Several chronic diseases are mediated by your body’s inflammatory response. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, depression, anxiety, arthritis, obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and even obesity are mediated by chronic inflammation.1 23
Inflammation And Healing
When you experience an acute infection or sustain an injury to your body, your immune system mobilizes an inflammatory response to neutralize the infectious agent or initiate a healing response. Your body cannot combat acute infections or heal damaged tissues without inflammation.
Conditions like heart disease, however, are the outcome of low grade, “silent” inflammation that is systemic and chronic.
Many over the counter and pharmaceutical medications (e.g., NSAIDs like ibuprofen, COX-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex) exist to reduce inflammation in your body. While these drugs do lower inflammation in your body, they bring with them several side effects (i.e., ranging from mild skin reactions and stomach ulcers to more serious conditions such as heart attacks, thrombosis and strokes).
Tips To Balance Inflammation
Thankfully, you can balance your immune system and modulate your body’s inflammatory response by changing your lifestyle.
Identify And Avoid Common Food Allergens
Evaluating your body’s response to and avoiding common food allergens (i.e., shellfish, soy, dairy, corn, gluten, peanuts, citrus, mold, fermented foods) that set off an alarm in your immune system as well as balancing your ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids will go a long way towards balancing your body’s inflammatory response. Your body’s inflammatory system is regulated by your immune system and hormone-like substances known as prostaglandins.
- Prostaglandins are enzymatically derived from fatty acids and exert their physiological effect at localized tissue sites.
- Omega 6 fatty acids act as the building blocks for inflammatory prostaglandins. Omega 6 fatty acids are found primarily in nuts and seeds, processed vegetable oils, grains, legumes and conventionally raised animal foods.
- Omega 3 fatty acids help your body to produce anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. Rich food sources include small cold water, fatty fish, grass fed and pasture raised animals, dark green, leafy vegetables and some nuts and seeds.
Ideally, you will eat a 3:1 to 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, the average American eats very SADly (Standard American Diet) and consumes a 16:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.4
Increase Omega 3 Intake Reduce Omega 6 Intake
In order to decrease your levels of systemic inflammation, prevent many chronic diseases and optimize your health, you must reduce your intake of unnecessary omega 6 fatty acids. Processed vegetable oils used for cooking and in most processed foods are often high in omega 6 fatty acids.
Instead, cook with animal fats or plant sources of saturated fat that are more stable and do not oxidize easily. Tallow, suet, butter or ghee (grass fed) and coconut oil are healthy choices.
In addition, make sure you increase your intake of long chain omega 3 fatty acids (i.e., EPA and DHA) by including food rich sources at least twice a week. While long chain omega 3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body, plant sources of medium chain omega 3 fatty acids such as ALA are important for optimal health.
Nuts, seeds and leafy dark greens are rich sources of medium chain omega 3 fatty acids. Make sure you include several servings a week.
Cut Down On Refined And Starchy Carbs
To reduce systemic inflammation and optimize your health, you must also reduce your intake of refined and starchy carbohydrates. Excessive consumption of quickly digested carbohydrates (i.e., high glycemic index) contributes to the production of pro-inflammatory Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) that wreak havoc inside your body.
AGEs are formed when simple sugar molecules bind to protein or fat without the enzymes necessary to control the reaction. You can also reduce AGEs by using low heat cooking methods such as steaming or light sauteing and reducing your consumption of animal proteins that have been browned or charred.
Regular exercise can also help to further reduce systemic inflammation by enhancing your body’s production of the anti-inflammatory, cytokine interleukin (IL)-10.5 Cytokines are chemical messengers that work to orchestrate your body’s immune system and inflammatory response.
Aim to exercise for 30 to 45 minutes, four to five times per week to achieve optimal results. And, remember to have fun and play with your workouts. Vary your workouts and try adding brief, intense exercise routines a couple times a week.
Below is a list of healthy fats and foods in which they are present:
- Long chain omega 3 fatty acids: Grass-fed, pasture-raised animals or wild caught, cold water, small fish. (e.g., sardines, herring, anchovies, sock eye salmon, bison, beef, venison, lamb).
- Medium chain omega 3 fatty acids: Dark leafy greens, walnuts, seeds (chia, flax, hemp, sacha inchi).
- Omega 6 fatty acids: Nuts, seeds (black currant, chia, flax, hemp, sesame, sacha inchi, pumpkin).
- Saturated fats: Grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, butter, ghee, tallow, suet, coconuts.
- Monounsaturated fats: Avocados, olives, grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, nuts (almonds, macadamia, cashews).
|↑1||Perry, V. Hugh. “The influence of systemic inflammation on inflammation in the brain: implications for chronic neurodegenerative disease.” Brain, behavior, and immunity 18, no. 5 (2004): 407-413|
|↑2||Salim, Samina, Gaurav Chugh, and Mohammad Asghar. “Inflammation in anxiety.” Adv Protein Chem Struct Biol 88 (2012): 1-25.|
|↑3||Sin, Don D., and SF Paul Man. “Why are patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at increased risk of cardiovascular diseases? The potential role of systemic inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” Circulation 107, no. 11 (2003): 1514-1519.|
|↑4||Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.”Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 56, no. 8 (2002): 365-379.|
|↑5||Ostrowski, Kenneth, Thomas Rohde, Sven Asp, Peter Schjerling, and Bente Klarlund Pedersen. “Pro‐and anti‐inflammatory cytokine balance in strenuous exercise in humans.” The Journal of physiology 515, no. 1 (1999): 287-291.|