What You Need to Know About Chronic Inflammation

What You Need to Know About Chronic Inflammation

Just like wildfires devastating the American West, inflammation can spread throughout your body and wreak havoc. But in many areas, wildfires aren’t always a completely destructive element; they’re part of the natural cycle of life, helping clear out pests while fertilizing the ground so fresh life can bloom. And sometimes in the body, well, inflammation is much the same.

Acute inflammation (a sudden marshaling of the immune response in reaction to a specific assault) is an essential part of your body’s ever-vigilant fight against invading toxins, microbes and injuries. Without it you would become ill from every passing infection or wound.

However, when inflammation is whipped into overdrive because of inactivity, excess weight, a diet loaded with added sugars and processed grains or the great flame-thrower that is stress, then you’ve got chronic inflammation. And that ups the likelihood you’ll develop a chronic ailment like diabetes, IBD, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, dementia, depression, osteoarthritis, persistent pain, cancer or an autoimmune condition such as multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

The role of inflammation in chronic disease is important because of the Canakinumab Anti-inflammatory Thrombosis Outcomes Study (CANTOS). It was designed to explore the effects of an inflammation-reducing monoclonal antibody on heart attacks and other atherosclerotic events. Researchers found that reducing body-wide inflammation without lowering LDL cholesterol levels protected people who had already suffered a heart attack from having another. As a bonus, they also discovered that reducing chronic inflammation helps lower the risk of dying from diagnosed lung cancer!

But what is chronic inflammation?
When a cell is in distress (say it’s persistently being challenged by excess glucose in your bloodstream, accumulated fat in your belly or chemicals from tobacco smoke), it sends out signals for help. Chemicals from your immune system’s white blood cells (B cells) increase blood flow to the distressed area and inflammatory proteins called cytokines rush to help. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But when the cell’s distress is chronic, this response is repeated over and over, further inflaming cells in your blood vessels or organs, creating a viscous cycle. In heart disease, for example, a repeated inflammatory response to excess cholesterol in the bloodstream causes repeated build-up of plaque along blood vessel walls, making cardiovascular problems even greater.

What to do about chronic inflammation
The monoclonal antibody used in the CANTOS study may one day provide treatment options for people dealing with cardio disease or cancer—but it will be a long time before it’s something that you can use to overcome damage to your body from destructive lifestyle choices. But you can reduce chronic inflammation on your own. The Cleveland Clinic’s Anti-inflammatory Diet has seven parts.

  1. Avoid highly processed foods.
  2. Eliminate added sugars and syrups from your diet.
  3. Eat the rainbow. Every day eat around nine servings of fruits and vegetables that are a mix of orange-red, yellow, green and purple-blue.
  4. Eat good-for-you fats like extra virgin olive oil, omega-3, -7 and -9 fatty acids. Omega-3 is found in fish and walnuts; omega-7 in salmon, anchovies, olives, macadamia and sea buckthorn oils; and omega-9 is in olives, cashews, almonds, avocados, peanut oil and walnuts.
  5. Choose only 100 percent whole grains.
  6. Eat high-quality proteins like those found in salmon, ocean trout, legumes, brown rice and non-fat dairy. Avoid red and processed meats.
  7. Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day for women and two a day for men.

Additional ways to put out the fire within:

  • If you smoke, stop smoking; and avoid all second- and third-hand smoke.
  • Get 10,000 steps a day and do two to three 30-minute sessions of strength-building weekly.
  • Ask your doc about taking an 81mg aspirin twice a day with half a glass of warm water before and after.
  • Meditate for 10 minutes daily.
  • Make sure to get seven to eight hours of restful sleep nightly.
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