Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury: it’s an attempt to stop the damage and start the healing process. When you get a cut or other injury, you can see inflammation in action. When an injury happens, your body releases chemicals and white blood cells into your bloodstream, ready to attack and kill invading bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbial invaders. The redness and swelling around the wound shows that your blood vessels are expanding, bringing in white blood cells and antibodies to fight the infection, along with proteins and other nutrients to repair the damage.
So inflammation is beneficial, or even essential, up to a point. All that swelling and repair work can be painful (which is why anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, are effective painkillers). Unfortunately, although anti-inflammatory drugs can suppress symptoms temporarily, they don’t cure the underlying problem.
Inflammation can become chronic when there is a persistent stimulus. The stimulus might come from free radicals in processed foods. It might be an allergy to wheat (gluten) that inflames your digestive tract, or a low-grade, lingering infection from an old injury or illness. The persistent stimulus that causes chronic inflammation may also be continual stress. It may be a growing body burden of heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals. The EPA estimates there are more than 20,000 chemicals that your body cannot metabolize. Unable to be excreted from the body, chemicals find their way into your liver, and then migrate to fat cells throughout your body where they are stored. Studies show that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in our cells.
With chronic inflammation, the inflammatory cells continually attack healthy ones.
While we easily recognize the signs of accute, external inflammation, chronic, internal inflammation may fall below the threshold of perceived pain. You may have become accustomed to your daily symptoms, or you may not feel sick, but a fire is quietly smoldering within you, upsetting the delicate balance among all of the major systems: endocrine, central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular/respiratory. In a healthy body, these systems communicate with each another. With chronic inflammation, that communication becomes distorted. Lack of energy and general sluggishness, regular digestive discomfort, accumulated belly fat that is difficult to shed, and dry, irritated, or acne-ridden skin are just a few of the indicators of an internal imbalance. A continual craving for sugar or other junk food is also a red flag.
Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. It may even be linked to depression and suicide.
Chronic inflammation has a damaging effect on arteries, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. Microorganisms, free radicals, and trans fats attack the linings of blood vessels, causing inflammation. Immune cells are dispatched to fight the damage, and then and then blood lipids, including cholesterol, and white blood cells are deposited over the wound like a bandage, which eventually leads to a decrease in the vessels’ diameter. This decrease in diameter leads to decreased blood flow to essential organs like the brain (which could lead to stroke), heart (which could lead to heart attack) and kidneys (which could lead to kidney failure). In addition, the inflammation remains active under the cholesterol bandage, causing the inflamed area of the blood vessel to bulge. In time, a small part of the blood vessel may give way, and your body must form a blood clot to close it. If the clot breaks loose and goes to your brain, you have a stroke. If it goes to your heart, you have a heart attack.
Chronic inflammation depresses the immune system and helps promote the formation of cancerous tumors. Chronic inflammation can predispose you to cancer, as demonstrated by the association between chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and the increased risk of colon cancer. The longer the inflammation persists, the higher the risk of associated cancers.
Chronic inflammation destroys nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. In your digestive tract, inflammation causes the pain and diarrhea of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Inflammation in the inside lining of the intestines can lead to a syndrome called “leaky gut,” allowing bacteria and their toxins, incompletely digested fats, waste, and foreign proteins, including cow’s milk proteins, to leak into the blood stream. Your body makes antibodies to these invading particles. Unfortunately, the attack is not isolated to the invading proteins. Proteins of similar structure are also attacked in your joints, which can destroy cartilage and cause inflammation with swelling and crippling pain known as arthritis. Leaky gut can also lead to inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, allergies, asthma, and autism. These diseases, where the body attacks itself, are referred to as autoimmune diseases. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, the inflammation is systemic, attacking your entire body. Inflammation of your kidneys, known as nephritis, may cause kidney failure or high blood pressure. Unchecked inflammation in your pancreas can cause both pancreatitis, a potentially fatal disease, and type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin are destroyed. Inflammation of the small airways that transport air to your lungs may cause asthma or chronic bronchitis.
When you gain weight, more and larger fat cells produce more biochemically inflammatory compounds. The ensuing inflammation promotes insulin resistance, a central feature of such as metabolic syndrome and subsequent type 2 diabetes.
Top inflammatory foods include:
- Meat. Meats contain arachidonic acid, which, in your body, is converted to prostaglandin E2, a compound that sparks inflammation. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that red meat contains a molecule that humans don’t naturally produce called Neu5Gc. After ingesting this compound, the body develops anti-Neu5Gc antibodies – an immune response that may trigger chronic inflammatory response. Processed meat is even worse. In the 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, processed meat is identified as a cause of cancers of the colon and rectum, and possibly the esophagus and lungs. Processed meat includes animal flesh that has been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved. Finally, to make them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick in the deplorable conditions of factory farms, farmed animals are also injected with hormones and fed with antibiotics, none of which you want to be consuming.
- Dairy products. As much as 60-75% of the world’s population can’t digest cow’s milk. In fact, researchers think that being able to digest milk beyond infancy is abnormal. Milk is also a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses, including stomach distress, constipation, diarrhea, skin rashes, acne, hives and breathing difficulties, in susceptible people. Dairy products are also packed with hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful ingredients, so avoid them.
- Refined oils. Plants do not contain arachidonic acid like meat does, but some refined common cooking oils (particularly corn, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed oils) can produce prostaglandin E2. Many common oils have very high omega-6 fatty acids and very low omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and breeds inflammatory diseases.
- Fried foods. French fries, onion rings, potato chips, corn chips, and other fried foods contain trans fat, which increases your LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, and decreases your HDL (good) cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease. Trans fat also damages the cells lining blood vessels, leading to inflammation, which plays a key role in the formation of fatty blockages in heart blood vessels. Trans fats also promote obesity and resistance to insulin.
- Refined sugar. Sugar causes tooth decay and has been linked to increased risks of obesity, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Sugar, along with dairy, also causes acne. Choose fruit when you’re craving something sweet.
- Food additives: Some artificial food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) trigger inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Food additives are good for food industry profits, but you don’t need them, and they may harm your health, so avoid them.
- Refined grains. Refined grains are devoid of fiber and vitamin B compared to unpolished and unrefined grains that still have the bran, germ, and the aleurone layer intact. This makes refined grains as bad as refined sugars, which are practically empty calories. And like refined sugars, refined grains have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed grains and can hasten the onset of degenerative diseases like cancer and coronary disease. Worse, most wheat and corn available now is genetically-modified (GM). Many serious health conditions are starting to be linked to GM wheat and corn. To avoid buying GM foods, always buy organic.
- Alcohol. Regular high consumption of alcohol has can cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, larynx (voice box), and liver. Over time, the chronic inflammation can promote cancer at the sites of repeated irritation. If you drink alcohol, choose organic red wine, which is high in antioxidants, and limit your consumption to 1-2 glasses per day. If you don’t drink, don’t start.
- Food allergens. Common food allergens are gluten, milk, nuts, eggs, and nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, ground cherries, tomatillos, garden huckleberry, tamarillos, pepinos, naranjillas, pimentos, and paprika). Contrary to common belief, it is possible to develop an allergy to the foods that you eat often. If you suspect that a particular food may be responsible for your food intolerant response, try avoiding it completely for about two weeks and monitor your reaction. At the end of the abstinence period, re-introduce the food back into your diet. If you’re in fact incompatible with it, you should be able to notice the difference in how you feel easily. If you are sensitive to gluten, choose grains or seeds like buckwheat, quinoa, or millet.
Diets rich in vegetables and fruits help prevent unnecessary inflammation. In a recent study at the University of Minnesota, researchers tracked the diets of 285 adolescents and looked for signs of inflammation on blood tests. It turned out that the more vegetables and fruits the adolescents ate, the less inflammation they had.
Top anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Vegetables. Lightly cooked organic dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (kale, collards, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower), carrots, beets, onions, snap peas, squashes, and washed raw salad greens – all are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. Fill half your plate with vegetables. These are the ultimate natural remedies to help your body heal. Eat a daily minimum of four to five servings of raw, slow-cooked, lightly simmered, or steamed veggies. (Frying, roasting, or grilling can produce inflammatory chemicals.) Try to add vegetables to every meal.
- Kelp such as kombu contains fucoidan, a type of complex carbohydrate that is anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-oxidative. The high fiber content of kelp also helps to induce fullness, slow fat absorption and promote weight loss. But whenever possible, get only organic kelps harvested from unpolluted sea. Besides kombu, wakame and arame are also good sources of fucoidan. A marine vegetable native to the Tongan Islands called limu moui is also a fucoidan powerhouse.
- Fruits. Brightly colored fruits, especially berries, peaches, nectarines, oranges, pink grapefruit, red grapes, plums, pomegranates, cherries, apples, and pears, provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoids and carotenoids. Cut down your intake of high-sugar tropical fruits and replace them with organic, seasonal, or frozen varieties in a wide range of colors.
- Legumes. Eat at least one cup per day. Legumes are a low-glycemic-index food rich in folate, magnesium, potassium, and soluble fiber. Eat a variety of legumes, such as Anasazi, adzuki, black beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lentils. Tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy nuts, and soy milk provide isoflavones that have antioxidant activity and are protective against cancer.
- Essential fats. Eat five to seven servings per day of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats from foods like nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, algae, and phytoplankton. Flax seeds are loaded with alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid with strong anti-inflammatory effects. ALA is also found in walnuts, soy products, wheat germ, vegetables, fruits, and beans. A second natural fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), is found in evening primrose, borage, black currant, and hemp. Vitamin E protects against oxidation of these fatty acids.
- Cooked Mushrooms. Eat unlimited servings of cooked mushrooms such as shiitake, enokidake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, which contain compounds that help enhance immune function.
- Spices. Add spices generously to each meal for their anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric, ginger, hot red peppers, ginseng, and garlic are all great choices. Curcumin, the yellow pigment in the curry spice turmeric is far safer and more effective than drugs in reducing inflammation.
- Tea. Drink 2-4 cups per day of white, green, and oolong teas, which provide catechins, antioxidant compounds that reduce inflammation.
- Dark chocolate. (70 percent cocoa and higher) eaten sparingly, offers antioxidant benefits.
Top Anti-inflammatory Phytochemicals
|Theophylline||green and black tea; also in cocoa and yerba mate|
|Betaxanthins||beets, amaranth, prickly pears, and chard|
|Thymol||thyme oil, ajowan seeds (also called ajwain or carom), and horsemint|
|Astaxanthin||microalgae and yeast|
|Beta-cryptoxanthin||red bell peppers, papaya, cilantro, oranges, corn, watermelon, serrano pepper, avocados, and grapefruit|
|Saponins||red wine, peas, beans, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, alfalfa, ginseng, fenugreek, wild yam, soapwort, paprika, oats, spinach, garlic, leeks, onions, chives, tea, sugar beet, quinoa, licorice, capsicum peppers, eggplant, tomato seeds, asparagus, and bean sprouts|
|Campesterol||bananas, pomegranates, saw palmetto berries, grapefruit, cucumbers, peppers, onions, potatoes, oats, lemongrass, and coffee beans|
|Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2)||mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light either while they are growing or shortly after they are picked|
|Omega-3 fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)||soy, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, grains, and spirulina|
|Omega-6 fatty acids, including linoleic acid (LA)||Brazil nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and pecans|
|Lariciresinol||sesame seeds and cruciferous vegetables|
|Rosmarinic acid||oregano, sage, lemon balm, marjoram, perilla (also known as Chinese basil), wild mint, hyssop, comfrey and of course rosemary|
|Carvacrol||some herbs of the mint family such as thyme and wild oregano|
|Caffeic acid||coffee, but also in apples, artichokes, basil, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, oregano, pears, radishes, thyme, and turnips|
|Comarin||apricots, cherries, cinnamon, strawberries, and tonka beans|
|Salicylic acid||blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, dates, raisins, kiwifruits, guavas, apricots, green pepper, olives, tomatoes, radish, mushrooms, chicory, almonds, water chestnuts, and peanuts|
|Cyanidin||most berries such as bilberry, blackberry, blueberry, cherry, cranberry, elderberry, hawthorn, loganberry and raspeberry, but also in other fruits including apples, pears, peaches and plums|
|Delphinidin||bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, black beans, cow peas, and eggplant|
|Peonidin||raw cranberries, blueberries, plums, grapes, cherries, black rice, and black bananas|
|Myricetin||grapes, berries, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and walnuts|
|Epigallocatechin||carob flour, black tea, green tea, and oolong tea|
|Kaempferol||tea, broccoli, grapefruit, cabbage, kale, beans, endive, leek, tomato, strawberries, grapes, Brussels sprouts, and apples|
|Rutin||apricots, buckwheat, cherries, prunes, rose hips, the rind of citrus fruits, and the core of green peppers|
|Hesperidin||lemons, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, apricots, plums, bilberry, green and yellow peppers, broccoli, and whole grains|
|Naringenin||fruits such as grapefruit, oranges, and tomatoes|
|Luteolin||celery, green pepper, thyme, perilla, chamomile tea, carrots, olive oil, peppermint, rosemary, navel oranges, and oregano|
It pays to choose foods that limit inflammation. Avoid animal products, fried foods, and any trigger foods that seem to cause symptoms for you, and instead emphasize vegetables and fruits, which can improve your mood. Preventing chronic diseases is also about a thoughtful lifestyle. Reduce stress and make room in your life for items that enhance your health, like exercise, massage, meditation, and yoga.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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