You may have heard already that ‘inflammation’ is a significant reason behind the increased risk of developing “lifestyle diseases” - conditions that are believed to be a result of modern lifestyles.
Ever since countries became more industrialised about 4-5 decades ago, infectious diseases like influenza and tuberculosis started to decline, only to be replaced by diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and countless more .
So, what’s the link between these lifestyles and inflammation? Read on to understand this term, and how it affects us, a little better.
What is Inflammation?
Acute inflammation, in itself, is a necessary process that occurs in response to injury or illness. It’s our immune system’s natural response and includes signs such as redness, swelling, a warm sensation, and sometimes even pain or a loss of function .
When we get a cut on our hand, for example, our body produces compounds (called ‘pro-inflammatory’ compounds) that create inflammation in the area, which signals our immune system to dispatch an army of white blood cells. The presence of these pro-inflammatory compounds also help direct the white blood cells to the site of the inflammation, where they then surround and protect the area, creating the redness and swelling that we see .
After the threat has subsided, the body produces ‘anti-inflammatory’ compounds to make the inflammation subside, and restore everything to its normal state .
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body undergoes an unnatural increase in its numbers of pro-inflammatory compounds, which linger for a longer period of time. It’s a persistent, low-grade and systemic form of inflammation.
As a result, in this state of chronic inflammation, the body’s immune cells are constantly sent to the various sites of inflammation, and may end up attacking the surrounding healthy tissues and organs. The immune cells even prolong the body’s state of inflammation by producing more pro-inflammatory compounds as well as free radicals, which also damage healthy cells [5, 6, 7].
How Does Inflammation Affect our Health?
Chronic inflammation can cause several day-to-day problems - for example, the inflammation of our hair follicle leads to hair loss .
Over time, the damage to our body's tissue and organs ends up impairing their ability to function at their best, which eventually leads to diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer's, heart disease, allergies, asthma and diabetes [5, 6, 9].
With the ongoing studies and research, it has now become clear that even the formation and growth of tumours are largely orchestrated by inflammatory cells - in fact, many cancers actually arise from sites of constant irritation and inflammation. That said, we’re still far from understanding exactly how this occurs .
How Can We Reduce Inflammation?
1. Through healthy meals
Refined grains and oils, sugary foods, alcoholic beverages and foods with bad fats (fast food and processed foods) are all associated with inflammation .
These foods are usually high in omega-6 fats, which ends up creating an imbalance in our body’s ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats.
Omega-6 fats promote inflammation, while omega-3 fats curb it . While we need to reduce our consumption of omega-6 fats, we also need to increase our intake of omega-3 fats - which brings us to:
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
These include fatty fish, nuts, and flaxseeds.
Supplements containing fish oil or marine algae are also helpful if one cannot get these foods daily.
Foods rich in antioxidants
Since free radicals can exacerbate the damage caused by inflammation, it’s a good idea to consume foods rich in antioxidants. These include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes .
Foods that contain healthy spices
The spices found in a typical kitchen in India actually come with fascinating health benefits. For example, turmeric contains an antioxidant called curcumin that has a long history of maintaining a healthy immune response and also acts as an antioxidant .
- Eating healthy portions
2. By exercising regularly
Regular exercise (even a 20-minute session of moderate exercise) exerts anti-inflammatory effects, which even goes on to reduce risk factors for heart disease and stimulate the immune system [18, 19].
3. And prioritising our sleep
Our body needs sleep to repair itself, regrow tissues, regulate hormones and work on its immune system. Poor sleep is associated with an increase in inflammation, and can also lead to other issues in the long term . Sleeping well comes with many benefits - there’s every reason to get as much shut-eye as we need, in order to feel rested and function well!
Inflammation is necessary for our body to function and stay healthy - but, like everything, it needs to be moderated. Doing this comes down to the basics: good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle!
We hope we were able to increase your understanding of the concept and motivated you a little to move towards a healthier, happier lifestyle! :)