Inflammation happens naturally in your body in response to damaged cells, invading pathogens, infections, irritants, disease, and other negative factors. Blood and immune cells flow to the area of trauma or infection and begin to work on healing you; causing redness, pain, heat, and other symptoms. This is called acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is not only normal, it is necessary; without it you would not heal from infections, injuries, and other illnesses and traumas.
For example, if you cut yourself, the skin in the area becomes warm, red, and swells a little. This is a healthy acute inflammation response to the injury. A fever is another sign of your body’s immune system responding to an infection or virus with inflammation. Inflammation is a normal part of your immune system’s response.
Having said that, when inflammation becomes chronic (occurring over a long period of time), the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells, and the process that ordinarily heals becomes destructive.
Modern medicine is understanding more and more how chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases. Over extended periods, inflammation can contribute to arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and other serious and life-threatening diseases as well as some that are less dangerous but still debilitating such as acne, headaches, and painful menstruation.
There are multiple factors that can lead to chronic inflammation, some of these include toxin exposure, stress, lack of exercise, genetics, or in many cases diet. Many of the foods commonly consumed in western cultures actually cause chronic inflammation. Diet therefore, is one of the most important and also easily managed influences on chronic inflammation. By avoiding inflammation causing foods and increasing foods which encourage inflammation, you can reduce your risk of developing some of the illnesses.
Dietary causes of chronic inflammation
While it is true that people are becoming more aware of nutrition and health, the typical western diet is still often packed with inflammatory foods, some of the biggest offenders are:
Sugar: suppresses the activity of our white blood cells, which makes us more susceptible to infectious disease (colds, the flu, and so forth) as well as cancer. Plus, sugar overload can cause collagen fibers to lose their strength, making skin “more vulnerable to sun damage, wrinkles, and sagging,” he adds.
Dairy: The main milk protein casein is a toxin to humans, instigating the inflammation response. Casein is linked to eczema, acne, kidney disease, arthritis, asthma, irritable bowels, sinus problems, colitis, chron’s, MS, and breast and prostrate cancer. To make the point clear, milk can legally contain up to 135 million puss cells.
Wheat (gluten): Most people will think of wheat, but barley or rye are up there too, and seitan made entirely of grain gluten. While these healthy grains don’t cause the same sugar spike that refined carbs do, they can spark inflammation in some people. Why? The short answer is gluten. If you’re at all sensitive to it, it can trigger the immune system, causing inflammation in the intestinal tract, resulting in bloating, constipation, or even IBS. Go easy on these grains, especially if you are already feeling achy or having joint pain—two possible indicators of inflammation.
Animal fats – including meat and dairy sources- especially factory farmed: Until recently, the reason animal products caused inflammation was thought to be because they have saturated fat, which can cause a breakdown of the intestinal barrier, allowing for bacterial endotoxin to leak from our gut into our bloodstream. Thus, triggering an inflammatory reaction and labeling leaky gut syndrome to blame. More research was done because of a mismatch in the time it takes to experience an inflammatory response and the time food takes to get to the large intestine where endotoxins exist. What researchers have now found is that endotoxins are coming directly from meat itself.
Trans fats (common in processed foods): Trans fats are unsaturated fats with a specific chemical structure. Ruminant trans fats come from natural sources and a moderate intake doesn’t appear to be harmful. Artificial trans fats, otherwise known as hydrogenated fats, are created by pumping hydrogen molecules into vegetable oils. This changes the chemical structure of the oil, turning it from a liquid into a solid. Clinical trials and observational studies both indicate that trans fats increase inflammation, especially in people who are overweight or obese.
Some lesser know culprits are:
Peanuts (allergies): A common allergen, and allergies set off a broad inflammatory response in the body while it struggles to fight off the foreign agent. Plus, peanuts are prone to molds and fungus, which can also result in inflammatory reactions. So you may want to pass on the peanuts, and instead opt for raw organic almonds or other tree nuts and butters.
Omega 6: Many people also consume an inappropriate ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids; an imbalance that leads to inflammation. Many vegetable oils have this imbalance, being high in omega-6, but not omega-3 fats. By increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you can reduce this imbalance.
Ingredients that reduce inflammation
In order to reduce chronic inflammation, limiting your intake of inflammation causing foods should also be accompanied by an increase in inflammation inhibiting foods. Foods that support the liver – which is in charge of clearing toxins out – are very important. One way to get all these great ingredients into your body is with smoothies. Check at the bottom for an inflammation busting recipe.
Greens, like kale, spinach, or chard can help reduce inflammation because they are high in the mineral magnesium. Research shows that people with a lot of chronic inflammation tend to have low levels of magnesium.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, as well as similar fruits like pomegranates and cherries are packed with flavonoids, compounds that are known to reduce inflammation.
Green, white, and oolong tea are full of antioxidants, and these are compounds that can limit inflammation. The antioxidants destroy free radicals in your body which cause a type of damage called oxidative stress, which in turn can cause inflammation.
Anti-Inflammatory herbs and spices include:
This spice from Asia is one of the best ingredients for reducing chronic inflammation in your body. The yellow pigment in turmeric is called curcumin. This compound has been shown in research to block chemicals in your body that produce inflammation.
White willow bark:
Contains salicin and this is what provides the potent anti-inflammatory benefits. This herb is often said to be just as effective as aspirin, but it does not irritate the lining of the stomach as much.
May be helpful for those with osteoarthritis, particularly when this condition is causing inflammation in the knee joints. Studies have concluded that it’s is also effective for rheumatoid arthritis. This herb may induce miscarriage so it must never be taken during pregnancy. Those taking NSAIDs should also avoid this herb.
Devil’s claw has been compared to a number of anti-inflammatory drugs and in all of the studies this herb has been shown to be at least as effective as the medication it was compared to. Those with duodenal or gastric ulcers, gallstones, diabetes or pregnant women should avoid it.
Anti-inflammatory turmeric bombs
Adding tumeric to your food is great, but when you need a stronger anti-inflammatory boost, reach for these turmeric bombs. An easy way to get the benefits of turmeric without the bitter flavor. Even better, they contain a couple of special ingredients that work synergistically with the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric:
Quercetin, a bioflavenoid, inhibits an enzyme that decreases the activity of curcumin.
Black pepper contains the potent alkaloid piperine, which has been shown to increase the bio-availability of curcumin up to 150%.
Fatty acids have been shown to increase the bioavailability of turmeric.
Two variations are included:
The honey option masks the bitter taste of the turmeric, and is easier to swallow, so it is better suited to children. I would recommend starting with this option.
The coconut oil/ghee option has the benefit of being sugar free and also includes the fatty acids that improve the absorption of curcumin. However, they do have a stronger turmeric flavour and the pills flatten slightly on the baking sheet into rougher shapes, which may make them harder to swallow.
- 1/3 cup organic ground turmeric
- 1 tbs quercetin powder (about 10 capsules, emptied)
- Big pinch of finely ground black pepper
- 3 tbs of binding agent, choose ONE of the following:
- Raw honey
- Coconut oil
- Grassfed ghee
- Unbleached parchment paper
Before starting make sure there is room in your freezer to put the cookie sheet for a few hours for setting.
Turmeric powder stains clothing, so wearing an apron is recommended.
- Line a baking sheet with the unbleached parchment paper.
- Select one of the binding agents. You will need approximately 3 tablespoons. If you choose raw honey and it is thick, melt it in a saucepan over very low heat until it is pourable. Do the same with the coconut oil or ghee so it is liquid, but not hot.
- In a bowl, stir together the turmeric, quercetin, pepper, and binding agent.
- For the honey variation, pinch off small amounts of the “dough,” roll between your palms, and place on the baking sheet. For the oil variation, use a spoon to scoop small pill shapes onto the baking sheet.
- Freeze until firm, then transfer to a storage container and keep in the freezer.
- Take the turmeric bombs as needed. You can’t overdose on them. However, if you take a lot of the oil-based ones, the fat content may upset your stomach. If using the honey version, keep in mind that it does contain sugar (albeit unrefined and enzyme-rich sugar).
You can also find two inflammation busting smoothie recipes here. And here are some remedies you can try for specific inflammation symptoms:
The Beauty Connection
While food is the major contributor to inflammatory response, stress follows close behind. Food plays an obvious role beauty-wise, but it’s stress that signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which then “commandeers” blood from the skin, leaving behind that wan, washed-out look.
Stress also releases other hormones, like cortisol, that contribute to inflammatory skin disorders, like acne. And tense people are prone to pimple-picking, which just exacerbates the inflammatory response.
To keep inflammation from hurting your skin, do what you can to eat well and also: cut stress. Sleep well, socialize, engage in physical contact, get outdoors, and exercise. All of these things will help you feel less stressed and show visible and long-lasting results on your skin.