Inflammation is a word often associated with sore, painful and swollen joints, which are usually red in colour and hot to touch, but inflammation can occur anywhere in the body. People are often under this misconception that inflammation is a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily so.
Inflammation is a healing process, it’s your body’s attempt at self-protection. Inflammation occurs when your body is trying to kill any harmful stimuli, including irritants, pathogens and damaged cells, and is trying to heal the infection caused by it. It is simply the body’s immune system response.
“Inflammation is an essential protective response induced by the body to help eliminate chemical toxins or foreign invaders, or as part of the repair process following physical injury,” confirms Katherine Pardo, head of nutrition at Nutri Advanced. “Unfortunately, this essential and protective inflammatory process can become excessive or out of control, and this is when delayed healing or chronic, painful inflammatory conditions can occur.”
Inflammation is an important and essential part of our immune defence system. It helps us to fight infection and starts the healing process after injury. However, in some conditions the body can remain in an over inflammatory state causing long term pain.
Ella Allred, Quest senior nutritionist, commented: “Chronic low-grade inflammation can contribute to many health conditions, pain and ageing. Autoimmune conditions are triggered by excess inflammation within the body, which then triggers more inflammation. Conditions such as osteoarthritis cause inflammation which contributes to the pain and stiffness. Chronic inflammation places constant strain on the immune system which decreases its effectiveness and we may find ourselves getting ill more frequently.”
“Any condition ending in ‘itis’ implies some form of inflammation,” adds nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb, technical advisor for Probiotics International (Protexin). “Persistent inflammation may be one of the leading drivers of many chronic and degenerative diseases, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer.
“A continuous supply of inflammatory markers could also cause damage to the gut lining which is important for healthy digestion and immunity and in the long term could lead to inflammatory bowel disorders (IBD, Crohn’s disease, colitis). The key is to ensuring a healthy balance of inflammation via an optimal immune response.”
“When we have chronic inflammation, this can have a negative effect on our overall health and instead of healing the body, it can exacerbate further ill health,” explains BioCare’s clinical nutritionist, Beth Morris. “Examples are autoimmune conditions (e.g. psoriasis, multiple sclerosis), inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g. Colitis, Crohn’s Disease), allergies (e.g. anaphylaxis, atopic eczema), and even depression and other psychiatric conditions. Remember that our inflammatory response evolved to be a temporary event, so a chronic inflammatory response can negatively impact our health over time.”
Change in Lifestyle
It is possible to naturally reduce inflammation and restore balance through our diet and lifestyle.
“The best place to start is with an environmental cleanse,” advises Morris. “Key areas are to reduce your alcohol/caffeine intake, improve your air/water quality at home using air purifiers/water filters, go organic with your food, cosmetics and cleaning products.
“Avoid foods that can drive inflammation, such as processed, deep fried or charred foods. Instead, try to follow a wholefood diet, rich in oily fish, antioxidants (such as a rainbow of fruits and vegetables) nuts, and seeds. These type of foods can be highly protective against immune dysfunction, including chronic inflammation.
“Also look at reducing or avoiding dietary intake of what are considered ‘allergenic’ foods, such as dairy, gluten, soya and corn. If you do eat grains, choose those that are organic and naturally lower in gluten (e.g. ancient grains like spelt, emmer, kamut, and rye). If eating dairy, always choose organic. Goat’s milk and cheese may be less allergenic and easier to digest.”
Most people following a typical Western diet of processed foods, high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, are constantly in a heightened inflammatory state.
Instead it’s best to opt for plenty of fresh vegetables, nuts and seeds. “Cooking with natural flavours of onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, rosemary, ginger and turmeric, and consuming omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish (mackerel, sardines, wild salmon and anchovies), nuts (walnuts), seeds (hemp, chia and flax) and their oils and organic grass fed meats are all said to contain natural anti-inflammatory compounds,” comments Lamb.
She adds: “Omega-6 fats on the other hand are known to increase inflammation. These can be found in processed seed and vegetable oils such as soya bean, sunflower, corn and cottonseed oil and higher in grain fed meats. Antioxidant rich fruit and vegetable juices have been reported to decrease inflammation and are delicious too. Green tea is said to be a powerful antioxidant positively modulating the inflammatory response.
“Lifestyle choices considered anti-inflammatory include low level regular exercise such as yoga, walking or swimming, good quality sleep and regular relaxation which could be achieved with a daily meditation practice.”
“Sugar is particularly inflammatory, so removing all refined and added sugars from your diet will make a huge difference,” comments Allred. “Green vegetables also have anti-inflammatory properties and should be consumed daily. Try starting your day with a green smoothie or try some new dishes based around seasonal greens.
“Losing weight and getting outside maybe one of the biggest lifestyle changes other than diet that you can make. Unfortunately, excess abdominal fat can trigger low grade inflammation within the body. Vitamin D helps to regulate inflammation, and we make this from adequate sun exposure to the skin.”
There are a number of key anti-inflammatory nutrients and phytochemicals which can help reduce inflammation, Pardo explains each one:
Curcumin – The main active component of turmeric, curcumin has widespread anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, and has been extensively studied in a wide range of chronic diseases. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb however, so is best delivered in micellar supplement form as this has been shown to be 85 times more powerful than normal powdered curcumin.
Ginger – Evidence suggests that ginger has significant anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
Boswellia – A traditional Ayurvedic remedy that has long been used to support a wide range of chronic inflammatory conditions and is now evidence-backed by scientific studies.
Rosemary – This popular herb has a long history of traditional use, with significant reported antioxidant, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that rosemary helps to balance key inflammatory pathways in the body.
Vitamin C and Citrus bioflavonoids – More than 50 years of research supports vitamin C’s role in the immune system and as a powerful antioxidant. Citrus bioflavonoids have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Green tea – A powerful antioxidant and helps to modulate several inflammatory pathways.
Vitamin D – Many people are low in vitamin D and a large body of research has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin D.
Omega-3 – Typical Western diets, high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 fats contribute to a wide range of illnesses characterised by pain and inflammation. A daily supplement of high quality omega-3 fish oil can help to reduce inflammation and support a healthier balance.
Support your Gut Bacteria
Many inflammatory processes have been found to stem from poor gut health. This is not surprising as 70 percent of our immune cells (which control the inflammatory response) reside within the lining of the gut and are supported by our beneficial gut bacteria.
“The gut flora doesn’t simply reduce inflammation but is seen to regulate the immune system to support a healthy balanced immune response and to help things return to normal. Probiotics (live bacteria) have been shown to reduce excessive inflammation and to improve symptoms in conditions such as arthritis, allergic rhinitis and eczema,” said Lamb.
Morris also recommends live bacteria supplements, as well as digestive enzymes: “Look for a broad spectrum digestive enzyme supplement that includes protease, a key enzyme that supports protein digestion and stomach acid levels. By supporting these mechanisms, it may in turn reduce inflammatory response in cases such as asthma for example. Look for a high quality, clinically researched live bacteria product at therapeutic levels of at least 10 billion per daily intake. A well-researched strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect within the body in conditions such as atopic dermatitis.”