Today, chronic disease is increasing every year with cardiovascular disease (60 million), allergies (50 million), autoimmune diseases (24 million), diabetes (14 million), and cancer (10 million) leading the way. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine highlighted the growing connection between high blood sugar levels, inflammation and the progression of degenerative chronic disease. (1) It doesn’t matter if you suffer from high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, cancer or diabetes, all chronic conditions seem to improve when inflammation is cooled.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural and essential bodily reaction to trauma, injury or infection. It is the immune system’s fundamental signal that sounds the alarm bell to take action. The classic signs of an inflammatory reaction are heat, redness, swelling, and pain—all of which are your body’s best effort to resolve your injury or infection.
The problem starts when acute inflammation becomes chronic; you can’t seem to lose weight, you experience persistent digestive distress (i.e. gas, bloating, constipation, etc.), your joints ache all day, or you just can’t seem to shake off your low mood.
After injury or infection, your inflammatory response is triggered and three main pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced: tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF), interleukin 1 (IL-1) and interleukin 6 (IL-6). The food you eat, how much you move, and your ability to control stress can all combat these pro-inflammatory compounds.
Foods That May Trigger Inflammation
- Simple or Excess Carbohydrate Intake
Poor blood sugar control is a major driving force behind chronic and systemic inflammation. If you’re sedentary, overweight or out of shape and don’t have a lot of muscle, excess carb intake quickly gets converted into fat and stored in the liver or on your body. However, if you’re active and build lean muscle, the carbs you eat are directed primarily into your muscle tissues and stored as glycogen.
Inflammation is a hallmark symptom of most overweight and obese individuals. (2) The accumulation of fat around the mid-section is visceral fat, also called white adipose tissue (WAT), that acts as a powerful trigger for inflammation.
The more extra weight you’re carrying, the greater your inflammatory levels.
The chronic internal fire of weight gain also causes significant oxidative damage to cells and tissues, leading to an inflammatory response. The more weight gain, the more oxidative stress, the more inflammation in the body. It’s a downward spiral that can make it very difficult to shed those unwanted pounds.
- Too Much Gluten
Gluten can be a problematic food because it can wreak havoc on the integrity of your gut in certain people. The research has shown that gluten-containing foods interfere with the function of an intestinal protein called zonulin, which acts as the gatekeeper of your intestinal tract, responsible for keeping your gut cells tightly packed and impenetrable. The gliadin protein found in gluten interferes with zonulin function, leading to increased intestinal hyper-permeability or leaky gut. (3) Ultimately, this leads to a persistent inflammatory response by the body and if you’re overweight, it significantly worsens your zonulin function and predisposes you to an inflamed and leaky gut. (4)
- Too Many Pain Killer Medications
Over-the-counter medications to treat pain, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, are the most common drugs recommended to treat pain. If you’re overweight or sit at a desk all day, you’re much more likely to suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain. While NSAIDs can help in the short-term, in the long-term they take a serious toll on your digestive system.
A recent study found that chronic use of pain killer medications like ibuprofen significantly damage the lining of the gut and increased the likelihood of a leaky gut. (5) Other common causes of chronic inflammation include a diet too high in omega-6 fats (i.e. typically vegetable oils), chronic infections, high stress levels, nutrient deficiencies or over-exposure to environmental toxins.
8 Amazing Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Addressing the root cause of chronic inflammation is the first step back to better health. Next, increasing your intake of powerful anti-inflammatory foods can help ensure you keep inflammation at bay in the long-term. Add the following anti-inflammatory foods to your diet regularly to help cool chronic inflammation.
- Cold-Water Fatty Fish
The extra-long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help cool inflammation by supporting the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, powerful hormone-like substances that turn down the body’s internal fires. (6) Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and black cod should be staples in your diet. A typical 3-4 oz. servings contain about 500-750mg of EPA and DHA.
- Grass-Fed Beef
You’ve likely been told for decades to avoid red meat, however, when you feed cows grass like nature intended, it’s incredible how the distribution of healthy fats and the quality of the meat radically changes for the better. Grass-fed beef has much greater levels of extra-long chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA compared to standard agricultural practices. (7) Add these nutrient-dense foods to your nutritional arsenal to fight off chronic inflammation.
- Turmeric Root
Turmeric root is a staple of Indian cuisine and contains a specific compound called curcumin that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Curcumin inhibits the COX-2 enzyme, just like ibuprofen, to reduce inflammation and accelerate healing. (8) Although not as potent as an NSAID, the natural herb has the benefit that it does not cause ulcers, liver and kidney damage, and leaky gut like chronic use of NSAIDs.
Like curcumin, ginger acts as a potent anti-inflammatory that inhibits the COX-2 enzyme. The research shows the consumption of ginger can reduce inflammatory markers after only 7 days. (9) If you enjoy juicing, add ginger to your favorite juice, sprinkle on top of salads or meals, or add into herbal teas to boost your inflammation protection.
- Hot Peppers
Capsaicin’s are the active components of hot peppers that give them their spicy kick and they also help act as potent anti-inflammatory. Capsaicin’s impact inflammation via your brain, interacting with a specific receptor to increase BDNF (brain-derived neuropeptide factor) that cools inflammation and combats low mood. (10) Try sprinkling cayenne on your food or in your smoothies and add hot peppers to your meals to take advantage of the anti-inflammatory benefits. Just don’t go overboard, moderation is key here.
The perfect breakfast addition to your morning smoothie or afternoon snack also provides a nice anti-inflammatory and antioxidant punch. Dark-colored berries contain quercetin, a potent antioxidant that protects your body against the oxidative damage caused by inflammation, whether from a trauma or simply being overweight. Furthermore, the polyphenols in blueberries also trigger the genetic pathways that provide a great COX-2 anti-inflammatory effect. (11)
Beets are an incredibly nutrient-dense root vegetable packed full of the antioxidant betalain, as well as being a phenomenal source of dietary nitrates that help to boost arginine levels and support better flow to accelerate healing and recovery. (12)
Broccoli is an absolute superfood. It packs a major antioxidant punch, is loaded with powerful phytonutrient glucosinolates, and contains anti-inflammatory bioflavonoids like kaempferol that help cool inflammation and fight off the effects of weight gain and oxidative stress. (13) Make broccoli a staple in your diet to reap these benefits.
If you’re struggling with chronic inflammation, better blood sugar control and weight loss are terrific strategies to improve health. Also, be sure to include more anti-inflammatory foods to help cool excessive inflammation and reboot how well you look, feel and perform!
Author of Peak (Amazon #1 New Release)