Do You Have An Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Here’s Why You Should
The scope of illnesses that start with inflammation is scary, but there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, eight of them—heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, pneumonia/influenza, and kidney disease—are directly linked to the same root cause: inflammation.
In fact, we now know that the long-term, low-grade inflammation can persist in all of our cells and tissues, also playing a key role in everything from acne to arthritis, from celiac disease to psoriasis, from chronic pain to depression, from insomnia to lupus, from multiple sclerosis to osteoporosis—and the list hardly stops there. These incredibly diverse health conditions all share a common denominator, chronic inflammation.
Health conditions linked to chronic inflammation include:
- Accelerated aging
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Celiac disease
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic pain
- Chronic stress
- Crohn’s disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Hair loss
- Heart disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle loss
- Periodontal disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
The number and scope of illnesses with an inflammatory component is certainly alarming—especially considering that inflammation can simmer away for years without producing overt symptoms, silently causing damage without our knowing it. But there’s a bright side to consider, and it’s a powerful one: Knowing the common culprit in so many of our health problems illuminates the way to a common cure.
Can we stem the rising tide of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and other major killers by quenching the fires of inflammation? Or better yet, prevent that spark before it erupts into the flame of full-blown illness? The short answer is yes. The longer answer involves living a lifestyle that helps keep inflammation—and thus, a host of debilitating symptoms and deadly health conditions—at bay for the long term.
Ultimately, a variety of factors will determine your body’s individual inflammatory response, including genetics, lifestyle factors, and your health history.
However, from case to case, the same external factors are often at play. Take a moment to compare your lifestyle habits and health history to the top 14 causes listed below. How many factors might affect you?
- Processed foods, including processed meats, prepackaged foods, and fast foods
- Unhealthy fats—saturated fats and trans fats
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Underconsumption of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Food sensitivities
- Intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome)
- Exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants
- Extremes in exercise, either too much or too little, but especially a sedentary lifestyle
- Poor sleep habits, either too much or too little
- Chronic stress
- Advancing age
There are a couple of things worth pointing out about this list. First, most of these causes of chronic inflammation are very much under our control. We choose what we eat and drink. We choose to smoke or not. We choose our level of exercise—or how often we sit around. We can practice excellent sleep hygiene, and we can work to reduce the sources of chronic stress in our lives and to learn coping strategies that help us deal with stress when it occurs. We can learn which foods trigger inflammation and eliminate those—and replace them with delicious anti-inflammatory foods that turn down the heat. And while many of us live in polluted areas or are routinely exposed to toxins in the everyday products we use, we can protect ourselves and minimize the damage. The bottom line here is that many of the causes of chronic inflammation are lifestyle-related, and that means the power to maintain optimal health and prevent many diseases lies in our hands.
Second, most of the primary causes of chronic inflammation are about nutrition—what we’re eating and drinking, and in some cases what we’re not eating and drinking. Food plays a powerful role in causing chronic inflammation—and in putting an end to it. That’s why an anti-inflammatory approach to eating, which includes a wide range of delicious foods that extinguish the fires of inflammation, is crucial. For now, let’s take a brief look at each of the primary causes of chronic inflammation, and we’ll start with the biggest area where you may be unwittingly inviting inflammation into your life, your diet.
Abundant scientific evidence assures us that we can make positive, effective interventions at any point in the inflammatory process. Obviously it’s far better, and far easier, to stamp out the initial sparks of inflammation than it is to try and put out a five-alarm fire in the form of an inflammatory illness.
To maintain optimal conditions for health and wellness, adopt an anti-inflammatory way of living. Here are some key steps you can take:
- Stay away from all processed foods, including processed meats, prepackaged foods, and fast foods.
- Steer clear of trans fats entirely, and keep saturated fats to a minimum.
- Don’t eat too much sugar.
- If you drink alcohol, stick to a moderate consumption: no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men. Red wine is the healthiest option.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance.
- Eliminate or cut back on grains.
- Take some time to identify any food sensitivities or allergies, and eliminate those foods.
- As much as possible, avoid exposure to toxins and pollutants.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Get regular, moderate exercise, and make sure to be up and moving every day.
- If you’re an adult up to the age of 64, get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. If you’re over 64, aim for 7 to 8 hours per night.
- Reduce the stress in your life, and use coping techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing, journaling, talking and laughing with friends, or counseling to deal with life stressors.