You’ve probably heard about anti-inflammatory diets or how inflammation is the source of all your problems. Like a lot of things around health and nutrition, inflammation has gotten a bad rep. But what if I were to tell you that we actually need inflammation? It’s a normal body process that signals to our immune system that something is wrong and helps us heal. Yep, inflammation is not always a bad guy.
The shit hits the fan though when inflammation becomes chronic – meaning that the same injuries (internal or external) keep happening over and over. Chronic inflammation is a bad guy in all kinds of conditions and diseases, including skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, some cancers, heart disease and autoimmune diseases.
Let’s look at how the inflammation process works and what we can do to prevent it from becoming a chronic issue.
How it Works – The Inflammatory Response
- Healthy tissues are damaged – could be a scrape, bacterial or viral infection, or allergic reaction, for example. Basically anything that causes trauma or introduces a foreign body.
- The body is all like, “Hey bitch – I could use some help here!” to which the immune system replies, “I got you, boo!” and sends white blood cells to the affected area to begin the healing process
- If the issue is resolved by the immune cells, the inflammation goes away. Everyone is happy and the tissues heal.
- If the issue is not resolved, more immune cells are sent to the site to help their buddies which often ends up causing even more inflammation instead of healing the tissues. Chronic inflammation ensues.
As you can see, the inflammatory response is a vital process. When we are injured or have an infection or irritation, we want our immune system to do its part and heal us. But when the issue can’t be resolved and our body tries harder to heal us, more harm can occur, resulting in chronic inflammation.
What types of things can cause the chronic inflammation that contributes to disease?
Often, the type of inflammation that really harms us is infection and irritation. For those with autoimmune issues, the immune system has lost the ability to determine which cells actually belong to the body, so it attacks everything. As you learned above, when immune cells work harder, they are messier and exacerbate inflammation. Messy. Ass. Cells.
Chronic inflammation can also make an appearance because of (you guessed it) the foods we eat. Inflammatory foods, eaten consistently, never allow the body to heal. There are a shit ton of foods that cause inflammation, and a lot of us are eating them every day. But the good news is, there are also lots of anti-inflammatory foods you can incorporate to help your body get back to equilibrium.
Balancing Inflammation Through Nutrition
Inflammatory foods stimulate the immune system and therefore the inflammatory response. Consumed continuously, it makes sense that chronic inflammation would occur. The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) contains mainly inflammatory foods, which explains why so many diseases influenced by chronic inflammation are running rampant among Americans. Below are a few of the most commonly consumed inflammatory foods.
- Animal Products – meat, dairy, eggs, some fish, (specifically animal fat)
- Vegetable Oil
- Fried Foods
- Coffee and energy drinks
- ALL processed foods – pretty much anything that comes in a box or bag
- Sugar and fake sugar
These foods deactivate the immune system and let it get back to its other jobs. Incorporating foods from the categories listed below helps our body heal and keeps us in balance. They are all part of a S.O.U.L. food diet – that is, seasonal, organic, unprocessed and local.
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and legumes
- Herbs and spices (garlic and ginger are some common ones)
- Some fish (that are high in Omega-3s)
Keeping the inflammatory response in check is vital to balancing the immune system and body. Try cutting down on some of the inflammatory foods in your diet and replace them with calming anti-inflammatory alternatives.
Something I always suggest is to slowly start adding real, whole foods to your diet. Start with a snack or one meal and increase it from there. Learn to make nutritious versions of your favorite processed foods – literally look up whatever your favorite shitty food is with the word “healthy” in front of it on Google or Pinterest and you’ll find a ton of options.