Inflammation is the process by which white blood cells are produced in response to illness or injury to trigger the body’s immune system
It is one of the body’s most pivotal defence mechanisms and is essential for a healthy lifespan.
“As such, inflammation if often viewed as a positive force. But look a little closer and it can also play a part in many chronic diseases. These include arthritis, heart disease, bronchitis, acid reflux, diabetes, high blood pressure and dementia,” says Dr Sarah Brewer, Healthspan Medical Director.
This is due to an imbalance of pro-inflammatory chemicals within the body and anti-inflammatory mechanisms that regulate the process, which leads to excess inflammation.
This growing level of inflammation begins in mid-life, but often goes unnoticed for years. The damage caused then becomes apparent in the form of chronic illness.
Though the triggers behind persistent inflammation are not entirely understood, there are many simple measures you can take to prevent it occurring…
Avoid pro-inflammatory foods
Several studies have indicated that saturated and trans-fats trigger adipose (fat tissue) inflammation. This worsens the inflammation in conditions such as arthritis, and is an indicator for heart disease.
Avoid processed foods, refined carbohydrates and other high glycaemic index (GI) foods. Instead, “opt for oily fish, nuts, berries and vegetables such as dark leafy greens and aubergine. These are high in antioxidants and will act to reduce inflammation,” advises Dr Brewer.
Maintain a healthy weight
“Fat stored around your midriff and clings to your internal organs is known as visceral fat,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “This fat differs from fat elsewhere in the body as it responds to stress hormones by pumping out inflammatory chemicals that travel straight to your liver, affecting the way it processes cholesterol, glucose, triglyceride, and other factors linked with inflammation, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a healthy weight. Regular exercise is vital for a healthy lifespan. In line with government recommendations, we should all be taking part in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week – around 30 minutes each day.
If you’re concerned about inflammation, or suffer from arthritis or high blood pressure, avoid high-intensity exercise. “Intense workouts can cause inflammation levels to rise for several days. They may also strain joints and cause a spike in blood pressure,” says Dr Brewer. “If you’re at risk, ditch the spinning class and opt for gentle exercise like walking and swimming.”
Research is starting to identify some useful anti-inflammatory properties in certain supplements.
According to a study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, daily consumption of Omega 3 fish oil supplements helped reduce inflammation and anxiety but buying ones that are made to Good Manufacturing Practice is important to maintain quality .
Atrosan® Devil’s Claw (30 tablets, £10.99 available www.avogel.couk) is a licensed herbal rheumatism product made from extracts of Devil’s Claw herb and it can be used for joint pain and to reduce symptoms of back pain or other rheumatism pains in the shoulders and elbows, or for knee and other joint pains.
Moreover, a Texas study investigating the effects of turmeric on inflammation and muscle damage following exercise, reported a significant reduction in the chemical markers for inflammation among participants who consumed curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), compared to those who consumed a placebo. Studies have also shown how it can help ease conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease. Tests have shown that Healthspan Opti-Turmeric™ (30 capsules, £10.95) capsules are up to 185 times better absorbed and 7 times faster-acting than standard powdered turmeric, with two advanced 500mg capsules the bioequivalent of 27 standard 500mg curcumin tablets.
Keep stress at bay
As stress drives inflammation, and it’s not easy to manage especially with everything going on. There are lots of stress management techniques out there, and the most effective one is likely to vary from person to person. You could try a few different things, however, to see what works for you. Some options include:
- Talking – other people around you will be able to offer advice, support and a different perspective on what you’re going through.
- Relaxation techniques – the likes of meditation and mindful breathing are both effective in relieving stress.
- Herbal help – AvenaCalm, (50ml, £10.50) a traditional herbal medicine is useful in easing symptoms of mild stress and anxiety. It has a cumulative effect and is suitable for long-term use.
Hum a little
Humming is much more than a self-soothing sound as it affects us on a physical level, reducing stress, inducing calmness, and enhancing sleep as well as lowering heart rate and blood pressure and producing powerful neurochemicals such as oxytocin. 20 seconds of humming can really help to calm your mind and lift your mood which helps with inflammation.
According to research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago, getting less than six hours of sleep per night is linked to a significant increase in key inflammatory chemicals within the body.
If you struggle to drop off, try sprinkling a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow, suggests Dr Sarah. “It’s a natural sedative which can help you relax and will improve sleep.”