Everyday Health, written by Eva Selhub, MD
If you are like most people, you lead a rather stress-filled life — a life filled with demands, and little time for rest and relaxation. With little time for you, you eat fast food rather than preparing a healthy meal, you choose more coffee over getting more sleep, and you spend hours hovering over your computer or smartphone instead of being outside and enjoying nature. In response to the overload of rampant stress, your body’s inflammatory response goes into hyper-drive. Because of these high levels of inflammation, you feel dis-ease rather than ease.
In other words, not only do you feel tired, achy, and moody, but you handle stress less effectively because every part of your body is negatively affected by this unnecessary inflammatory process. This includes your brain, as inflammation and oxidative stress can worsen your memory and your ability to think clearly or be happy. Inflammation has been linked to heart disease, depression, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis… Shall I go on?
The key word here is “unnecessary.” Some inflammation is necessary for you to function so that your body can rid itself of unwanted toxins or expedite wound healing. This inflammation is meant to be short lived — to perform necessary tasks and then stop. Inflammation is a natural reaction your body is meant to have as a warning signal for you to do something different, take care of yourself, not keep doing the same thing that is leading to the inflammation in the first place. When you expose yourself to chronic psychological, emotional, or physical — including negative thoughts, junk or processed foods, lack of sleep, or little exercise —inflammation becomes chronic too. Studies show, for instance, that both lack of sleep and social isolation impact inflammation and can have a negative effect on disease risk.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do about it, from working on your negative thought patterns, getting more sleep, eating a healthier diet, exercising, and meditating to spending more time in nature. In fact, studies show that by spending more time in nature, you can counteract some of the pollutants that can increase inflammation and fatigue. Other studies show that meditation practices, like guided-imagery relaxation, can reduce the inflammatory response.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing inflammation is by fueling your body with food that supports you.
There are many types of inflammatory foods, including sugars and syrups, processed foods, and certain grain products. Here are some additional examples:
- Cornmeal, starch, and syrup
- Powders such as gluten, maltodextrin, or milk
- Artificial sweeteners
- Grains such as baked goods or crackers, chips, processed junk food, or energy bars
- Fruit juices, energy drinks, flavored milks or mixes, soft drinks, sports drinks, or sweetened drinks, mayonnaise, ketchup, or anything that has added fructose corn syrup or sugar
- Trans-fat and partially hydrogenated oils (like canola), margarine, vegetable oils, or buttery spreads.
Avoid these food groups because they drive insulin production, fat storage (rather than fat use), inflammation, and oxidative stress.
6 Ways to Reduce Inflammation
- Spend 20 to 30 minutes a day doing something outdoors. Allow yourself some sunlight exposure and that needed vitamin D, or take a mindful walk and enjoy the beauties of nature.
- Move your body and stay active. Amp up your exercise regimen to three to four times per week. Be sure to alternate between days where you perform moderate exercise (you can hold a conversation) and vigorous exercise (you can only focus on breathing, let alone talking).
- Improve your sleep time and quality. Remove stimulants from your bedroom (like your computer, work papers, or television), and avoid stimulants like caffeine before bed. Instead, consider meditating before bed, taking a relaxing bath, and hitting the pillow earlier.
- Work on building a strong social support network. Regularly meet up with friends and family, or participate in a group where you share like interests. You can also meet with a counselor or therapist. And, in general, don’t wait too long to ask for help (or a hug).
- Develop a meditation practice. This can be yoga, sitting quietly for 10 to 20 minutes, practicing deep breathing, or taking a mindful walk. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it.
- Try to follow an 80-20 nutrition plan. This means 80 percent of your food intake in non-inflammatory, and the other 20 percent are foods you like that may be inflammatory. In general, I recommend:
- Avoiding simple or refined sugars or carbohydrates
- Cutting down your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Limiting saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, and processed foods
- Eating more greens, legumes, and vegetables
- Picking foods rich in essential fatty acids and MCFAs
- Using high-quality protein sources (especially grass-fed animal sources that lack hormones)
- Choosing a wide variety of berries, spices and herbs that offer a high source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- Adding fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or miso to your nutrition plan
These are only just a few ways you can reduce inflammation in your body. Ultimately, it is up to you to make healthier choices. What will you choose? Ease or disease?