At some point in your life, you will experience one form of inflammation or another. And, in fact, acute inflammation – such as when you bang your knee and it swells up – can be a good thing. During acute inflammation, your immune system jumps into action to heal the damaged area and you will likely recover in a matter of days.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, develops over time. It causes your immune system to keep your body in a constant state of high alert. It can be caused by issues such as a virus, stress, poor sleep, lack of sufficient movement, weight gain and diet. This is the insidious type of inflammation that you can’t necessarily feel, and it may increase your risk for various chronic conditions such as coronary artery disease, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that you can reverse chronic inflammation and reduce your risk of chronic health conditions by addressing some key lifestyle components.
STRESS: Chronic stress causes an increase in the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which directly increase inflammation. Stress can come from a big project at work, an unhealthy relationship, financial worries or even caring for a loved one. Finding time to decompress is key. For some people, it can be as simple as closing your eyes for one minute and doing slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing, using a guided meditation app on your phone for five to 10 minutes a day, inhaling lavender essential oil or soaking in a hot bath filled with Epsom salt at the end of the day.
SLEEP: In our culture of working harder to accomplish more, making sure you get enough rest often takes a backseat, and even a single night of inadequate slumber can spike inflammation. Prioritizing sleep is essential to decreasing inflammation and boosting your immune system. Start by shutting down all electronic devices at least one hour before bed as the blue light emitted by cell phones, computers, tablets and televisions could suppress melatonin production in the brain (melatonin helps you feel sleepy). Instead, try yoga poses, such as legs-up- on-the-wall pose or child’s pose, which activate the parasympathetic nervous system, needed for deep rest. Or use an app with binaural beats, a type of sound-wave therapy that may trick the brain into a state of deep relaxation.
MOVEMENT: Exercise is an important modulator of inflammation. How much you do, how frequently you exercise and how intensely you work out all impact inflammation. A mostly sedentary life increases your risk of obesity, high blood pressure and may lead to a weakened immune system. The answer is not running a marathon or doing CrossFit every day. Find a physical activity you enjoy – such as taking a walk, dancing, swimming, hiking, yoga, biking or Pilates – and incorporate it into your daily routine. As little as 20 minutes of movement a day reduces your risk for chronic diseases.
FOOD: It is well documented that certain foods can promote inflammation while others decrease it. The standard American diet (SAD), which is centered around processed and refined foods, sugary beverages, fast food and inflammatory fats, is associated with an increase in inflammatory markers in the blood, as well as insulin resistance, weight gain, high blood pressure and arthritis. Fortunately, it’s easy to improve these conditions and decrease inflammation in the body by taking a food-as-medicine approach to healing. The most powerful anti-inflammatory foods are brimming with healing antioxidants and phytochemicals. They include colorful fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds (nut and seed butters as well), herbs and spices, whole grains, monounsaturated fat–rich olives and avocados, omega-3 fat–rich fish, like wild Alaskan salmon and sardines and green tea. Some studies have found that pasture-raised poultry and any eggs these birds produce, and grass-fed and –finished beef have improved fatty acid and antioxidant composition, and they contain more phytochemicals, including those with anti-inflammatory properties. Remember, some inflammation can be good, but too much spells trouble. Bringing in aspects from each lifestyle component every day is the path to decreasing inflammation, boosting immunity, supporting weight loss and reducing risk for illnesses and diseases that contribute to quality of life.
Meal Plan Recipes
Rainbow Vegetable Salad with Chicken
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Golden Cauliflower Soup
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Shrimp Spring Rolls with Spicy Apricot Dipping Sauce
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Lemon Chia Donuts
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Combine ¼ cup each pine nuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, and 1 cup freeze-dried strawberries.
Divide into 4 portions for snacks throughout the week.
Bevvies With Benefits
Stay hydrated, ease digestion and boost energy with these infused waters.
Lemon Ginger Water
Combine 16 oz water with 1 tsp grated ginger and juice of 2 lemons.
- Water helps detoxification pathways, keeps you hydrated, decreases hunger and promotes brain function.
- Lemon contains vitamin C and acidity, which helps promote better digestion.
- Ginger promotes digestion and helps regulate blood sugar.
Cucumber Green Tea
Steep 2 green tea bags in 16 oz hot water for 5 minutes. Pour over ice in a tall glass. Add 4 or 5 thin slices cucumber and 1 or 2 thinly sliced mint leaves.
- Green tea helps boost your energy, and it may have appetite- suppressing effects.
- Mint helps digestion and boosts alertness and brain function.
- Cucumber helps reduce bloating.
In a blender, combine 16 oz water with the juice of 2 lemons, ½ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp monk fruit extract and a pinch of black pepper. Add 1 tsp MCT oil (optional). Pour over ice.
- Turmeric contains curcumin, a polyphenol with potent antioxidant properties.
- Monkfruit is a non-caloric, real-food sweetener.
- Pepper helps absorption of turmeric.
10 Inflammation Fighting Foods
Make sure to include plenty of these nutrient-dense foods brimming with anti-inflammatory compounds.
In addition to studies where ginger was found to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties, others have found that gingerols – phenolic compounds in ginger – may possess anti-inflammatory properties, which makes it a go-to for menstrual pain, headaches and joint pain.
Garlic has a range of benefits, both when consumed raw and cooked. In studies, allicin, an organic compound in freshly crushed or chopped garlic cloves, has shown anti-inflammatory properties. Chop and let sit for 10 minutes to enhance its cancer fighting properties.
Spinach contains omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and B vitamins. This low-calorie, leafy vegetable contains flavonoid compounds that may have anticancer benefits in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Besides containing compounds that may exert an anti-inflammatory effect such as linoleic acid and cineole, it may also increase energy levels and promote healthy hair and skin.
Avocado is a superfood fruit that has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years due to its versatility in cooking and its nutritional benefits. Avocado contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which studies have shown to have
Salmon is brimming with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. It contains very little omega 6-fatty acids, which in excess are considered pro-inflammatory. Salmon is also rich in a carotenoid antioxidant called astaxanthin, which helps protect the brain from free radical damage.
7. Raw Honey
With a long medicinal history, raw honey has many benefits, including evidence of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powers. Research suggests that the phenolic content in raw honey is responsible for the anti-inflammatory effects. Together, these properties may protect against brain inflammation and aid in healing wounds.
8. Matcha Tea
Made from the whole green tea leaf, matcha contains considerably more antioxidant properties than regular green tea, according to studies. In fact, it may have the highest antioxidant rating of all major superfoods. The most powerful cancer-fighting compounds in green tea and matcha are a group of phenolic compounds, called catechins, which act as natural antioxidants and that include epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
Used in cooking and in medicine, mushrooms are rich in anti-inflammatory components and, according to studies, can also exhibit anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive and blood sugar–lowering properties. A study published in 2016 found that the
polysaccharides in mushrooms may have a wide range of health-promoting benefits.
Beets contain disease-fighting phytonutrients, vitamins and antioxidants. One abundant phytonutrient in beets is betanin, which has anti-inflammatory effects.