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5 foods that fuel or cool chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is one of the contributing factors of many serious illnesses, including: heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress, lack of exercise, genetics, and exposure to toxins all contribute to chronic inflammation. But today we’ll discuss what is possibly the biggest factor in chronic inflammation: your everyday food choices.

Today you’ll learn 5 foods that either fan or cool the flames of inflammation.

A Brief Explanation of Inflammation

Despite the words used almost interchangeably, inflammation is not a synonym for infection. The two are correlated however, as inflammation is often a result of infection.

Inflammation is a survival mechanism of the organism meant to remove threatening stimuli. As well, inflammation allows the healing process to begin. This is different from infection, which is caused by a microorganism.

Inflammation is divided into two types: chronic and acute.

Acute inflammation is the cornerstone of the healing response system in our bodies. We’re all aware of acute inflammation on the body surface. It is the first response of the body to intruders and shows up as redness, heat, swelling and pain.

Acute inflammation serves us well by allotting more immune activity and nourishment to an area of infection or injury. This happens by increased movement of plasma and leukocytes from the blood into the injured tissues.

You will see acute inflammation in action in response to things like:

bronchitis, ingrown and infected toenails, sore throat, a scratch on the skin, intense exercise, acute appendicitis, dermatitis, tonsillitis, infective meningitis and sinusitis.

Without inflammation, wounds and infections and damage to tissue would never heal – tissue would become more and more damaged and the body, or any organism would eventually die.

Acute inflammation, different from chronic, starts quickly (rapid onset) and soon becomes severe. Symptoms and signs are only present for a few days, but in some cases may last for several weeks.

Chronic inflammation on the other hand means long lasting inflammation. A change from acute to chronic inflammation involves a shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is typified by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process.

Chronic inflammation can stick around for several months or even years. It can result from failure to eliminate the cause of an acute inflammation. Or chronic inflammation will stem from an autoimmune response to a self-antigen; the immune system attacks healthy tissue, mistaking it for harmful pathogens.

Persistent, chronic inflammation can cause diseases and conditions such as some cancers, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, periodontitis, and hay fever.

Inflammation, as you can, see is crucial for our survival. Think of it like a good friend who protects you. But to be accurate, in this analogy there’s 2 friends protecting you, one is acute one, who quickly takes care of your bully and goes home.

The other friend escalates the problem instead, is still an unwanted visitor in your guest room weeks later, and won’t stop talking about your bully. And you feel more unsafe than ever.

Chronic inflammation is just like a toxic relationship that you are better off eliminating- or at least reducing. How? Some of the causes we may not be in control of, but the foods we eat that are main culprits, we can control.

How Does Today’s Food Increase Chronic inflammation?

Chronic symptoms of inflammation that don’t let up is your immune system stuck in the ‘on’ position. Why is it stuck in a state of heightened alert and panic? Because your immune system goes into overdrive firstly in your digestive tract. Not surprising, because it was made to remove viruses and bacteria in your food before they infect your body.

Bouts of diarrhea, intestinal bloating, gas, constipation, heartburn and acid reflux are first signs of an inflamed digestive tract and are symptoms of the “modern diet.”

For hundreds of thousands of years we ate natural fresh foods high in omega-3s. But these days we inverted the ratio of helpful to harmful foods – so our digestive systems must work overtime to protect us from ourselves and our bad eating habits.

For instance, for 95% of our human history we ate a diet with equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3. Currently the ratio falls between 10:1 and 25:1.

Add to that our relatively new penchant for allergen-inducing sugar, carbohydrates, wheat and dairy and the result is chronic inflammation. Our bodies are simmering most of the time trying to deal with our tasty- but costly, modern diets.

treatment of osteoporosis for men
Image by Elaine Ross Baylon | Photography on Flickr

5 Foods That Fuel or Cool Chronic Inflammation

  1. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils – Common everyday polyunsaturated vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, corn, soy and peanut) encourage an inflammatory defensive reaction.
    High levels of linoleic acid (an omega 6) in these oils are converted into arachidonic acid which encourages inflammation. Adding to the problem is the fact that these same oils contain almost zero of the digestive system-soothing omega-3s.
  2. Trans fats – Also known as “partially hydrogenated oils,” trans fats create “bad cholesterol” or LDL’s, which stimulates inflammation in your arteries. Trans fats also create free radicals cells that trigger inflammation. Watch for this ubiquitous item in: french fries and donuts, pastries, pizza dough, pie crusts, biscuits, cookies, crackers, margarines and shortenings.
  3. Sugar – Refined sugar and other foods with high glycemic values spike insulin levels. Because of how ever-present sugar is in today’s diets, it keeps your immune system running on high around the clock.
    Our ancestors ate very little sugar because it could only be found in fruits and vegetables. As with the omegas, we have turned that ratio upside down in the last few generations.
    Be very discerning about the quantity of simple carbohydrates you feed yourself. They support chronic inflammation because they spike your body’s glucose levels, and quickly. Simple carbohydrates are found in: table sugar, white flour, honey, chocolate, milk, yoghurt, fruit juice, candy, fruit, cake, jam, biscuits, molasses, soda, packaged cereals and more.
treatment of osteoporosis in elderly women
Image by Cyn74 on Flickr

What Foods Help Cool Inflammation?

We do need carbs for energy. So aim for:

  1. Complex carbohydrates – These are carbs paired with fiber, fats or protein. This allows your body to process the sugar gradually.
    Whole grain breads, buckwheat and amaranth, brown rice, quinoa, are foods that will do your body a favor, and let it relax rather than be in constant fighting mode. Beans, whole vegetables and whole fruits are also great choices for complex carbohydrates.
  2. Omega-3 essential fatty acids – These are the “good” fats that are known to have heart-healthy effects. Found in rich supply in cold water fish, phytoplankton, and flaxseed, omega-3 rich foods are your allies.
    Many people feel that giving up their favorite foods means a life of bland austerity. However, those who do make regular healthy choices invariably find the rewards far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of “a moment on the lips.”
    And feeding your body complex carbohydrates and omega-3 rich foods signals to your body’s immune system to cease its tireless march on your healthy cells.