Causes of Inflammation and Foods to Combat it
We often hear the terms inflammation and anti-inflammatory foods, but what do these really mean? In small doses, inflammation can actually be a good thing, as it protects our body from foreign invaders (think of when a knee swells up, that’s synovial fluid releasing to protect the joint). When inflammation persists, however, without good reason (injury, chemical exposure, etc.), this is what we refer to as the bad inflammation. Many major diseases that plague us, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s, have been linked to chronic inflammation.
So what are the causes of this bad inflammation? There are many, but the most common ones are linked to stress and a poor diet. When we are stressed out, whether mentally or physically, our bodies release high levels of the hormone Cortisol. Cortisol is your “fight or flight” hormone, and is produced in the adrenal glands when a threat is perceived. It results in dilated blood vessels that force blood to your organs in preparation of an attack. This “fight or flight” response becomes a normal state during times of persistent stress, and chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system and adrenals are constantly taxed.
When we eat processed junk food, our bodies have to work harder to try and digest, also causing an inflammatory response in the body. Often, people have food allergies that they’re not aware of as well, which can cause digestive issues and chronic inflammation.
What are some foods that cause inflammation in the body?
- Processed meats
- Saturated fats/oils
Unsurprisingly, most of the foods associated with inflammation are also those linked to obesity and type 2 Diabetes.
The good news is that there are many natural ways to combat inflammation. When your body is inflamed it will crave the sugar and other fatty foods it’s accustomed to. Many people think it’s a matter of willpower but this actually a physiological response.
Here are some foods that will help you reduce the cravings and fight inflammation:
- Apple cider vinegar (raw, unfiltered)
- Ginger & Turmeric
- Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, dandelion greens etc.)
- Fruits high in antioxidants: blueberries, strawberries, oranges, etc.
- Fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines
- Raw walnuts and almonds
The key is to eat a whole foods diet, mostly plant-based to ensure you’re getting a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. When consuming meats, stick to leaner sources such as grilled or baked chicken (hormone free), and fish high in omega fatty acids like salmon. Cutting out red meats and processed meats such as sausage, bacon and hotdogs are vital as well. Fast food, soda and simple carbs like white bread will also induce an inflammatory response. Dairy is also a major cause of inflammation in our bodies. If you think about it, why would we drink the milk of another species or even our own past the age of infancy? Cows also have four stomachs which makes dairy hard for our bodies to digest. When eating cheese, try a goat-based variety, as their bodies and digestion are consistent with ours. For milk substitutes, almond milk, cashew milk or coconut milk are good alternatives.
For more on inflammation and disease, here are some recommended books and documentaries:
T. Colin Campbell PhD- “The China Study”
Michael Pollan- “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”