Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and is the first step of any healing process. If a virus, bacteria, or other toxin enters your body or you hurt yourself in some way, your body signals for help. Cue your immune system to the rescue, sending white blood cells to the site of infection or injury, where they release chemicals to protect you and start the healing process.
What’s the deal with chronic inflammation?
In itself, inflammation is a great system for dealing with acute damage and threats. However, it has a tendency to show up when it’s not necessarily needed and/or overstay its welcome. We’re talking chronic inflammation: aka inflammation that lasts for a prolonged period of time (generally months or years).
Chronic inflammation occurs when you constantly get exposed to things that light up your immune system (e.g. certain foods, stress and excess fat; more on that below). This causes your immune system to continue to call for backup and to send out its chemical messengers to the rest of your body. Because our bodies aren’t meant to endure inflammation for long periods of time, chronic inflammation can cause long-term health issues related to your heart, your blood sugar, your cells and your gut, and has been associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
The constant state of inflammation can further cause oxidative stress to your cells, which in the long run can cause DNA mutation and damage, contributing to the risk of developing cancer and other age-related diseases.
Aside from infection/injury, what else causes inflammation?
As always, researchers and scientists argue day in and day out about what causes inflammation beyond acute trauma, but the two most commonly agreed-upon causes are ones (mostly) within our control:
The food you eat is a major factor, and inflammation can be caused by a variety of foods such as:
- Sugar - desserts, pastries, chocolate, sodas
- Saturated fats - red meat, dairy products
- Trans fats - fast food, fried foods, cookies, donuts
- Excess Omega-6 fatty acids - corn oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil
- Refined carbohydrates - bread, white rice, white potatoes
Stress is also an important part of the puzzle. When you are stressed, your body prepares for damage by cranking up the inflammatory response. So, in the long run, chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation.
The blood sugar connection: how inflammation impacts metabolic health
As it turns out, this inflammatory response is closely linked to your blood sugar. The chemical messengers used by your immune response—cytokines—can eventually cause insulin resistance. And it can become a vicious cycle over time. High blood sugar has been linked to increased inflammation, and it has been shown that individuals with higher blood sugar have a larger inflammatory response to the same trigger than those with lower blood sugar.
So, how can we try to manage inflammation?
While inflammation isn’t entirely avoidable (and that’s a good thing—since it does have its time and place), we can take steps to manage our potential triggers of inflammation and help support a healthy inflammatory response through anti-inflammatory actions.
Managing your inflammatory triggers:
- Try to reduce your intake of potentially inflammatory foods
- Experiment with ways to manage stress (removing stressors from your life and/or practicing stress-management techniques like meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature)
Supporting a healthy inflammatory response:
- Consuming foods with anti-inflammatory properties, like Omega-3s (found in olive oil, salmon, avocados, walnuts, leafy greens, etc.) and polyphenols like curcumin (found in turmeric; try combining with black pepper or taking it in curcumin phytosome form—both proven to increase the bioavailability by ~2,000%.)
- Regular exercise (e.g. a daily 30-minute walk) not only helps manage blood sugar—it can also lower inflammation levels throughout your entire body
- Monitoring your blood sugar and taking steps to reduce glucose spikes and keep your blood sugar low & consistent
Overall, the key to supporting your body’s inflammatory response is knowing your body and using that knowledge to make the right lifestyle choices for you.
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