Do You Suffer From Chronic Inflammation? Here's How To Tell—And What You Can Do About It
When your body is functioning optimally, it provides you with what is effectively your own standing army. White blood cells and other natural defenses leap into action to stave off any invader—such as an infection or irritant—creating what's known as acute inflammation. But when these defenders refuse to stand down after the problem is gone, or when they launch an offensive against something that's not a threat, that's a problem. That's called chronic inflammation, a long-term, low-grade condition that persists in your cells and tissues and plays a key role in many health problems. In fact, inflammation is involved in 8 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, cancer, chronic lower-respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, pneumonia/influenza, and kidney disease.
What's particularly insidious about chronic inflammation is that it can mushroom into problems that feed on themselves. Poor sleep habits are strongly associated with depression and anxiety, which in turn trigger an inflammatory response all on their own. Too much saturated and trans fat and sugar leads to excess weight, which in turn generates its own inflammation, which can trigger more weight gain. In these sorts of vicious cycles, chronic inflammation is both the cause and the effect of many illnesses. Astonishingly, it's likely that more than half of Americans live with chronic inflammation and don't even know it. (If you have inflammation, you should stay away from these 5 surprising foods.)
If we can stop inflammation at its root by avoiding its primary causes, we can steer clear of many of the diseases it can help spawn and reap the benefits of years of robust health. That's the message of a new book, . In this adaptation, chiropractor Corey W. Kirshner and thePreventioneditors explain how to detect chronic inflammation and offer strategies for tamping it down.
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IDENTIFY THE SYMPTOMS
Your body is always talking to you, trying to let you know when things aren't right. Heed these warning signs. They may well indicate chronic inflammation, and getting ahead of it can help you prevent many major illnesses and maintain optimal wellness.
Though a variety of factors can cause diarrhea, constipation, nausea, excessive gas, and abdominal pain, these gastrointestinal symptoms are also classic signs of chronic inflammation—especially if they arrive out of nowhere.
Intermittent joint pain.
If you're starting to experience joint pain, especially when you get up in the morning, and it wasn't caused by an injury, it could be a sign of inflammation.
New food sensitivity.
Your body's reactions to inflammatory foods usually manifest as GI symptoms.
A spare tire.
Abdominal fat cells are known to be a potent source of proin ammatory chemicals. Having belly fat makes you more prone to inflammation.
Worsening seasonal allergies or asthma.
When hay fever kicks up a notch with no apparent trigger (such as pollen or smog), inflammation is a likely culprit.
Feeling spacey, becoming more forgetful, and experiencing a general lack of mental clarity could be early indicators of rising inflammation. Fluctuating hormones, insomnia, stress, and poor nutrition can also cause a hazy head—and each of these factors is individually associated with inflammatory responses. (Here are 9 things your brain fog is trying to tell you.)
If you're run-down for no apparent reason, chronic inflammation may be involved.
Research shows that people who are depressed have more inflammation than those who aren't, and those experiencing medically induced inflammation, such as from skin-cancer treatments or some vaccinations, report higher levels of depression and fatigue. Stress can also bring on a cycle of depression and inflammation.
Getting too little rest, waking often during the night, or snoozing for more than 9 hours can promote inflammation. And chronic inflammation in turn contributes to sleeping difficulties.
If your skin is usually clear but you suddenly see acne, blotches, a rash, or hives, that means an inflammatory response is under way.
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If you notice some of these signs, consider making immediate lifestyle changes even before calling your doctor. While a variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle decisions, and your health history, will determine your body's individual inflammatory response, the same external triggers are usually at play: processed foods, unhealthy fats, sugar, exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants, chronic stress, poor sleep habits, or a combination of these. New research reveals that you can cool those internal flames with a few smart steps.
The fuel our bodies need—whole, healthy, minimally processed foods—includes fruits and vegetables that come from the garden, not from the lab, and proteins that come from sustainable sources rather than large industrial operations. Choose meals and snacks made from unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients that are organic, when possible, so you can avoid harmful pesticides and other chemicals that can trigger inflammation. (Check out these 7 food pairings that fight inflammation.)
That doesn't mean signing up for an ultramarathon; working out too much or too hard can increase inflammation, just as hardly moving off the couch can. Most doctors recommend that adults get 150 minutes of aerobic activity at moderate intensity each week. Walking a mile at a 15- to 20-minute pace is considered moderate intensity. Or try bicycling on level ground, doing water aerobics, using a rowing machine, or ballroom dancing.
The payoff for engaging in such activities is stark: In addition to directly reducing inflammation, regular exercise helps maintain a healthy BMI, lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, boosts HDL ("good") cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, assuages anxiety, and promotes sufficient sleep.
This can take the form of a traditional sitting meditation, a walking meditation, or a breath-awareness practice, or it can be incorporated into a yoga practice. No matter which method you choose, you'll reduce stress and the accompanying inflammation. A review of 20 randomized controlled trials on mindfulness meditation found positive effects on four different stress parameters, including an increase in telomerase activity, which may guard against aging.
Other ways of reducing inflammation in the body involve introducing more joie de vivre into your day. That can mean hanging out with friends more often, laughing more, expressing gratitude, or spending more time in nature.
6 FOODS TO TAME THE FLAMES
Known for their anticancer effects, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale have been shown to lower circulating pro-inflammatory markers.
People who regularly eat nuts tend to have a significantly lower weight, a lower BMI, and less belly fat than people who don't—and their heart disease risk factors, including C-reactive protein levels, are much lower, too.
This healthy monounsaturated fat contains polyphenols, which boast well-documented benefits—and were recently found to be effective in warding off type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
The fats in fish such as mackerel, sardines, and tuna and in plant sources such as flaxseed and walnuts contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that provide a strong anti-inflammatory effect.
Lactobacillus, a probiotic strain found in yogurt, can reduce reactive oxygen production, help heal a leaky gut, and reduce inflammation.
High in anthocyanins and other chemicals that act as anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, this fruit and its juice are arthritis fighters. They've been shown to reduce oxidative stress and can alleviate muscle soreness.
Adapted from, by Dr. Corey W.
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