|Posted by Sara Love, ND on September 14, 2011 at 4:10 PM|
Growing up as an active teen and young adult I always had the thought of inflammation as exclusively an acute process. Minor traumas from running and horseback riding caused swelling, heat, redness, and pain. These are all the hallmarks of acute inflammation. This physiological process is important to the healing of the tissues and as long as the pain did not interfere with my daily activities I ignored it. Years later, while in medical school to become a Naturopathic Physician I learned about chronic inflammation. This process lasts a long time, and can be so insidious that people do not even know that it is happening to them. Chronic inflammation is more complex with several immunological events happening. This in turn can have negative impacts on your health. The good news is that the process of chronic inflammation can be reversed through simple lifestyle modifications. The even better news is that you can even lose weight with these changes to your life. And regain vitality while looking better.
How do I know that people can reverse chronic inflammation? I have seen it firsthand clinically in my patients. I have patients who have been able to wean off of their steroid inhalers for asthma. I have patients who are losing weight and running 5K races who never ran before the age of 40. I have patients with diabetes who are able to manage glucose and potentially prevent further complications.
So, what is happening with chronic inflammation? According to the Linus Pauling Institute, chronic inflammation can last years and is mostly promoted with a specific type of white blood cell called a macrophage. This macrophage releases several cytokines, which are distinctive chemical mediators that promote or down regulate inflammation. A few of the cytokines that are released by the macrophages in chronic inflammation are called IL-1, IL-6 and TNF-alpha. There are several more of these pro-inflammatory cytokines, but these are one ones which are studied the most. The macrophages also release reactive oxygen species (ROS) which in acute inflammation destroys the source of inflammation. However, in chronic inflammation there are enough ROS released over a period of time that the oxidant can damage the tissues. With the tissue damage this restarts the inflammation cascade as the tissue damage triggers more macrophages to come to the site of tissue damage. And the cycle of inflammation continues. Chronic inflammation has been linked to several diseases in the body including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, dementia, obesity, asthma, and even more. Since this inflammatory cycle can continue it is of the utmost importance to stop inflammation in its tracks and this can be done with simple lifestyle modifications.
The good and bad news, we really are what we eat. By eating certain foods you can promote inflammation. These foods are trans fats, foods high in saturated fats, high glycemic foods, and smoking. The unfortunate thing is that these foods are in nearly every convenience food. For busy individuals these processed foods are easy to grab on the go, but at what cost to our bodies. With other products that are harmful to health we might have an instant negative feedback telling our bodies that the product is bad for you. With the processed foods there is an insidious quality to the harm. One may have an upset stomach, a negative mood, or just not feel well. It is hard to put your finger on the exact cause of the poor feeling which was caused by eating foods. None of us want the foods we eat to be bad for us, food is our source of energy and can give us a source of comfort. An additional problem is that some of these comfort foods have an addictive quality to them and part of changing diet may actually induce withdrawal symptoms. These unwanted symptoms will disappear after time, but a nuisance at the time.
Anti-inflammatory foods include dietary fiber, low glycemic foods, low cholesterol diets, and some herbs including ginger and turmeric. Tumeric one of the major components of curry, has qualities as an anti-inflammatory in addition to being protective against diabetes. Fruits and vegetables contain anti-oxidants which can combat the excessive ROS at the site of inflammation. The great news is that there are so many options for foods to eat and small changes can make great strides to improving your health and vitality. In addition to eating more fruits and vegetables exercise is a great way to reduce inflammation. Another lifestyle modifier that can be incorporated into your busy life is exercise. It doesn’t have to be training for a marathon, yoga can have excellent benefits. In one study adding yoga to standard medical therapy was shown to reduce IL-6 and hsCRP, two of the pro-inflammatory cytokines, in only eight weeks, and not only that, but quality of life improved in the yoga group.
These are only a few of the changes that individuals can make to reduce the systemic inflammation that occurs in the body. For more information on how these changes can help you locate a Naturopathic Physician who treats inflammation. There are many different options for treating inflammation as well as managing stress in a productive way, to empower you to regain your vitality.
Paula R. Pullen, MEd , et al., Effects of Yoga on Inflammation and Exercise Capacity in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure Journal of Cardiac Failure June 2008 Volume 14, Issue 5 , Pages 407-413.
Linus Pauling Institute http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/inflammation.html Accessed September 12, 2011.
Aggarwal BB Targeting inflammation-induced obesity and metabolic diseases by curcumin and other nutraceuticals. Annu Rev Nutr. 2010 Aug 21;30:173-99.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/food-addiction-could-it-e_b_764863.html Accessed September 13, 2011
Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge. Psychosom Med May 2010l 72(4): 365-369. ,