I am often curious about the root origin of words. Do they actually describe what we are trying to convey? Or is the word basically empty of meaning without the formation of a mental image in our minds as we say it? The word inflammation for me is a perfect example of how a word accurately describes what it means: creating heat.
Inflammation is derived from the Latin word INFLAMMO, which means ignite, to add flame to. It is a medical term that describes the body’s innate intelligence commanding it to increase heat as a protective mechanism against infection. Whether inflammation is caused by a pathogen such as a bacteria, an injury such as an ankle sprain, or increased inflammatory markers as in stress, the body’s response is the same: protection. Without inflammation, wounds, and infection we would never heal and our lives would be severely shortened.
Inflammation can present either as acute or chronic. If you’ve ever sprained an ankle or bruised your hand, you are probably familiar with the effects of inflammation: pain; redness; swelling; warm, tingling sensation; and sometimes even a loss of function. Although these effects may be uncomfortable and annoying, without the inflammatory response, none of us would be able to survive for long. This is due to the essential role inflammation play in the body’s defense response.
Acute inflammation is a short-term response that usually results in healing: inflammatory cells called leukocytes infiltrate the damaged region, removing the stimulus and repairing the tissue. While short-lived acute inflammation is crucial to keep us alive.
Chronic inflammation that persists for a long period can also kill us slowly over time. When low doses of pro-inflammatory substances such as the stress hormone cortisol continues to be released into the body for an extended period, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels, and tissues instead of protecting them. Unlike a bruise or a cut sustained to the skin, these attacks may not always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen. Like a poison, increasing inflammatory cells and hormones destroy our body gradually as we continue to lead our everyday lives at home, at work, and at play with a false sense of good health. Such persistent inflammation is associated with many chronic human conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, allergy, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases. In fact it is safe to say that inflammation is the common denominator.
How do I help my body decrease the FLAME of Inflammation?
Start by listening to your body. As I have suggested in previous articles, our body talks to us in its own language—symptoms. When we ignore symptoms and refuse to attend to our body’s needs, dis-EASE sets in and the path to long-term inflammation is created. In addition, there are myriad factors that contribute to chronic inflammation. Below are some of major ones:
Stress: Is it any surprise that stress can increase the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body?
Imbalance intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. Omega-6 essential fatty acid found in abundance in polyunsaturated vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, and corn, are converted into arachidonic acid by the body. But arachidonic acid in turn generates pro-inflammatory cells and hormones. Omega-3 essential fatty acids on the other hand supply the body with eicosapentaenoic acids—potent anti-inflammatory substances found in foods such as Wild Alaskan salmon, flax and pumpkin seeds, olive oil, avocado, and nuts.
High insulin diets. Foods that increase our blood sugar levels quickly, such as cakes, cookies, white flour foods, and sodas, command our body to produce more insulin to normalize our glucose levels. However excess insulin elevates the levels of arachidonic acid in our blood, increasing the production of pro-inflammatory cells and hormones.
Fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits, such as berries and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Green and brightly colored vegetables and whole fruits are best. You should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
Protein Sources. Start by decreasing your consumption of animal protein except for fish and high quality natural cheese and yogurt. On a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, your daily intake of protein should be between 80 and 120 grams. Unless you have liver or kidney problems, allergies, or autoimmune disease, in which case I recommend that you discuss your protein intake with your doctor .
Fiber. 40 grams of fiber a day should be your goal. This can be achieved by increasing the consumption of fruit, especially berries, vegetables, particularly beans, and whole grains
Beverages. Drink at least six to eight glasses of water per day or diluted 100% fruit juice, (by adding sparkling water) throughout the day, as well as herbal tea, low-sodium vegetable juice, or coconut water. High sugar drinks such as sodas contain the equivalent of eight tablespoons of sugar and many chemicals. Avoid them at all costs.
Foods to avoid. Junk foods, high-fat meats, sugar, and highly processed foods increase the potential for inflammation. Cutting back on highly processed foods, red meats, and high-fat processed meats will help you lower your consumption of trans-fats and saturated fats. Attempt to consume 100% whole grains instead of refined white flours such as white breads and pasta.
The nightshade family of plants, which includes eggplant, tomatoes, and potatoes are another source of inflammation for many people. A chemical alkaloid called solanine, present in these vegetables, can trigger inflammation and pain. If you are dealing with increasing nonsoefic joint pain or any other source of inflammation, you may want to eliminate these vegetables from your diet to see if it helps.
Anti-inflammatory diet tips:
Caloric Intake. Most adults need to consume between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. Women: your weight should not fluctuate greatly if you are eating the appropriate number of calories for your level of activity. The distribution of calories you take in should be: 40 to 50 percent from carbohydrates, 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein.
Carbohydrates. Women should consume between 160 to 200 grams of carbohydrates a day on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. While men should consume between 240 to 300 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Phytonutrients. Choose fruits and vegetables from all parts of the color spectrum, especially berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, and dark leafy greens. They help maximize the natural protection against age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. They also help the body eliminate environmental toxicity, to get maximum natural protection against age-related diseases (including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease) as well as against environmental toxicity. Dark chocolate in moderation (with a minimum cocoa content of 70 percent) is considered a good food. Thank you, oh God of all Chocolates!
Choose fresh as much as possible. Here are some tips:
- Always aim for variety.
- For breakfast, oatmeal with fresh berries and walnuts is very healthy.
- Snack on whole fruits, nuts, seeds, and fresh vegetables
- Eat more fish and less fatty red meat.
- Cook with olive oil, coconut oil, or canola oil.
- Try a tofu stir-fry or scramble.
- Have a salad with lots of fresh vegetables as your meal.
- Bake, broil, poach, or stir-fry instead of deep frying.
- Choose dark green or brightly colored vegetables as side dishes—they should fill half your dinner plate.
- Maintaining a healthy weight is also very helpful for reducing pain and inflammation.
Vitamins and Minerals
It goes without saying that the best way to obtain all of your daily vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients is by eating a diet high in fresh foods, including fruits and vegetables. But given our busy lives and overly toxic environment, supplementing your diet with antioxidant supplements can help you optimize wellness. Here are a few suggestions:
- Vitamin C: 1000 milligrams a day.
- Fish oil, in capsule or liquid form with both EPA and DHA, 2 to 3 grams a day. I recommend products certified to be free of heavy metals and other contaminants.
- If you have a propensity to inflammation, I recommend taking a ginger and turmeric supplement daily unless you are cooking with it at least 3–4 times a week.
- Add coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to your daily regimen: 100–200 milligrams of a soft gel form (take it with either breakfast or lunch)
- Alpha-lipoid acid, 100–400 milligrams a day—especially if you are at risk for metabolic syndrome.
- Vitamin D3: 2,000–5,000 milligrams a day.
- Vitamin E: 400 IU of natural mixed tocopherols (d-alpha-tocopherol with other tocopherols, or better, a minimum of 80 milligrams of natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols).
- Selenium, 200 micrograms of an organic (yeast-bound) form.
- Mixed carotenoids, 10,000-15,000 IU daily.
- Multivitamin/multimineral. Get a very good one form a reputable nutritional company: Akasha Naturals, Thorne, Metagenics, Design for Health, etc.
Women: Take 500-700 milligrams of supplemental calcium citrate a day to help prevent osteoporosis in the post menopause years.
Edison de Mello, MD, PhD is the founder and CEO of the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine – a leading center in integrative Medicine. Dr. de Mello is also the founder and Clinical Director of AkashaNaturals.com, a nutritional supplement company that emphasizes the “less is more approach” when it comes to supplements. For further information visit Akasha Center and Akasha Naturals.
* Photo by jpmatth