What Can and Can’t Reduce Inflammation

You can’t survive without me, yet I lie behind many of today’s chronic diseases.

Inflammation has become a favourite topic of wellness bloggers and influencers. It’s a scary sounding condition that’s blamed for many common illnesses, often with justification but frequently without any strong evidence.


What is inflammation?

Inflammation is usually a good thing. Without it, wounds and infections would never heal, spelling bad news for your survival.

An inflammatory response is the natural response of your immune system to any foreign invader or perceived threat, whether that’s bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, or an injury.

You’ll see acute inflammation in action if you cut or burn yourself. An influx of white blood cells and chemicals trigger redness and swelling – all part of your body’s response that begins the healing process. Inflammation is also in action out of sight, fighting off disease, including the rogue cells that cause cancer. After the initial reaction, inflammation calms down to allow your body to heal.


Can inflammation work against us?

Yes, it can. Inflammation becomes a problem when it can’t be turned off and your body continues to react to something it sees as a threat.

Persistent, invisible, low levels of inflammation (known as chronic inflammation) can damage your body. It’s linked to many long-term diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some cancers. It plays a role in inflammatory bowel disease and is even believed to contribute to certain types of depression.

Inflammation is serious, but you can do something about it. It all starts with understanding what can cause it.


What causes chronic inflammation?

Viruses, autoimmune disease like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and pathogens the body can’t get rid of can all cause inflammation. So too can:

  • ageing
  • smoking
  • poor diet
  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • being overweight, particularly carrying weight around your middle.


What you can do

Your diet and lifestyle can go a long way to calming down chronic inflammation. Getting active for as little as 20 minutes every day can reduce chronic inflammation. So too can quitting smoking, getting adequate sleep, losing weight and reducing stress.

One of the most powerful tools you have to combat inflammation is your choice of food. Pick the wrong ones and you can accelerate inflammation. But choose the right foods and you can reduce your risk of illness.

“A pretty poor typical Western diet high in highly processed convenience foods and added sugar and low in minimally processed plant foods has been implicated in inflammation,” says nutrition research scientist Dr Tim Crowe on his blog Thinking Nutrition.

“What is widely considered an anti-inflammatory diet” is one high in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes, and wholegrains,” explains Dr Crowe. The Mediterranean style diet is a good example, especially if you include fish and olive oil, as it is rich in antioxidants and other inflammation-fighting nutrients.