How to Prevent and Manage Chronic Inflammation
For some, preventing chronic inflammation may not be possible. This may be the case with individuals who have already developed irreversible autoimmune disorders. What scientists and doctors do know is that even in people who can’t eradicate chronic inflammation, it can be managed.
Besides medication prescribed by doctors to help with symptoms, there are other things that can help manage or even prevent the onset of chronic inflammation.
Some of these practices include:
- A healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Healthy stress management
- Giving up smoking
- Cutting down on or eliminating alcohol
- Getting enough sleep
Choosing an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
A healthy diet is a great way to reduce inflammation. Just as eating unhealthy food can lead to inflammation, eating healthy foods can help reduce inflammation.
Some foods, such as these beneficial foods, are better than others at helping reduce inflammation:
- Berries. Blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are known for reducing inflammation and helping regulate the immune system.
- Fatty fishes. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids EPA and DHA found in fish help reduce inflammation.
- Cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are very healthy for your body and have been associated with lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer. Examples of cruciferous vegetables are: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, Kale, and Green cabbage.
- Avocados. Avocados are considered a superfood. With high levels of potassium, magnesium, fiber, and healthy fats, these are especially good to include in a healthy diet. Some studies also show that they may have an anti-inflammatory compound.
- Green tea. Research shows that green tea can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity. Green tea has an antioxidant called EGCG that helps inhibit inflammation.
- Peppers. Peppers are high in vitamin C and antioxidants known for reducing inflammation.
- Grapes. Grapes are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and eye disorders. They also contain anthocyanins, a compound that has antioxidant effects.
- Tomatoes. Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene which is an antioxidant that is good for reducing inflammation.
- Nuts. Nuts include healthy fats and vitamin E that have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Extra virgin olive oil. This oil is a healthy fat that has been linked to reduced risk for heart disease, brain cancer, and stroke. Extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants and oleic acid that studies show can help reduce inflammation.
- Whole grains. Whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat bread are considered a healthy alternative to refined grains. The fiber in these grains may also help fight inflammation.
- Herbs and spices. Some herbs and spices thought to reduce inflammation are:
- White willow bark
- Maritime pine bark
- Chili peppers
- Black pepper
In general, a healthy diet that consists of vegetables and dark leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, fish, healthy fats, and nuts is beneficial for reducing inflammation.
Foods to Avoid that May Cause Inflammation
There are also foods and ways of preparing food that can increase inflammation in the body.
Some things to avoid when trying to have an anti-inflammatory diet are:
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread or pastries
- Fried foods
- Sweetened beverages
- Red meat
- Processed meat like hot dogs and sausage
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
- Foods that are highly processed, like boxed cereals and other meals
- Sugar and sweeteners
- Trans fats
How Exercise Can Help Reduce Inflammation
Since exercise causes acute inflammation it may seem counterintuitive to include it on the list of things to help with chronic inflammation.
While exercising can result in acute (short-term) inflammation, it’s a healthy part of growing muscles and getting stronger.
As long as you avoid long-term injury while exercising, it can help decrease your risk of chronic inflammation. Research published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity found that even 20 minutes of exercise a day can help the body’s immune system.
A 20-minute-a-day exercise routine also helped produce an anti-inflammatory response in the body and reduced the evidence of cytokine TNF. The study found that the workout does not have to be intense. In fact, fast walking can be enough to help with inflammation.
Exercising also helps you stay healthy by reducing your risk of disease and helps with weight control.
Sleep and Reducing Chronic Inflammation
Poor sleep habits, not getting enough sleep at night, or struggling with insomnia can increase your risk of inflammation.
Reduced sleep can lead to many challenges including increased stress, reduced productivity, decreased cognitive function, and fatigue. Not getting enough sleep can also make you feel irritable which can affect relationships, creating more stress.
As mentioned earlier in this eBook, stress is one of the drivers of inflammation. This is one reason why a lack of sleep can lead to inflammation, but there are others as well.
Scientists have learned that sleep, immune function, and inflammation are all regulated by our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm helps your body know when to go to sleep and when to wake up, and it also tells the immune system and consequently the inflammatory response when to function.
Michael J Breus, Ph.D., DABSM of The Sleep Doctor explains it this way:
Laboratory studies have tested acute, prolonged sleep deprivation—conditions under which sleep is restricted for 24 hours or more—and found this severe degree of sleep loss increases inflammation activity in the body. Scientists have also studied partial sleep deprivation, the kind of chronic, insufficient sleep that so many people experience in their daily lives. While the study results are mixed, many studies show this form of everyday sleep loss also elevates inflammation.
Getting enough sleep is not always so simple. If you struggle with going to bed at night or sleeping through the night you may be wondering how you can improve your sleep.
There are many reasons why people struggle to get enough sleep, and not all of them can be addressed here. However, we will provide some simple solutions for getting sleep at night and lowering the risk of chronic inflammation.
Consider these sleep tips:
- Turn off screens before bed. Watching TV or scrolling on your phone before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep or sleep well. Screens can emit a blue light that tells your brain that it’s daytime. This can affect your sleep negatively. Cut out screens for an hour or two before you go to bed.
- Exercise. Daily exercise can help you get the sleep you need at night. Just try to avoid working out too close to bedtime as this can have the opposite effect and make it difficult to fall asleep.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Those with kids know the importance of a bedtime routine to help kids fall asleep at night. A bedtime routine can also help adults get the rest they need. Your bedtime routine may involve a warm shower, a cup of hot tea, meditation, prayer, or whatever is soothing to you.
- Limit caffeine, especially in the afternoon or later evening. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine, and too much consumed during the day can make it hard to sleep at night. It may also help to only drink caffeine in the early morning as opposed to closer to bedtime.
- Go to bed at the same time. It’s not always easy as an adult to go to bed or wake up at the same time, but science shows that a set sleep schedule can help with falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Talk with your doctor. If sleep is an ongoing issue for you, talk with your doctor about getting the sleep you need each night.