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Chronic Inflammation: What you need to know


Inflammation is your body's natural response to perceived threats, such as diseases, viruses and other pathogens, toxins or cell damage. It is a vital part of your natural defences, necessary for fighting infections and healing wounds. However, like many good things in life, when you have too much inflammation and it persists, it becomes harmful, contributing to a wide range of serious health conditions. This article looks at what causes harmful inflammation and what you can do to avoid it.

Chronic vs. Acute Inflammation

When your body detects a threat to you and your health, whether caused by a food intolerance or chemicals or heavy metals or other toxins or viral, bacterial, fungal infections, your immune system attempts to remove or neutralise these threats and get rid of damaged tissue so the body can heal. This is achieved by releasing chemicals from your white blood cells that increase blood flow to the threatened area. The increased blood flow can result in localised redness, swelling and pain from stimulated nerve endings. Fever is another important component of the inflammatory process, killing pathogens and inhibiting their growth. Contrary to what you might reasonably assume, the redness, swelling and pain accompanying inflammation are not caused by the injury itelf, but by your body's natural protective mechanism doing its job. This protective inflammation will often last for anything from a few minutes in the case of a nettle sting or a mild food reaction, to a number of days in the case of more virulent infections, toxins or a sports injury. Once the threat has passed, the immune system resets and your inflammatory symptoms lessen and disappear.

The process we have just described here is known as acute inflammation and, while often uncomfortable, is nothing to worry about. Symptoms associated with acute inflammation include: fever, swelling, redness, pain or itchiness and a burning sensation.

When inflammation persists for a prolonged period of time, often weeks, months and years, it is known as chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can contribute to many chronic diseases, such as arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's. Chronic inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and so often doesn't have the same observable symptoms, such as pain, heat or swelling. For example, heart disease, which is an inflammation of the arteries, occurs deep inside the body and so is often symptomless until it becomes life-threatening. Some symptoms that may indicate chronic inflammation include: fevers, aches, fatigue and joint and muscle pain, although it is possible that none of these will be present.


What causes chronic inflammation?

There are numerous potential contributors to chronic inflammation. People can have a natural tendency to become inflamed, based on genetics, but there are also many environmental and lifestyle based causes that you can exert some control over, such as:


Diet - The food you eat is one of the biggest contributors to inflammation. This is great news as it means that making simple dietary changes can have a hugely positive impact on your inflammation and thus your health. We'll look at specific diet and nutrition factors a little later in this article.


Stress - While the mechanism isn't exactly understood, studies have established that chronic stress interferes with the body's ability to regulate its inflammatory response. This is possibly because chronic stress leads to an over-production of the hormone cortisol, which also plays a role in regulating the immune response. Over time, the immune system becomes less sensitive to cortisol and so inflammation cannot be regulated. As with diet, there are many things you can do to improve your relationship with stress. This article takes a closer look at the causes of chronic stress and what you can do to reduce its negative impact on your health.


Obesity - Aside from the damage that unhealthy food can do, excess fatty tissues can produce un-needed cytokines (small proteins that help to control the body's immune and inflammatory response) that can leave the body in a constant state of inflammation.


Gut health - Having an imbalance in your gut microbiome can lead to numerous health issues, including a chronic inflammatory response. The best way to assess the health of your gut bacteria is to speak to a qualified nutritional therapist or doctor, who can arrange and interpret the relevant tests and then advise on any further action required in terms of dietary and lifestyle changes. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your gut health during a 1-to-1 consultation.


Toxins - Toxins from air pollution, household cleaners, food and drink containers and smoking can contribute to inflammatory illnesses, such as pneumonitis (an inflammation of the lungs or airways). We can't all move out to the countryside, but as with most of these risk categories, there are measures that anyone can take to mitigate your toxic exposure. In this article, I take a look at some homemade household cleaners that will reduce your home's toxic load and in another article, I cover selecting house plants that help to filter toxins. If you smoke, there are many resources to help you quit. Use a water filter at home, and try to always use BPA-free food and drink containers.


Lack of sleep - Studies have established that a persistent lack of sleep raises inflammation levels in the body, as well as wreaking havoc in many other areas. Despite myths about people living healthy lives on 2-3 hours a night, experts believe that getting less than 7 hours could have serious long-term impacts on your wellness and contribute to chronic illnesses, partly through the associated inflammation. If you would like to learn more about using nutrition to aid your sleep, this article goes into more depth.


Inflammatory foods - the usual suspects

As mentioned above, the foods you eat can be one of the main causes of chronic inflammation. If you are a regular on the website, you will probably notice that most of the foods listed here crop up a lot when we are discussing dietary-related illnesses. This is actually great news as it means that you don't really need to learn a lot of different protocols to address every health issue, but simply cut out the usual suspects of harmful foods and adopt a healthy, balanced diet. Of course, everyone is different and your personal make up may require a slightly different approach, but if you have not already addressed the harmful foods listed below then I strongly recommend that you start here.

Sugar - Sugar is one of the leading dietary causes of chronic inflammation, as well as contributing to many serious illnesses such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Excess sugar in the diet can also lead to malnutrition by promoting a host of disease states that impair nutrient absorption and hinder the production of energy. What's more, your body doesn't need it. There is absolutely no chance that you will develop a sugar deficiency, but many of us do develop serious sugar addictions that can be incredibly hard to kick. There are various ways that sugar contributes to inflammation, including weight gain, an increase in advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) in the body and blood sugar spikes.


If you would like to cut sugar from your diet but don't know where to start, I have plenty of resources that can help. This article takes a closer look at what sugar does to your body and offers some evidence based advice on how to lower your intake, while this article gives some healthy food suggestions that have been found to help replace sugar cravings. If you would like to learn about the various sugar substitutes available, this article will help you out. My freebies section has a free 48 hour sugar detox programme that you can try, with healthy recipes and tips all included. If you would like more hands on help, I work with many clients to help them eradicate sugar from their diet and even have a dedicated 6 week programme, available on my programmes page , or why not simply get in touch for an informal chat to see how I can help you?

Trans fats - Often labelled as 'partially hydrogenated oils', trans fats are found in food items such as fried food, pastries, pies, crackers, most vegetable or seed oils. They are synthetically produced fats that are cheap to make, last a long time, taste good (to some) and are potentially ruinous to your health. Numerous studies have found that trans fats increase inflammation markers in the body, as well as increasing the risk of a whole slate of chronic illnesses. Note that trans fats should not be confused with healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, olive oil and fish etc. Look out for my upcoming article on fats to learn more about the difference.

Simple carbohydrates - Simple or refined carbohydrates include foods such as white rice, pasta, white bread and flour. These nutrient-empty carbohydrates have a high glycaemic load, which cause blood sugar spikes and lead to inflammation, much like sugar. On the other hand, low glycaemic carbohydrates such as fruit, brown rice, whole grains and unsweetened dairy can actually help to reduce inflammation so be sure not to throw the baby out with the bath water when considering your carb intake. Alcohol - Alcohol is a toxin and, as such, it can cause inflammation within the body, especially the liver. Excessive alcohol consumption can cause irreversible damage so it is always best to drink moderately and infrequently. Processed Meats - This includes foods like sausages, ham, bacon, jerky and salami. Aside from their high salt content, these meats often contain high levels of AGEs (Advanced Glycation Products), which are known to raise inflammation levels.


Anti-inflammatory foods - the cavalry

While there are many foods that cause inflammation, there are also foods that actively work to reduce inflammation and these should be included as part of your healthy, balanced diet.


My 30 Day Anti-Inflammatory Programme includes a whole month of anti-inflammatory recipes that are designed to get your inflammation under control, while making delicious meals and snacks every day.

A healthy anti-inflammatory diet essentially looks identical to the Mediterranean diet which avoids processed food in favour of fresh fruit and vegetables and fish. Here are some of the ingredients that you should look to maximise in your meals if you want to start actively reducing your chronic inflammation:

  • Leafy veg - green leafy veg are full of antioxidants and flavonoids that help reduce inflammation. Eating a salad every day is ideal, but why not try putting a couple of handfuls into a smoothie? You probably won't even know that they are in there!

  • Blueberries - Berries are low in sugar compared to many other fruits and a good source of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that is particularly effective against inflammation.

  • Salmon - is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce inflammation by balancing out excess omega-6. Sadly however, farmed salmon is one of the most toxic foods today so please make sure you eat organic salmon or wild Alaskan.

  • Chia seeds - are a true superfood, full of vitamins and minerals. Chia lowers inflammation, while lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. My recipes section has lots of great chia based recipes. If you don't want to spend time browsing, you can simply go to the search area of the website and type 'chia'. I love starting the day with a chia porridge, or a bowl of overnight soaked oats with added chia seeds.

  • Flax seeds - are a good provider of antioxidants and phytonutrients, helping to reduce inflammation. You can sprinkle the seeds on just about anything, but a lot of people don't realise that they make a nutritious and healthy porridge. I'll be posting the details on my recipes page soon so look out for it.

  • Turmeric - contains curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory. You can add it to soups, curries or smoothies, or make a delicious turmeric latte. Most people are unaware that turmeric can be high in lead so choose a good source. Curcumin in turmeric can also be difficult to absorb so combining the piperine in black pepper has been shown to enhance the absorption of curcumin.

  • Broccoli - is a powerhouse when it comes to fighting inflammation. Its combination of flavonoids and carotenoids, along with its vitamin content mean it should be a staple of your healthy balanced diet. Adding broccoli sprouts to a salad or on top of smashed avocado on toast is another excellent tip for reducing inflammation as studies have shown that consuming broccoli sprouts daily has been associated with a reduction of two biomarkers associated with inflammation - CRP and interleukin - 6.






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