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Tame the Fire Within: A Holistic Guide to Reducing Chronic Inflammation

Introduction: Why We Need to Talk About Inflammation

 

You might have heard the term inflammation and you are wondering what exactly is it, what you need to look out for, and how to best support your overall wellbeing. You’re in the right place!   

 

I have personally been on a journey of better understanding such processes in our bodies better, in an effort to get to the possible root causes of my own cancer diagnosis. In the case of inflammation, I especially wanted to disentangle whether it has a direct causal relationship to diseases, or if it is simply a symptom of disease, or a bit of both!

 

Inflammation seems to be a common denominator across a most chronic conditions, so understanding and proactively reducing inflammation is a sensible and highly uncontroversial move to make.  

 

In this blog, we will dive into definitions of inflammation, types, triggers, and associated outcomes. I will provide tangible steps you can take to tame the proverbial inflammatory fire, using nutrition and lifestyle tips that are easy to understand and implement.



Tired all the time


Inflammation is Not All Bad: The Role of Acute Inflammation

 

Inflammation describes a state in the body whereby the "red flags" are being raised. The immune system is activated on high alert. Inflammatory markers send signals for your defences to address the threat.

 

Acute inflammation is when the immune system is responding to an injury, like a graze from a fall, or an infection. Inflammatory signals including redness, swelling, and pain alerts your defense mechanisms to the area that requires repair. That is how the healing process begins.

 

The expectation is then the inflammation resolves as the injury zone is repaired. So, there is a time-bound nature of acute inflammation which makes it a necessary mechanism for health.

 

Beware of Low-Grade Chronic Inflammation

 

What if the inflammatory signals persisted undetected for months and years on end? That’s the real danger. Chronic inflammation happens when the immune response fails to eliminate the underlying cause of irritation and the body is then stuck in a state of perpetual unresolved inflammation.

 

Underlying triggers are many and could include auto-immune disorders, long-term exposure to toxins, history of bad nutritional choices, and poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol, and chronic stress.

 

The state of chronic inflammation is dangerous because as inflammatory chemicals, also known as cytokines, continue to be released into the blood, they can start to impair immune function, alter cell physiology, damage healthy tissues and organs over time.

 

Taming the fire of inflammation is a “no-brainer” in terms of creating the best environment for your cells and bodily processes to work optimally.

 

Inflammation as a Precursor to Major Chronic Diseases

 

The relationship between inflammation and disease states might not be directly causal, but rather associative. Where disease is present usually there is inflammation too. Where chronic inflammation is present, usually, there is disease developing too.

 

Some of the major diseases associated with chronic inflammation include:

 

  • Metabolic syndrome, e.g. Type 2 Diabetes: inflammation plays a role in reducing insulin sensitivity.

 

  • Cardiovascular diseases: inflammation can damage arterial linings of blood vessels.

 

  • Cancer, especially colorectal cancer: inflammation can promote the growth of rogue cells a.k.a. “free radicals” and hinder the efficacy of immune defenses e.g. “killer cells”.


  • Auto-immune diseases: inflammation disrupts normal immune function leading to diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


  • Neurodegenerative diseases e.g. Alzheimer's: Inflammation alters neural health and promotes brain cell degeneration.


  • Depression: inflammation alters neurotransmitter balance leading to mood disturbances.

 


Pro-Inflammatory Causes Are Linked to Our Modern Lifestyles (Even More Pronounced for Working Parents)

 

The factors contributing to inflammation won’t come as a surprise. Many of them are the “usual suspects” that are a result of our modern-day living.

 

However, the fact that these factors are even more pronounced for working parents in early mid-life is worth noting. I personally remember times when I used to put myself at the “bottom of the list” and prioritised everyone else’s needs above mine. Little did I know that in doing so, I was laying the groundwork for inflammation and disease.

 

Here are the contributing factors, which are both the cause but also the remedy for inflammation:

 

  1. Nutrition: We are increasingly consuming a diet of “food-like substances” consisting of highly processed, highly palatable foods, that are so far from the natural whole food form. Working parents are even more susceptible to “bad” nutritional choices, due to the lack of time and appeal of convenience.

  2. Imbalanced microbiome: The diversity and balance of the gut microbiome is under attack from the limited and often highly processed foods we consume, jeopardising our immune function and gut symbiosis.

  3. Physical activity: We are leading sedentary lives, working behind a computer screen for most hours of the day, and moving very little. Working parents struggle even more so to find the time to exercise because the of the many other responsibilities they hold.

  4. Reduced sleep quality and duration: Sleep duration is truncated due to work or late-night screen time. Even the quality of sleep has been disrupted by excessive screen time, alcohol consumption, and late-night eating. Working parents with younger kids who wake up in the night are often overrun with chronic fatigue.

  5. Environmental toxins: Excessive exposure to pollution, pesticides, and other household irritants from cleaning products, and synthetic fragrances and lotions are like a constant assault on the body’s immune and hormonal systems.

  6. Chronic stress: Excessive stress from work demands, financial responsibilities, and parenting duties become more pronounced in early mid-life, creating a fertile ground for chronic inflammation. Working parents who are trying to juggle it all can feel an amplified burden of stress in both their work and home lives.

  7. Untreated chronic infections: Chronic infections like UTIs, skin infections, and others that go undetected can lead to systemic inflammation if left untreated.

 


Blood tests


Recognizing the Signs and Markers of Inflammation

 

Chronic inflammation is usually painless, so it can go undetected for years on end. Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, pains and aches, depression, anxiety, gastric issues, weight issues, recurring infections, skin breakouts, and much more.

 

If you suspect you have systemic inflammation, getting some lab tests done will help unpack this for you. Two markers which you can get in a simple complete blood count (CBC) lab test, are:

 

  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a protein made by the liver whose levels rise in response to inflammation, both acute and chronic. Levels above 1 mg/dL may be indicative of inflammation.


  • Neutrophil to Lymphocyte ratio (NLR) is calculated as a simple ratio between these white blood cell counts. Neutrophils are responsible for first line defense against pathogens and regulate innate immunity, whereas lymphocytes are responsible for adaptive immunity responsible for specific viruses and tumours. Lower NLR is usually associated with favorable prognostic factors in every field of application, mirroring a preserved immune balance (1). While there is no scientific cut off for this ratio, having an NLR between 1 and 2 tends to be positive health indicator.

 


Deep-fried foods


Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Tips: Foods to REDUCE from Your Diet

 

The main culprit for inflammation is eating a highly processed diet full of pre-packaged, long shelf-life products, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, deep-fried products, etc. Here are a few food groups to reduce or eliminate from your diet to combat inflammation:

 

  • Ultra-processed foods, including shop bought cookies, cakes, crackers laden with additives, stabilisers, and emulsifiers. My rule of thumb: If there are more than 12 ingredients, and you do not recognise them all, then it is likely to be ultra-processed.


  • Processed meats, like salami, bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc. These are now known carcinogens. They are packed with chemical preservatives (e.g. nitrates and nitrates) damage the lining of the bowel, especially when cooked on a high heat (2).  


  • Sugar sweetened beverages, even those using artificial sweeteners. People with higher sugar diets have more inflammatory markers in their blood, including C-reactive protein (3).


  • Refined carbohydrates, like white pasta, white rice, couscous, white flour ultimately breakdown into sugars in the body, so will carry the same risk as a sugar laden diet.


  • Fried foods, especially from fast food places. Certain high heat cooking methods, including frying, can increase the production of harmful compounds like advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which can drive inflammation and contribute to chronic disease (4).


  • Mass-farmed animal products: including beef, pork, chicken, and farmed salmon. These products are dangerous because animal confinement means disease is widespread, which then farmers counteract with antibiotics. Add to that, these animals are fed nutrient-poor feed. Would you want to eat that? No, thanks.


  • Omega 6 fats: found most commonly in seed oils, margarine, chicken skin, etc. This one is a little nuanced, because omega 6 fats are not unhealthy per se but excessive consumption of omega 6 vis-à-vis omega 3 fats is. Reducing the omega-6/3 ratio, particularly through reductions in refined omega-6 seed oils, and increasing the intake of marine omega-3s, may be effective for reducing inflammation (5).


  • Alcohol: No amount is considered healthy; the lower the consumption the better. Through multiple pathways, alcohol induces gut inflammation, which in turn promotes broad-spectrum pathologies both inside and outside the GI tract (6).



Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Tips: Foods to ADD to Your Diet

 

The anti-inflammatory diet is a whole-food based, low in red meat, plant-rich, high in unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, full of whole or minimally refined grains, oily fish, herbs, and spices.

 

The above properties pertain to the much-celebrated Mediterranean diet, which is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, fiber, micro-nutrients, all of which have inflammation fighting powers.

 

So, what exactly are the food groups that are anti-inflammatory? Here is a helpful visual of the most anti-inflammatory foods you can start adding to your diet.



Anti-inflammatory diet

 


The Role of Lifestyle in Taming Inflammation

 

While food is a major component of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, other factors are also worth a mention. Namely:

 

  1. Taking up more physical exercise: helps trigger anti-inflammatory responses at the cellular level.

  2. Making time for sleep: promotes the production of immune cells that combat inflammation.

  3. Losing excess weight: will ultimately reduce the inflammatory signals emitted by fat cells.

  4. De-stressing: maintains a balanced endocrine and immune system, thus minimising inflammation.

  5. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins: shields our cells and internal processes from damage and imbalances.

 

These are all factors we inherently “know” but at times we find it hard to translate that knowledge into actions. That is where health coaching can be an effective mechanism.

 

My clients find great benefit in figuring out exactly which levers to pull and getting a realistic roadmap to start building in healthy habits, for a lifetime ahead.

 

If you are interested in learning more about what I do as a health coach, and how you can elevate your health and well-being, why not book an introductory call with me to explore more.


Booking link here.

 

Conclusion

 

To sum it all up, inflammation by itself is not a cause of chronic disease, but it is an undeniable contributing factor. Inflammation that exists alongside a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, and poor sleep is where the issues begin to unfold.

 

On the bright side, chronic inflammation can be managed and reduced with nutrition and lifestyle measures, which will ultimately help protect against chronic diseases and promote longevity.

Basic and uncontroversial facts.


I hope you found this guide to reducing inflammation useful. If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Thank you,


Nada Soubra

Resilience & Metabolic Health Coach


 

 

References:

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