think of what happens when you catch a cold. You may experience inflammation in the form of a fever as your body heats up to eradicate the effects of the invading virus."
"This kind of inflammation is good, but the modern epidemic of chronic, low-grade inflammation destroys the balance in your body. When your body's systems experience a constant inflammatory response, you become more susceptible to aging and disease."
What causes the inflammatory response to go awry? There are a myriad of factors that contribute to chronic inflammation. Below are some of the major ones:
Stress to the Nervous System. First and foremost, it is imperative to be checked by a qualified Upper Cervical Doctor for a misalignment causing stress to the nervous system (subluxation). Our nervous system controls and coordinates all functions in the body and is intimately involved with the immune system and therefore the inflammatory response.
Lack of exercise. Mounting evidence tells us that regular exercise reduces inflammation. It also improves immune function, strengthens your cardiovascular systems, corrects and prevents insulin resistance, and is key for improving your mood and erasing the effects of stress. In fact, regular exercise is one among a small handful of lifestyle changes that correlates with improved health in virtually ALL of the scientific literature. So get moving!
Diet high in insulin-spiking foods and trans fats. Foods that spike our blood sugar levels quickly, like white breads, cakes, cookies and sodas, prompt our body to produce more insulin to normalize our glucose levels. But excess insulin also elevates the levels of arachidonic acid in our blood, increasing the production of cells and hormones that promote inflammation. Now, that is another good reason to avoid refined carbohydrates and excessive sugars!
Lack of quality sleep. Robbing yourself of adequate shut-eye wreaks havoc on the immune system, increasing the amount of inflammation in the body. What’s more surprising is that even a few hours of lost sleep can prompt your immune system to turn against you.
Environmental toxins. Inhaling polluted air with chemical irritants and toxic particles, such as second-hand smoke, pesticides, coal dust and asbestos, can throw your immune system off balance, as our body cannot effectively expel these foreign particles. Also, toxins such as mercury and pesticides contained in our food can contribute. The chemicals in vaccines also trigger an inflammatory response in the body.
Mental stress. Is it any surprise that stress can increase the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body? People who have experienced abdominal pain or other physical symptoms before an important event like giving a speech can definitely attest to the effects of stress on our body. In addition, studies also found that mental stress can cause changes to our immune defense systems, making us more vulnerable to infectious diseases and slows down healing by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory hormones in places where they are needed most.
Here are simple but extraordinarily effective ways to reduce chronic inflammation and to achieve ultra wellness:
- Get Checked by a Certified Upper Cervical Doctor – An Upper Cervical Doctor can ensure your nervous system is functioning at it’s optimal potential. “Side effects” include a healthier immune systems and less chronic inflammation in your body!
- Whole Foods – Eat a whole foods, high-fiber, plant-based diet, which is inherently anti-inflammatory. Choose unprocessed, unrefined, whole, fresh, real foods, not those full of sugar and trans fats and low in powerful plant chemicals called phytonutrients.
- Healthy Fats -- Give yourself an oil change by eating healthy monounsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts and avocadoes, and getting more omega-3 fats from small fish like sardines, herring, sable, and wild salmon.
- Regular Exercise -- If you have a desk job, take frequent breaks. Instead of reaching for the phone to call a colleague, reach for the door and head down the hall to see them. Find a group of people to walk with at lunchtime. Make a point to find the water cooler once an hour. Not only will it force you to get up every 60 minutes, but the extra intake of water will help ensure you are getting your recommended eight glasses of water a day.
- Relax – Relaxation techniques can slowly relaxe your whole body and lower inflammation. Try practicing yoga, prayer or meditation, breathe deeply, or even take a hot bath.
- Avoid Allergens -- If you have food allergies, find out what you're allergic to and get stop eating those foods--gluten and dairy are two common culprits.
- Heal Your Gut -- Take probiotics to help your digestion and improve the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut, which reduces inflammation.
- Supplement -- Take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement, fish oil, and vitamin D, all of which help reduce inflammation.
TOP 10 ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
- Wild Alaskan Salmon: Salmon contains anti-inflammatory omega-3s (wild is better than farmed)Try and incorporate oily fish into your diet twice weekly. If you don't like fish, try a high quality fish supplement.
- Kelp: High in fiber, this brown algae extract helps control liver and lung cancer, douses inflammation, and is anti-tumor and anti-oxidative. Kombu, wakame and arame are good sources.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: The secret to longevity in Mediterranean culture, this oil provides a healthy dose of fats that fights inflammation, can help lower risks of asthma and arthritis, as well as protect the heart and blood vessels.
- Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale and cauliflower are all loaded with antioxidants. Naturally detoxifying, they can help rid the body of possible harmful compounds.
- Blueberries: Blueberries not only reduce inflammation, but they can protect the brain from aging and prevent diseases, such as cancer and dementia. Aim for organic berries, as pesticides are hard to wash away due to their size.
- Turmeric: This powerful Asian spice contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound, curcumin, which is often found in curry blends. It is said to have the same effect as over-the counter pain relievers (but without their side effects).
- Ginger: Ginger contains a host of health benefits. Among them, it helps reduce inflammation and control blood sugar. Ginger tea is a great addition to any diet.
- Garlic: Garlic can help reduce inflammation, regulate glucose and help your body fight infection.
- Green Tea: This tea contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids that may even help reduce the risks of certain cancers.
- Sweet Potato: A great source of complex carbs, fiber, beta-carotene, manganese and vitamin B6 and C, these potatoes actually help heal inflammation in the body.
Above information taken from articles written by Mark Hyman, MD of the UltraWellness Center, Natural News (Aug 7, 2012) and theconsciouslife.com. Top 10 list by Rea Frey, chicagonow.com, September 18, 2010.
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