Calming the fires of inflammation

RGBstock photo-somadjinn

RGBstock photo-somadjinn

No one likes inflammatory situations. They usually spell trouble. And when it comes to those related to your health, inflammation can indeed be risky. So taking steps to reduce any likelihood is very smart indeed.

Inflammation is now a hotbed of research as it is emerging as a major factor in a whole range of chronic ailments from heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some cancers.

Short term or acute inflammation is something we’re all familiar with – a cut finger can become inflamed and turn red. It can be a sign that the body has revved up its healing process and sent out compounds to mend the wound. Inflammation over.

But science is now showing that there is something called chronic inflammation and that it’s anything but healthy. It appears that certain lifestyle elements puts the inflammatory process into overdrive so instead of just reacting to a situation requiring healing like a cut, the body continues to release these compounds. Obesity, high blood pressure and some foods are among those factors that seem to rev the inflammatory process.  And blood levels of these substances can now be measured.  C-reactive protein (CRP), and cytokine readings are just two that can signal that trouble may be brewing.

And the potential cost to health is now coming to light. For example, research shows that inflammation in the arteries can lead to a greater chance of plaque build up and a narrowing of the arteries. It can also lead to plaque instability meaning that portions of the plaque can break off from the artery and lodge in the heart or brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

And it’s not just affairs of the heart involved. A review study published in the journal Diabetes Care looked at the levels certain compounds in the blood that measure inflammation and their link to the development of type 2 or what used to be called adult-onset diabetes. And across all ethnic groups, high levels of inflammatory readings went hand in hand with the odds of developing diabetes.

Cancer research shows that while some cancers or malignancies may be caused initially by exposure to a carcinogen or cancer causing agent,  other tumours  may occur when inflamed cells mutate or become abnormal and  then cancerous.

Keeping inflammation at bay requires two different action plans. Reducing the level of pro-inflammatory factors –those that promote inflammation – is vital.  At the same time, changes that unleash anti-inflammatory action are also key in defending against a growing list of diseases.

Here are a few smart calming lifestyle strategies to reduce inflammatory tendencies.

•    Practice girth control
Excess weight and inflammation can go hand in hand. And scientists continue to discover what a damaging combo they can be. Besides the increased risk for conditions that partner with obesity such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, even ailments like osteoarthritis are being looked at in a different light.

For example, it’s not unusual for an obese person to suffer from joint pain simply because of the excess weight being carried.  But there’s more to the story. Elevated levels of CRP and other inflammatory compounds are also contributing to the situation.

•    Get moving
Regular exercise – even without achieving weight loss in those carrying extra pounds – is linked to lower measures of inflammation in the blood.  Research shows that  it may be even more important for those who are overweight to reap the anti-inflammatory perks of exercise.

Shedding excess pounds, though,  through both diet and exercise has been shown to reduce inflammatory readings more so than just diet alone.

•    Get rid of trans fats
Though the use of trans fats has decreased in packaged foods – as consumers now know to look for them on nutrition labels, they continue to be used in many eateries including schools and hospitals. Hard margarines, doughnuts and pastries are also still major sources. Back in 2006, a federal task force recommended legislation to help rid the food supply of this harmful fat. The US is banning it from their food supply yet here in Canada, the government is concerned that it would be too much of a financial hardship on the food industry.

•    Slash the refined carbs
Yet another reason to skip sugar-laden selections and go for whole grains. Simply reducing carbohydrate intake is also not the route to take as low carb diets have been linked to higher CRP readings.  A low glycemic index eating plan, on the other hand, is connected with lower inflammatory compounds.

Up next: foods with anti-inflammatory action

Have you been told to make any lifestyle changes due to readings of inflammatory compounds? Please share what you have done in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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