Inflammation is a normal process that protects and heals the body following a physical injury or an infection. At the site of an injury, it floods the area with fluids causing swelling, and turns the area red and hot feeling. These obvious signs are caused by the release from cell walls of substances to fight the infection or injury.
This all sounds like a reasonable response but some inflammatory reactions don't just kill the pathogens but also adjacent cells, sick and healthy alike. Damage to the body's own tissues often results in chronic inflammation, which, aside from a viral or microbial infection, can result from an environmental antigen (e.g., pollen, cigarette smoke, peanuts, etc.), autoimmune reaction, or persistent activation of inflammatory molecules.
Several human diseases are inflammatory in nature, including asthma, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and others. Additionally, a number of chronic diseases have inflammatory components, such as atherosclerosis, obesity, abdominal obesity, diabetes, cancer, and perhaps even Alzheimer's Disease.
Artherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease resulting in the accumulation of cholesterol-laden plaque in artery walls. Rupture of the plaque results in clot formation, which may result in heart attack or stroke.
Obesity and abdominal obesity are risk factors for several diseases associated with inflammation: cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. It's known that abdominal or visceral fat tissue secretes several inflammatory factors. Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential in reducing chronic inflammation, especially in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The problem is not just excess weight, but where it's located.
Diet can be a critical factor in controlling chronic inflammation. Studies have found that diets high in saturated fat (fats that are mostly solid at room temperature) and trans fat (normally liquid fats that are commercially solidified) are pro-inflammatory in nature. In contrast, some studies have found that keeping to a Mediterranean-style diet - a diet high in monounsaturated fats - may help reduce inflammation. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, fish, whole grains, and moderate consumption of alcohol. Several of these foods are important sources of essential fatty acids that are involved in maintaining better health.
(Take a look at the "Food as Nature's Medicine" video at the bottom of this page for information on inflammation fighting fruits and vegetables.)
Foods high on the glycemic index (GI) contribute to inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes. The GI is a measure of the glucose forming potential in the carbohydrates of different foods. High glycemic foods send glucose levels soaring, triggering release of insulin from the pancreas. In contrast, low glycemic foods provide a slower but more sustained glucose release, without the quick climb up and the following crash of insulin. The Mediterranean-style diet is a low glycemic diet.
Flaxseeds and their oil, walnuts and their oil, and canola oil are healthy fats. Oily fish and fish oils provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, also helpful for reducing chronic inflammation. Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals are also essential in controlling chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is a good thing, but sometimes the body overreacts and inflammation become too much of a good thing. We need to help the body moderate inflammation and feed the flames wisely.
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The following video might introduce you to some anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables: