Chronic Inflammation
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What is chronic inflammation?

Inflammation is an essential process that protects your body in case of injury or infection, but when it becomes chronic, lingering for months or years, it releases cells or chemicals that can damage healthy tissues. Inflammation can also undermine your ability to respond to infections.
Some of the signs that you have chronic inflammation include lack of energy, depression or anxiety, joint/muscle pain, gut issues, brain fog. The symptoms can be mild and you may not realise that you have low grade chronic inflammation in your body.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline. It’s not yet clear if inflammation is a direct cause of these conditions or if there are other factors at play.

 

Inflammation and ageing: with ageing the body is less able to respond effectively to threats, so the immune system is constantly activated, leading to low grade chronic inflammation.

What can you do to reduce inflammation?

 

  • Give up smoking: smoking causes damage to your airways and activates inflammation in the body.

 

  • Exercise: exercise helps to fight many of the conditions linked to inflammation, so it’s important to be as active as your health allows you. Any type of exercise is good as long as you do it regularly.

 

  • Reduce stress: stress is linked to an increase in inflammatory substances in the body. Try activities that help you reduce stress like a relaxing hobby, practicing yoga, breathing or mindfulness.

 

  • Alcohol: a daily glass of wine may lower inflammation but excessive drinking has the opposite effect.

 

  • A note on visceral fat: concentration of fat in the abdomen is a risk factor, regardless of your weight, because some fat tissue produces inflammatory chemicals. This fat can be reduced through weight loss, but research shows that 90% of people are not able to achieve long term weight loss. Changes to your lifestyle and diet are beneficial regardless of your weight.

Which foods are linked to inflammation?

  • Foods high in saturated fats: e.g. fatty meat, butter, palm oil. Some foods high in saturated fats, such as yoghurt, cheese and coconut oil, are believed to have properties that may limit or offset the inflammatory effect.

 

  • Trans fats: these are the worst type of fat. They are banned in a small number of countries and US states, but not in the UK (however their usage has significantly reduced in recent years). They are used mainly in processed foods and hard margarine, check the label for ‘partially hydrogenated’ fats or oils.

 

  • Foods high in refined sugars: sugar-sweetened soda and drinks, cookies, cakes etc.

 

  • Red meat: there is considerable evidence linking red meat to inflammation and cancer (although some argue that good quality organic meat from grass fed animals is not pro-inflammatory, but research studies don’t make this distinction).

 

  • Processed meat: e.g. sausages, ham, bacon, cold meats. There is good evidence that these foods are linked to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

 

  • Refined carbohydrates: white bread, white flour, white rice. They are fine eaten in moderation within a diet rich in whole grains.

 

  • Fried foods: cooking foods at high temperatures produces inflammatory compounds.

 

  • Ultra-processed foods: they are foods that undergo multiple processing and contain ingredients that have already been processed. Look out for artificial colourings and flavouring, mono and diglycerides of fatty acids (as they can contain trans fats), but also any ingredients that you don’t recognise as food.

 

  • What about dairy and gluten? these foods can have an inflammatory effect if you are sensitive to them. You don't need to eliminate them unless you react to them. 

 

Moderate amounts of these foods are not likely to be a problem, focus on eating plenty  of wholefoods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Your diet doesn't need to be perfect to be healthy!

Which foods are anti-inflammatory??

  • Fatty fish: sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, kippers, herrings.

  • Food high in fibre: all fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

  • Nuts

  • Probiotics: e.g. fermented foods such as live kimchee and sauerkraut, kefir and yoghurt. Choose products without added sugar/artificial ingredients, which may negate the anti inflammatory benefit.

  • Spices and herbs: including garlic, onion, ginger, saffron, pepper, thyme, oregano and rosemary.

  • Tea: black tea and green tea, in moderation.

  • Fruit and veg: most brightly coloured fruit and veg, green leafy veg (spinach, kale, greens, broccoli). Onions and tomatoes. Berries, grapes, plums and cherries. Don’t focus on specific fruit and vegetables, make sure you eat a variety of fruit and vegetables (as wholefoods). Juices and smoothies may be a useful addition to increase your intake of certain nutrients.

 

  • Oils: olive oil, walnut oil, flaxseed, canola/rapeseed oil. 

Be aware that the levels of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds vary according to growing conditions and storage. Choose food that is fresh and local whenever possible. Buy organic if you can. Frozen fruit and vegetables can be a good option. 

Anti-inflammatory diets

 

To practice “anti-inflammatory eating” it’s best to focus on an overall healthy diet. It’s not necessary to follow a specific diet to improve your health, however the following have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties:

 

  • VEGAN: if high in wholefoods and limiting use of processed vegan foods, such as vegan cheeses, vegan meats. It requires supplementation.

 

  • NATURALLY LOW FAT: if not using low fat variants of foods.

 

  • PALEO: it can be high in saturated fats (from higher quality meat), but it's also high in fruit/vegetables.

 

  • KETO: not very good for inflammation, but can help some people with diabetes. Very restrictive and not suitable for everyone.

 

Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Time Restricted, Low FODMAP, Low Carb: can be anti inflammatory depending on your circumstances (e.g. intolerances).

TOP TIPS

  • Increase omega 3 fats: replace meat/animal fats with oily fish (or vegan sources of omega 3 such as flax seeds and olive oil).

  • Fill your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables.

  • Choose whole grains such as brown rice, barley and quinoa, instead of white bread, white rice etc.

  • Limit processed foods and artificial ingredients (colours, flavours, emulsifiers, trans fats etc) if you can.

  • If you experience anxiety around food don't try to restrict your diet: add instead of removing, and focus on lifestyle changes.

  • It's not just about food! Good sleep, low stress and exercise are just as important for inflammation and your overall health.

Do you want to get started on you journey to fight inflammation and pain? Check my Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition Plan here.