You can’t see it or feel it, but inflammation may slowly be damaging your body.
Inflammation (swelling), which is part of the body’s own healing system, helps fight injury and infection. But it doesn’t just happen in response to injury and illness.
Inflammation can also occur when the immune system goes into action without an injury or infection to fight. Since there’s nothing to heal, the immune-system cells that normally protect us from infection and repair injury begin to destroy healthy arteries, organs and joints.
“When you don’t eat right, don’t get enough exercise and have too much stress, the body responds by triggering inflammation,” says David Leopold, MD, a physician at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in San Diego, California. “Over a long period of time, chronic low-grade inflammation can smolder in otherwise healthy tissues instead of helping you heal.”
Early symptoms of inflammation may be vague. You may just feel slightly fatigued, or even normal. As inflammation progresses, however, it begins to damage your arteries, organs and joints. Left unchecked, it can contribute to heart disease, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.
Immune-system cells that cause inflammation contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits in the lining of the heart’s arteries, for example. These plaques can eventually rupture, which causes a clot to form, potentially blocking an artery. When the artery becomes blocked, the result is a heart attack.
The most common way to measure inflammation is to conduct a blood test for C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), a sign of inflammation. Doctors also measure homocysteine levels to evaluate chronic inflammation. Finally, physicians test for HbA1C — a measurement of blood sugar — to assess damage to red blood cells.
You can control — and even reverse — inflammation through a healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. People with a family history of problems like heart disease or colon cancer should talk to their physicians about lifestyle changes that support healing and prevent disease.
Load up on anti-inflammatory foods
Eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the best sources are cold-water fish (i.e., salmon and tuna), tofu, walnuts, flaxseeds and soybeans. Other anti-inflammatory foods include grapes, celery, blueberries, garlic, olive oil, tea and some spices (ginger, rosemary and turmeric).
Cut back or eliminate inflammatory foods
These include red meat, eggs, and anything with trans fats, such as margarine, corn oil, deep fried foods and most processed foods.
Reduce blood sugar
Limit or avoid simple carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice, refined sugar and anything with high fructose corn syrup.
Make time for 30 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise and 10 to 25 minutes of weight or resistance training at least four to five times per week.
People who are overweight have more inflammation. Losing weight may decrease inflammation.
Use meditation, yoga, biofeedback, guided imagery or some other method to manage stress throughout the day.