Dietary and Lifestyle Ways to Manage Inflammation


Dietary Ways to Manage Inflammation

 

  • Cut out inflammatory foods.  These include processed refined sugars, grains, and flours; high fructose corn syrup (HFCS); products from grain-fed animals; trans fats; and refined “white” vegetable oils—especially those derived from corn, soybean, and cottonseed.  These and other “cheap, stripped” oils are often found in commercial salad dressings and processed foods and are loaded with omega-6 inflammatory fatty acids (Tables 1 and 2, below).  Limit consumption of the nightshade vegetables—potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tobacco—which have an alkaloid, solanine, which can exacerbate pain caused by inflammation.
  • Eat whole foods, especially colorful, nutrient-dense plant-based foods rich in anti-oxidant phytonutrients (to contain oxidative stress) and with a low glycemic index (to control insulin).   Or, combine higher glycemic color-rich personal favorites with good fats and proteins, which also work to control blood sugar and insulin. [October ’07 Newsletter]
  • When possible, choose grass-fed animal products, which have an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-3/ omega-6 fatty acids.  This healthy balance of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids means that grass-fed animal products are “neutral” with respect to inflammation.  [September ’09 Newsletter]
  • Use good fats and oils.  For the dinner table choose extra-virgin olive oil—low in omega-6 fatty acids, it is essentially “neutral” concerning inflammation.  Also at the table consider flax oil and flax meal [See recipes, below].  For cooking, try stable fats like butter or ghee from grass-fed animals, as well as unrefined coconut oil.  Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, an anti-microbial that fights bacteria and viruses that can lead to inflammation.1 ( Table 2, below)
  • Consider a daily fish oil supplement.  Fish oil is the most powerful and efficient way to reduce inflammation.  Supplementing with fish oil is important because you cannot get enough by eating fish.  This is because most beneficial fish oil is in the skin and is lost in cooking; and, of course, the skin is often not eaten.  I prefer fermented cod liver oil2 as a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA and DHA.  EPA inhibits enzymes that foster inflammation, while DHA is vital for brain function.  Fish oil is the only direct source of EPA and DHA.  For specific tips on using fish oil, see below. [Flax oil is not a comparable substitute for fish oil since it must be converted to EPA.  This requires healthy functioning cells and adequate levels of vitamins B3, B6, and C, and magnesium and zinc—which cannot be counted on.]
  • Cook with anti-inflammatory herbs, and spices such as turmeric and ginger.  These inhibit the enzyme that makes arachidonic acid (AA), the precursor for inflammatory hormones.  Turmeric, ginger, and rosemary are also powerful antioxidants.
  • Eliminate any potential food allergens (e.g., wheat, corn, soy, egg whites, gluten, dairy, yeast, peanuts) in order to support and restore both intestinal health and immunity (see Probiotics, below).
  • Try to buy organic produce, especially when purchasing fruits and vegetables with very high pesticide levels (See Table 3, below).   Pesticides and toxins disrupt good intestinal flora and weaken the immune system.  Both of these factors create inflammation.
  • Consider probiotics (e.g., fermented foods [July ’09] or a high-grade probiotic supplement) to maintain and/or to restore good intestinal bacteria.  Inflammation is tied to “gut” health in several ways:   First, because “good” intestinal bacteria are the backbone of the immune system;3 and a healthy immune system is important to manage the inflammatory response.    And second, because good bacteria are essential to protect the delicate intestinal wall. The intestine works as a sentry—no food enters the blood stream without passing through the mucosal lining of the digestive system.  Nothing “gets into” the body without passing through this barrier.  But, this lining is fragile; it is only one cell in depth, and stretched out, spans the size of a tennis court.  If the barrier is damaged, toxins and undigested foods can enter the blood stream (“leaky-gut syndrome”)4 to create allergic reactions and autoimmune disorders.
  • Eat adequate protein with each meal to balance blood sugar. The concept of a Barry Sear’s “Zone Diet” is to have every meal include moderate portions of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, where a protein serving is defined as 3-4 ounces.   This balance curbs insulin (the nutrient/fat storage hormone that responds to blood sugar spikes from carbohydrates) and stimulates the secretion of glucagon (the hormone that assures the flow of glucose for the brain by causing the release of glycogen from the liver).

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Lifestyle Approaches to Manage Inflammation

 

  • Moderate aerobic exercise 5-6 days a week helps prevent insulin resistance. A brisk 45-60 minute walk is perfect. [Excessive exercise, no matter how good the diet, is inflammatory and does more harm than good.5 ]  Moderate aerobic exercise raises your heart rate and stress level, which forces your cells to become more responsive to taking up glucose from the bloodstream.  When this happens, it relieves the pancreas, allowing it to secrete less insulin into the bloodstream.  It is important to keep insulin at bay, because insulin boosts arachidonic acid (AA), a precursor of inflammatory hormones.6
  • Weight trainingseveral days a weekcan help reduce insulin levels and strengthen immunity.  Unlike aerobic exercise which burns fat, strength training burns glucose so it does not directly melt away fat stores.  But, by building muscle, what it does do is to make it easier for the body to gobble up glucose from the bloodstream, so less insulin is required.  Greater muscle mass also boosts immunity because the body stores amino acids in the muscles, including glutamine, which is a major building block of specialized immune cells.7
  • Avoiding “visceral” (belly) fatcurbs chronic inflammation. This is because the body uses visceral fat as a place to store excess AA (a precursor of inflammatory hormones) in order to prevent high AA levels and inflammation from affecting vital cells.  Visceral fat is metabolically active and allows for the steady release of stored AA into the bloodstream, where it can then be taken up by the cells.”8 In short, belly fat fosters inflammation, which leads to more fat deposits, which creates more inflammation.
  • A regular relaxation strategy helps  lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is an anti-stress hormone whose job it is to turn off the inflammatory response, but constant stress and chronic inflammation keep it elevated.   Mediation, yoga, deep breathing or any quiet relaxation for 20-30 minutes a day can help normalize cortisol.  And, deep breathing helps to expel toxins, free radicals, and inflammatory agents from the body.
  • An early bedtime and enough sleep honors the body’s natural biorhythms. The hours before midnight are the most efficient for restoring the body.  Sleep is the body’s own form of natural mediation.   Sufficient nighttime sleep allows cortisol to follow its natural cyclical ebb and flow, dropping off around midnight and peaking about sunrise.9

 

  1. Enig []
  2. Available from Green Pastures and Radiant Life. See January 2010 Shopping Guide. []
  3. See Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, 25-30. []
  4. Primary causes of “leaky-gut” syndrome include low-fiber, high-sugar, refined-flour, and processed foods; overuse of medications, such as NSAIS, antibiotics, acid blockers, hormones, steroids, and birth control pills; toxins such as mercury and molds; low-grade imbalances, such as yeasts, parasites, and bad bacteria; and stress…Mark Hyman. []
  5. Dr. Barry Sears, The Anti-Inflammation Zone. []
  6. Sears, 24. []
  7. Sears, 106. []
  8. Sears, 238. []
  9. See Bruce McEwen, The End of Stress as We Know It. []