From arthritis to heart disease, asthma to Alzheimer's; inflammation bears the blame for a variety of ailments that strike both the young and the old.
Inflammation is actually a normal, healthy biological phenomenon. It helps rid your system of harmful entities, such as: bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells.
Sometimes this response becomes overly stimulated, hindering the healing process and causing damage to your body.
Several factors can mess with this natural healing mechanism.
Poor nutrition can send your body's inflammation response into hyper drive. Scientists have found a connection between a diet that contains a too much sugar, animal fat, and refined starches and an uptick in a person's propensity for inflammation.
Stress is another thing that can disrupt the healing process. Your brain responds to stress by releasing chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which draw on your body's reserves and fuel inflammation.
Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., Medical Director of the National Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and Chronicity, and author of "From Fatigued to Fantastic," offers a few simple strategies to help you and your loved one combat inflammation:
- Scratch the soda: There's a reason why the New York City Board of Health recently approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on the sale of sugar-burdened beverages larger than 16 ounces. "Sugar is toxic to your immune system," says Teitelbaum. Sodas and soft drinks are some of the worst offenders when it comes to high-calorie, high sugar beverages. Try swapping your diet soda for DIY flavored water—just add slices of lemon, oranges, strawberries or melon to an icy pitcher of water. If you crave the bubbly tingle that comes with cola, just add seltzer water to your favorite juice to get that extra zing.
- Get spicy: Spices can inflame your taste buds, but they may do just the opposite to the rest of your body. Teitelbaum touts curcumin—a compound found in Tumeric, the primary component of most curries. "When it comes to maintaining healthy knees and joints, curcumin knocks the socks off of arthritis medications" he says. Certain studies have concluded that curcumin can be as effective as ibuprofen for pain relief in people suffering from osteoarthritis. There is also evidence that this particular spice may positively influence a number of other diseases, including: Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, but the National Institutes of Health caution that these benefits have not yet been sufficiently proven. If curry isn't your thing, there's no need to start forcing yourself to frequent the local Indian restaurant. Garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper are some more commonly used spices that have also been linked to reducing inflammation.
- Eat the right fats: By now you're probably aware that not all fats are created equal. One key to fighting inflammation is eating the right kind of fats. Fish (especially salmon, trout and tuna), nuts (especially pistachios, almonds and walnuts), avocados, canola oil and flax seed are examples of foods that contain anti-inflammatory fats—particularly omega-3 fatty acids. According to Teitelbaum, animal fats are more likely to trigger inflammation. This doesn't mean that you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of fish and beans. It's okay to satisfy a craving for meat, just stick to healthier sources such as poultry and grass-fed beef.
- Break a sweat: Making your muscles burn in the gym will translate to lower levels of inflammation elsewhere in your body. Numerous studies have found a connection between physical activity and reduced levels of inflammation. Exercise is particularly effective for combatting the inflammation that contributes to arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
- Tune out avoidable anxiety: An often overlooked way to reduce the amount of inflammation in your body is by reducing the amount of stress in your life. One University of California Los Angeles study found that people who were more sensitive to social stressors, such as rejection, were more likely to experience spikes in their body's inflammatory response when exposed to stress. As a caregiver, you obviously won't be able to completely cut stress out of your life, so it's important to develop a battery of healthy coping techniques you can turn to. Teitelbaum also suggests one simple move to decrease unnecessary feelings of unease: turn off the television. "Especially when it comes to the news and commercials, we've progressed from the idea that ‘sex sells,' to ‘fear sells,'" he says. Constantly watching negative news programs can cause you to become anxious about issues you can't control—and probably don't need to worry about anyway.