Inflammation. Wrote a little song about it, like to hear it? Here it goes!
Sorry, sometimes when I’m trying to focus on writing about health, the ladies of En Vogue start belting out songs in my head. No, I didn’t really write you a diva-licious power song about inflammation (although I’d be a lot cooler if I did). I do, however, have some facts to share with you today that could have a big impact on your health, your looks, and how you feel.
Inflammation: It Ain’t All Bad
Inflammation has become quite the buzzword these days. We’ve all heard it, we know it has negative implications, and we don’t want it. Bad, bad inflammation! Actually, the inflammatory response is beneficial in acute cases. When we are wounded or infected with a germ, our bodies orchestrate an amazingly complex symphony of biochemical reactions and molecular signals. The purpose being to send in the white blood cell superheroes to engulf and destroy the invading germs, allowing our body to heal and repair. This is how our immune system keeps us healthy. Our bodies have such amazing innate abilities, working constantly behind the scenes to keep us well. So why has inflammation become such a dirty word?
When Friend Becomes Foe
Inflammation is a problem when it becomes widespread, low-grade, on-going, and out-of-whack. Those orchestral maneuvers in the dark that were so helpful in keeping that spinach-chopping knife wound from becoming infected, take a turn and become self-destructive. Your superheroes are no longer being called in to fight the good fight, and instead are attacking and damaging normal cells. Chronic inflammation is linked to chronic diseases from A to Z… arthritis, Alzheimer’s, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, and many more. This long-term inflammation can result from our body’s inability to eliminate whatever was causing acute inflammation, an autoimmune response to a self-antigen (such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis), or a continuous irritant of low-intensity that persists. Chronic inflammation doesn’t just damage our health, it also affects our looks, leading to premature skin wrinkling, sagging skin, acne, and even hair loss.
Many of us are living pro-inflammatory lives, putting our bodies on simmer without even realizing it. The foods we eat, stress, and lifestyle choices can contribute to the smoldering fire within. Some of the ways we extinguish the flames:
- Diet – A mostly plant-based, whole food (real food) diet is linked to lower incidences of chronic inflammation. Sugar, refined flours, processed foods (packaged crackers, chips, cookies), fried foods, trans and saturated fat, alcohol, and too much dairy and meat can all contribute to inflammation. Check out my Recipes page for plant-based inspiration, and my post on conquering sugar cravings for easy and healthy ways to satisfy or outsmart your sweet tooth without sugar or concentrated/refined sweeteners.
- Sleep – Many studies are linking poor sleep habits with chronic inflammation, disease, lower life expectancy, and obesity (which in and of itself is a contributor to inflammation). Just another reason to get your 8 hours of z’s.
- Exercise – Moving our bodies regularly helps regulate insulin response, strengthens our cardiovascular system, reduces stress, and improves our immune system. Over-exercising can cause inflammation, so be sure to take it easy. After a tough work-out get plenty of sleep, and employ some anti-inflammatory foods (like my Island Smoothie;)) to help your body heal and repair.
- Go with your Gut – If honey buns and cheese puffs have been making a regular appearance in your diet, chances are your gut flora might be in need of some TLC. Probiotics and fermented food can help bring balance to your belly, improving digestion. Re-balancing bacteria in the gut, as well as improving diet and lifestyle can heal leaky gut syndrome, a huge contributor to inflammation that is becoming more and more common.
- Reduce Stress – Actively relaxing with yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, a hot bath, and/or deep breathing exercises tells your body that all is well, halting the surge of stress hormones and reducing inflammation.
- Lower Exposure to Environmental Toxins – This is a toughie because we often have little control over what chemicals and toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis. Try to reduce your use of plastics, chemical-laden house cleaners, and personal care products.
Anti-Inflammation Power Foods
Reducing inflammation is pretty common-sense business. Basically, we need to stop overworking our bodies by stressing out, staying up half the night, and introducing foreign substances into our bodies in the form of environmental toxins and mass-produced processed “foods.” Simplify! If it doesn’t look like something that came from nature, don’t eat it or greatly reduce your consumption of it. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds have powerful anti-inflammation properties, and these are what we want to base our diets on. Here are some of my favorite anti-inflammatory foods:
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Shitake Mushrooms
- Nuts – Especially Almonds and Walnuts
- Tart Cherries
- Fermented Foods – Kimchi, Miso, Tempeh
- Tea – Especially Matcha Green Tea Powder
- Coconut water
The Anti-Inflammatory Island Smoothie
Implementing more of these powerful foods will give you an extra boost when embarking on a inflammation-free lifestyle. Want an easy and particularly delicious way to get a whole slew of them in one sitting? Try my tropically inspired Anti-Inflammatory Island Smoothie, which features a whopping 6 of the above favorite inflammation busters. This smoothie features a new favorite ingredient of mine, fresh turmeric root. I’m obsessed! I’ve been using dried/ground turmeric in recipes for some time, but when I spotted turmeric root at our grocery store a few weeks ago, it was like striking gold! If inflammation is the root of all evil in terms of health, turmeric is literally the root of all that is well and good.
This smoothie is brimming with beauty benefits galore! It contains yummy ingredients known to support healthier skin (soft and glowing with less acne and wrinkles), healthier hair (shinier, thicker, less shedding), and better digestion. In the last few weeks, the warmer weather has prompted a ramping up of my running game; I’ve been aiming to run more often and further distances. While this would normally lead to the dreaded “I can’t stand up from the toilet” syndrome and intense leg muscle soreness, I’m convinced that regularly whipping up this smoothie has helped stave off some that post-workout pain and fatigue. Also, it just tastes amazing! The fresh turmeric enhances the tropical fruit flavors in a way that I can’t describe, but it’s seriously delightful and fresh! The avocado adds creaminess and healthy fats. The green tea matcha powder is optional, but I love the additional layer of fresh, green, slightly grassy flavor it adds. Sounds weird, but it is so delicious. This smoothie will make you want to lie in a hammock and enjoy the warm spring breeze. Here’s to health and less inflammation!
Anti-Inflammatory Island Smoothie with Fresh Turmeric Root
1 cup of coconut water (look for a brand with no added sugar)
1 cup of pineapple chunks, frozen
1 cup of papaya chunks, frozen
1/2 small avocado or 1/4 of a large avocado
1 inch piece of fresh turmeric root
2 handfuls of spinach – optional
1/2 tsp matcha powder – optional
squeeze of lime
Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender. If using a regular blender, you may want to add more coconut water.
Resources and Further Reading
- What is Inflammation? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248423.php
- Sleep Loss and Inflammation http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548567/