What do heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes have in common?
Chronic inflammation! Together, they're the greatest cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks chronic diseases as the number one threat to human health.
There are 2 types of inflammation:
1. Acute (Short-Term) Inflammation - This is the rapid redness, swelling, and heat that follows a mosquito bite, a twisted ankle or acute pneumonia. It's essential for healing and disappears within a few hours or days.
2. Chronic (Long-Term) Inflammation - This is prolonged inflammation that endures after the initial pathogen has been eliminated or initial injury has healed. It can last for several months or years.
What are the Impacts of Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation continues silently, often with persistent low-level symptoms (Pahwa, 2018) including:
- Constant fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal complications (incl. constipation, diarrhoea and acid reflux)
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
- Joint damage and loss of mobility (Harvard Medical School, 2005)
What Should You Do to Prevent Chronic Inflammation?
Minimise your use of antibiotics and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and aspirin. These can cause an imbalance in your gut microbiome and lead to a leaky gut.
Exercise regularly to maintain optimum weight. Excess fat has been shown to produce low-level inflammation, which contributes to the cycle of inflammation and weight gain.
What Should You Eat to Reduce Chronic Inflammation?
Avoid refined carbohydrates, high-GI foods, and simple sugars. Minimise alcohol, saturated and trans fats (Marcason, 2010).
Eat plenty of whole grains, lean protein sources, Focus on increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory foods:
- Ginger and turmeric are great anti-inflammatory spices that you can add to your cooking or mix into your tea.
- Blueberries and kale are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that decrease inflammation and support your immune system. You can blend into your smoothies.
- Salmon is a fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, that reduces the production of inflammatory molecules. Choose wild-caught salmon where available, as they have a better nutritional profile and are less likely to contain contaminants than farm-raised salmon.
- Broccoli sprouts are new to a lot of people - they contain impressive amounts of vitamins. They also sulforaphane which can help lower LDL "bad" cholesterol, protect against inflammation, and is also considered a nootropic (brain-boosting food) (Macri, 2019). Toss these into a salad for lunch or dinner.
How many of these foods do you include in your diet every week? Don't stress about the specific portions, but instead, just incorporate them into your everyday diet to combat chronic inflammation.
Consult your doctor or dietician for an individual assessment and professional advice. Some chronic inflammatory diseases don't have a cure, yet can be managed with therapy to treat the symptoms.
Harvard Medical School (2005) Understanding Inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. Sourced from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-inflammation
Macri, Irena (2019). The Amazing Broccoli Sprouts: benefits & How To Use Them. Irena Macri. Sourced from: https://irenamacri.com/broccoli-sprouts-benefits-how-to-use-them/
Marcason, W. (2010). What is the anti-inflammatory diet?. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 110(11), 1780.
Pahwa, R., & Jialal, I. (2018). Chronic inflammation. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.