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Leafy Green VeggiesInflammation is the body’s completely healthy response to injury and infection, a way of defending the body by sending immune cells and key nutrients to areas that need them.  This is called acute inflammation and we can be grateful for this biochemical cascade.  There is another kind called chronic inflammation also known as low-grade or systemic inflammation.  This is a result of the immune system running amok, creating havoc in the body in the form of auto-immune disease, heart disease, and possibly certain types of cancer.

When we need it, the inflammatory response sends an army of white blood cells to the scene to destroy bacteria and mend tissue.  Heat, soreness and swelling are natural, beneficial by-products of this process and shouldn’t be thwarted.  Sometimes, due to stress, poor diet, or a sedentary lifestyle, the process doesn’t turn off.  When our inflammatory switch refuses to turn off, the body operates as if it is always under attack.  White blood cells flood the system for weeks, months, and even years.  Ultimately, the immune system may turn against its own body…autoimmune disorders are created when the body is assaulted by its own defense mechanism.  Lupus, Graves’ disease, Crohn’s disease and fybromyalgia are all autoimmune disorders created by a run-away immune system.

Chronic inflammation can be bad news for the heart, jump-start Alzheimer’s , diabetes and certain cancers.  The connection between obesity, diabetes and inflammation may be that fat cells secrete inflammation-boosting proteins called cytokines.  The more fat, the more inflammation.  Chronic inflammation creates an ideal environment for free radicals, rogue molecules that can damage DNA and create cell mutation.  Colon cancer patients have a much higher plasma level of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker used to measure the level of inflammation.

“The typical American diet is priming people up for inflammation” writes Jack Challem, author of The Inflammation Syndrome (John Wiley & sons, 2003)…trans-fatty acids, carbohydrates, and sugar drive the body to create inflammatory chemicals. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 and omega 9  fats in the foods we eat is totally out of whack.  It used to be balanced and now it is 30 times more omega 6s than the anti-inflammatory omega 3s and omega 9s.

There are dozens of foods, herbs and spices that can help put out the fire of chronic inflammation.  Fish – heavy on two key omega-3 fatty acids – opt for mackerel, salmon and tuna, but avoid oil-packed fish since the omega 3s will leach into the surrounding oil.  Vegetarians can get omega 3 from flaxseed, wheat germ and walnuts but the conversion rate of these alpha-linolenic acids (ALA) is not very effective so one has to eat four times as much of these foods to equal a 3-ounce serving of fish.     Fats to avoid – safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and all partially hydrogenated oils.  The body uses fatty acids to make prostaglandins, the main hormones that control inflammation.  Good fats – fatty coldwater fish, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts.  Brightly colored fruits and vegetables blueberries, strawberries, spinach.  These are storehouses of antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds.  Herbs that are anti-inflammatory – ginger and tumeric.  Say no to wheat, dairy and refined sugars.  There are also anti-inflammatory supplements that can help with a chronic condition.

Even though this is a post on food and inflammation, movement is one of the best ways to keep inflammation at bay.  When it comes to chronic inflammation, no one type of exercise has proven more effective than another and scientists are exactly sure just how exercise diffuses inflammation.  One theory is that exercise pushes the body into making more antioxidants, which then see and destroy free radicals linked to chronic inflammation.

Additionally, your mental state plays a large role…hostile, angry people have higher CRP levels than people who are more chill!  Cortisol, a stress hormone, triggers the body to release a host o chemicals that contribute to the inflammatory process.  Meditate, go out in nature, practice qigong,…practice that thing that calms you and create some stree-free time in your life.

Take away?  Eat cleanly…move your body…relax your mind.  Be well!

Thanks to EXPERIENCE L!FE – Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act blog on Fighting Inflammation.

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