Inflammation is an immune response by the body to any damaged tissues. It is the start of the healing process, and without it the body would not be able to heal and recover. You may understand inflammation as the body's response to cuts, bruises, fractures, muscle tears, infection, and other forms of trauma where you see swelling and feel pain, but there's another kind of inflammation, one that's harder to detect.
Systemic inflammation is inside the body, where there are fewer internal nerve endings, and you don't feel it the same way. It often becomes chronic and can negatively affect many facets of your overall health. Symptoms of chronic inflammation vary, but some common symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, mouth sores, gas, bloating, chest pain, fever, and skin rashes.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, but it is often lifestyle related. High stress levels, poor sleeping habits, and a diet high in refined sugars and processed foods are all very inflammatory. Continually consuming inflammatory foods can make eating almost uncomfortable. People may think they have food allergies or intolerances, but what is really happening is that the GI tract is inflamed from the repetitive exposure to problematic food.
What can you do to fight systemic inflammation? For starters, make sure your lifestyle includes getting adequate sleep, stress management, and a balanced diet designed to lower inflammation.
Following an Anti-inflammatory Diet
Basically, an anti-inflammatory diet must be made up predominantly of foods that are rich in antioxidants, lower in refined sugar, high in monounsaturated fats, and high in omega-3 fatty acids. Focus on eating lean meats, nuts, healthy fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. For example, the Mediterranean diet is considered an anti-inflammatory diet; it emphasizes eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, fish, and potatoes with a moderate amount of lean meat and dairy products, and it limits red meat.
I believe that following a diet lower in carbs and higher in fats can also help fight inflammation. You may consider eliminating or limiting gluten, as well, if you have a known intolerance. My power food standouts include extra-virgin olive oil, turmeric, spinach, mushrooms, wild salmon, and berries—foods that are micronutrient dense and have a high content of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. There are many other great anti-inflammatory foods—such as almonds, walnuts, citrus fruits, broccoli, dark chocolate, and cherries—so no one should be limited to only these six.
6 Power Foods
1. Berries contain anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins and have a low glycemic index. They are also a good source of fiber and vitamin C.
2. Fatty fish are a great source of protein and are high in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. These long-chain fatty acids are broken down into protectins and resolvins that fight inflammation in the body. Fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, and mackerel are all great sources of omega-3s; however, you want to avoid king mackerel, which is very high in mercury.
3. Extra-virgin olive oil and olives are high in monounsaturated fat and contain oleocanthal, which is an antioxidant with a strong anti-inflammatory effect. Note that refined olive oils do not contain as many anti-inflammatory benefits.
4. Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian dishes that contains curcumin, which has been shown in studies to be linked to reduced inflammation.
5. Mushrooms contain phenols and selenium, which have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. They are also high in B vitamins and copper. Note that we're talking about edible, store-bought mushrooms. Do not eat mushrooms in the wild. The vast majority of wild mushrooms are poisonous.
6. Spinach is referred to as a superfood by many for its high micronutrient content. Spinach is high in folate, potassium, vitamins A and K, iron, and magnesium and is a good source of fiber.
A balanced diet rich in these foods will not stop inflammation altogether, but it can help the body fight inflammation and elicit an appropriate immune response. Lowering inflammation requires a multifaceted approach. Get plenty of sleep, learn to manage stress better, exercise, and improve your diet.
Liu, Y. Z., Wang, Y. X., & Jiang, C. L. (2017). Inflammation: the common pathway of stress-related diseases. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 316.
Chainani-Wu, N. (2003). Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of tumeric (Curcuma longa). The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 9(1), 161-168.