Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system intended to protect the body from infection and injury. We can experience inflammation externally when we have a physical injury such as a cut, bug bite, or other trauma. We can also experience inflammation internally in areas such as the digestive system, respiratory system, urinary system, cardiovascular system and musculoskeletal system.
Everyone experiences inflammation throughout their life and for various reasons. Although, to a certain degree, inflammation is necessary for healing from infection and trauma, prevention of chronic inflammation is very important as this can lead to or worsen many different illnesses and diseases.
This guide will cover various signs, symptoms and causes of inflammation, as well as provide suggestions for reducing and preventing inflammation through diet and lifestyle.
Inflammation is a protective immune system response to illness or injury that is characterized by redness, heat, swelling, and pain. Acute inflammation is necessary to prevent the spread of pathogens, repair damaged tissue and activate the healing process. Unfortunately, however, too much inflammation can cause more harm than good. Chronic, prolonged inflammation has become very common in many individuals. It is often undetected and is at the root of many illnesses and diseases.
Triggers of inflammation can include - medication and drug overuse, infections, injury and trauma, environmental toxins, free radical damage, allergies, lack of exercise, various disorders and poor dietary habits.
Inflammation can be internal, which is often caused by bacterial infections and various disorders (such as allergies, asthma, and autoimmune conditions), and can be difficult to detect. Inflammation can also be external, which is easier to detect and often the result of injury, infection, and allergies.
Through a healthy diet and lifestyle shifts plus additional supplementation (if needed), inflammation can be effectively reduced and prevented.
Include - plenty of vegetables and fruits especially raw if possible, foods high in flavonoids such as spinach and blueberries which are powerful antioxidants and naturally anti-inflammatory, fresh pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that reduce inflammation, cold water fish provide essential fatty acids that regulate internal inflammation. Also, include plenty of water to aid in the elimination of toxins and waste products and increase the function of the liver and kidneys.
Avoid- sugar, processed and packaged foods, table salt, soft drinks, white flour products, dairy and animal products (especially factory farmed), and saturated/poor quality fats such as corn and canola oil, all of which are pro-inflammatory especially in large quantities and long-term use.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will boost the immune system, reduce acidity and give the body what it needs to fight off infection and reduce inflammation naturally.
It may be helpful to follow a specific anti-inflammatory diet that provides structure and guidelines to quickly and effectively reduce inflammation. Note that these diets are not necessarily intended to be followed long term but are great to kick start healthy habits and clean up the diet.
Paleo Diet - Based on the diet identified as that eaten by early humans. Probably the main anti-inflammatory benefit of this diet comes from eating only whole foods and eliminating processed foods.
Whole 30 - A 30-day diet designed to ‘clean-up’ your diet. In other words, cut out the foods most likely having a negative impact on your health.
Vegan/Vegetarian - Meat and meat products can be some of the most pro-inflammatory foods. They are a lot more problematic for some people than other people. A vegan or vegetarian diet for a month or even a week could make a huge difference in more serious cases of inflammation.
Many herbs are excellent at reducing inflammation as well as providing other great benefits. They are an easy way to boost the healing properties of any meal and can be so versatile. Start by picking a couple herbs, or at least one, to add to your diet and begin to experience the healing benefits.
Ginger, turmeric, and cayenne are particularly great anti-inflammatory herbs that can be taken as a tea, tincture or added to meals as a spice or in their natural root form.
Anti-inflammatory tea - great for reducing inflammation, improving digestion and boosting the immune system.
2-3 cups filtered water
1 small, thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root (peeled and chopped)
1 small piece of turmeric, half the size of ginger (peeled and chopped)
1-3 tsp raw honey
1/4 lemon (juiced)
1 pinch of cayenne (if desired, for an extra kick)
bring water and ginger to a boil in a pot on the stove, simmer for 20 minutes, strain out the ginger and turmeric, add honey and lemon juice
drink 1-3 times a day
Golden mylk latte - curcumin in turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and has antioxidant boosting abilities. Although needed in large quantities to be therapeutic, adding turmeric into your diet will provide great benefits to health in general. This is a great morning drink to boost energy and decrease inflammation.
1-2 cup coconut milk or nut milk of choice
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch of black pepper (activates the curcumin)
1 tsp coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup or another sweetener of choice
warm the milk in a saucepan to the desired temperature, add the remaining ingredients and blend or whisk until frothy
enjoy as a morning or evening drink
Cat’s claw - as a tea or tincture is great for healing and reducing inflammation. It's also helpful for healing gut inflammation.
Aloe vera - as a juice is helpful for inflammation and great for soothing the digestive tract
Olive leaf extract - as a tincture or capsule is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Herbal poultice for external inflammation - this method involves using dried or fresh herbs mixed into a paste and applied externally to increase blood flow, relax muscles, draw out toxins and soothe inflammation. Great combinations include fenugreek and flaxseed, goldenseal and mustard seed, or dandelion and yellow dock.
To prepare the poultice - use a mortar and pestle to grind dried herbs into a powder (the amount depends on the size of the affected area). Add warm water in small increments to make a thick paste. Spread the mixture onto a clean piece of linen, gauze or cotton sheet. Cleanse the area with hydrogen peroxide then place the poultice over the area and wrap with a towel, securing with a pin to keep the mixture in place. If using fresh herbs, place 2 ounces of the whole herb (about 1/2 cup) and 1 cup of water into a small saucepan, simmer for 2 minutes, do not drain, continue with the same steps as above.
Curcumin - decreases inflammation and promotes detoxification of toxins and inflammatory compounds
Try: capsules as directed on the bottle
Vitamin C - antioxidant, supports healthy stress response (stress increases inflammation)
Try: 1 to 5 g/day, depending on severity, in divided doses. Taking a large amount at once can cause digestive upset or diarrhea. Start slow & build up to your personal tolerance.
Vitamin D - supports healthy immune response and healthy moods
Try: 1000-2000 IU/day
Fish Oil - Decreases the inflammatory response.
Try: 1000mg/day of combined EPA+DHA
As with any type of healing and prevention, lifestyle cannot be disregarded. Our daily habits, activities, and mindset have huge impacts on our overall health and wellbeing. Our thoughts and feelings, as well as our physical movements, produce chemicals in the body that influence our digestion, organ function and immune responses, including inflammation. Small changes will have a great impact on reducing and preventing inflammation within the body.
Stress management techniques are important habits to adopt for many reasons. Stress hormones have the ability to increase blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation. Stress, like inflammation, is a root cause for many, if not all, illness and disease. The following are various lifestyle habits that will help to reduce stress and promote a healthy mind and body:
Yoga and stretching - have been proven to calm the nervous system and connect the mind to the body. Both are great for improving flexibility as well as bone health, mobility, and reducing stress. Try taking a yoga class at least once a week, or find a video online to follow at home.
Walking - walking for even just 10 minutes a day will increase blood flow, raise the heart rate, increase mobility, improve circulation and reduce stagnation. Walking is a great way to connect to nature and disconnect from the stress of our busy lives.
Breathwork - breathing is the foundation of life, it is what keeps us alive but we often do not even think about it. Focusing on the breath throughout the day will help you become present in the moment and reduce stress. Any time you remember, sit with yourself and take 10 long, deep breaths. This will calm you down and connect you to your body.
Painting, drawing or coloring - as children we are encouraged to be creative and get lost in the simplicity of arts and crafts. Something as simple as coloring, drawing or painting is a great way to de-stress and get lost in creativity.
Sleep - adequate sleep is very important to allow the body to rest, digest and heal. Ensure you are getting at least 8 hours of good quality sleep every night.
Getting to know your body is important when dealing with any condition or illness. Try some of the suggestions and see how you feel. As everyone is unique, it may be helpful to work with a holistic practitioner to further understand what is going with your body and how to best proceed with the healing process.