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Chronic Inflammation - What Is It and How Can We Avoid It?

Inflammation itself is not an enemy – it is a vital response from our body whenever we are injured, to protect us from infections and start the tissue recovery as soon as possible. The real problem starts when this acute inflammation never stops entirely or is triggered without any good reason.



Friend or foe?


Inflammation itself is not an enemy – it is a vital response from our body whenever we are injured, to protect us from infections and start the tissue recovery as soon as possible. Just like an ambulance, white blood cells rush to the rescue! This is an acute response. The real problem starts when this acute inflammation never stops entirely or is triggered without any good reason. This chronic inflammation can be entirely hidden, but in the background it keeps putting pressure on our immune system and can trigger a whole bunch of health issues and diseases, like mental and emotional imbalances, digestive disorders, skin problems, diabetes, heart disease… to name a few.

 

What causes chronic inflammation?


Genetics can surely play a part, however, there is more and more evidence that shows that the answer is within our diet and lifestyle choices. These triggers of inflammation include smoking, high blood pressure, chronic stress, alcohol abuse and poor dietary choices, such as excessive consumption of pro-inflammatory foods that are very typical in our modern diet (highly processed and refined carbs, sugary drinks).

 

How it develops


When we continue eating sugar and carb-rich foods, our blood sugar level elevates, which leads to the body signalling the pancreas to produce more insulin and the liver for cholesterol. The high blood sugar level damages blood vessels, where cholesterol gets deposited as a body’s natural response to repair them. Cholesterol itself is also, not an enemy – it is a vital substance that helps digest fats, it’s present in cell membranes and is also an important element for hormone production, such as cortisol (our stress hormone) and sex hormones as well. Cholesterol can only cause issues once it becomes oxidized in the damaged artery walls (which can be caused by lack of anti-oxidants in our body, smoking, etc) which are then attacked by our immune system, causing inflammation that can further damage the blood vessels. This ongoing, persistent inflammation can eventually lead to coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease.

 

Indicators


Surprisingly, cholesterol level might not the best risk indicator. There are some studies that indicate that moderately high cholesterol levels do not necessarily increase the risk for coronary disease – in fact, one study showed that those elderly with higher cholesterol levels live the longest*! In addition, only 50% of heart attacks occur in people with high cholesterol.** A more reliable marker is the C-Reactive Protein levels, which can strongly suggest the presence of chronic inflammation in the body.

 

How to prevent and reverse chronic inflammation


Fortunately, we can take control and help our body avoid chronic inflammation and promote a healthy heart and circulation. Regular exercise, proper good quality sleep and reducing stress do wonders, and so does our diet! Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Increase Omega 3 intake: one of the greatest anti-inflammation substances, naturally found in oily fish, fish oils, flax and chia seeds and walnuts

  • Keep refined carbs at bay: refined carbs and sugar should be avoided or kept at bare minimum. Low GI carbs help avoid insulin spikes. Whenever you can, choose wholegrains.

  • Fibre and antioxidants: eating more fibre helps in the excretion of cholesterol, and there is plenty in vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, wholegrains. Antioxidants are also crucial to prevent cholesterol from becoming oxidised. Just like fibre, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are great sources, so is dark chocolate.

  • Herbs and spices have great anti-inflammatory effects, mainly: ginger, curcumin, rosemary, basil, green tea and matcha powder (antioxidants)

  • Detect and reduce food sensitivity and allergies: these can cause a lot of inflammation in the body that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease

  • Mind your cooking: avoid regular seed oils (that are often highly processed and have an abundance of Omega 6 fatty acids that can hinder the body’s inflammation control)




 

*Source: H Petursson et al (2012). Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 18 (1) pp 159-168 2 **Source: Stephen Sinatra, M.D., in Reverse Heart Disease NOW (2007 p. 31.)

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