The word inflammation is thrown around a lot these days, so what exactly is it?
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to irritants, injuries or infections. It activates the immune system to begin the process of healing. Inflammation is beneficial in the short term; acute inflammatory responses can arise from trauma (a sports injury or accident), a bacterial infection (meningitis or UTIs), chemical irritants, or an allergic reaction. However, like most things in life, too much of a good thing can be problematic. Enter chronic inflammation – a prolonged stated of inflammation. The process is constantly “switched on”, and the body is flooded with defence cells and hormones, losing the ability to clear dietary and environmental toxins and do its job efficiently. This results in an overactive immune system, and the potential to lead to autoimmune conditions.
With chronic inflammation, we’ve started to see problems arising, including a host of health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, arthritis and depression.
Inflammation in parts of the brain leads to neural atrophy, or the death of nerve fibre connections that release hormones. When these connections are broken or impaired, the feelings of normality are left with feelings of helplessness, increasing anxiety and depression. Obesity can play a role in increasing both neural inflammation and neural atrophy.
Some of the most common causes of inflammation are:
- Poor diet – what you use to fuel your body either feeds or fights disease. Some foods are inflammatory, whereas others assist in reducing inflammation. Minimise the inflammatory foods in your diet and eat an abundance of real, minimally processed foods
- Inadequate omega-3:omega-6 intake – omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and help to reduce system-wide inflammation. Try to increase omega-3 foods in your diet and aim for a 1:1 ratio
- Poor gut health – leaky gut and poor gut flora (i.e. a lack of bacterial diversity in the microbiome) can affect the inflammatory response. Ensure a healthy microbiome by eating a diverse range of foods, including pre and probiotics
- Too much stress – our bodies aren’t designed to handle chronic stress. It increases the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that contribute to an inflammatory state. Prioritise stress management and take some time out
- Lack of exercise – a sedentary lifestyle is linked to an abundance of health conditions. Evidence shows exercise can also reduce the level of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body, and it can regenerate nerve endings at a similar level to anti-depressant medications.
- Lack of sleep – not enough sleep wrecks havoc on your body and has been associated with an increase in inflammatory markers. Aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night
- Pollution, in the air, water and soil – the body sees pollution as a foreign invader and will attack it to stop it spreading throughout the body. Pollution is extremely hard to get away from in the modern society, but a healthy diet may help to ‘mop up’ particulate matter. Some may also be excluded through sweat, during exercise and even saunas.