If I asked a variety of people what one condition is the cause of most diseases, disorders, and discomforts, I’d probably get a host of different answers, ranging from stress to diet to inactivity. And while those factors certainly have negative impacts on health, science is now confirming what functional medicine doctors have known for quite a while: chronic inflammation is a major contributor to most major health problems, from arthritis and Alzheimer’s to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Chronic inflammation differs from acute inflammation—acute inflammation is the body’s healthy short-term response to injury or infection, whereas chronic inflammation happens when the immune system perceives a threat that isn’t actually there and stays on high alert for a long period of time. Over time, this can lead to or worsen:
- cardiovascular disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- arthritis or RA
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- autoimmune diseases
- neurodegenerative diseases
These are just some examples of the health risks chronic inflammation can cause. This type of inflammation is typically caused by environmental toxins, diet and lifestyle choices, like smoking, poor eating habits, chronic stress, and obesity. However, inflammation also tends to increase with age—referred to as “inflammaging”—but is age-related inflammation inevitable?
As we age, we inevitably accumulate cellular damage, and our bodies tend to have higher levels of certain inflammatory proteins and are less able to clear out damage and toxins. Their continued buildup can result in organ function decline and damage as well as tissue dysfunction and the type of age-related chronic diseases listed above. In the past, it was thought that the blood-brain barrier protected the brain from being affected by inflammatory proteins, but science has now shown that those proteins cause autoimmune reactions in the brain as well, leading to health issues like depression, Alzheimer’s, autism, and poor memory. A study published in by the National Institutes of Health states, “Systemic increases in inflammation is believed to contribute to increased disease prevalence and severity during aging.”
Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in chronic inflammation—by making the right choices at any age, you can reduce, reverse, or prevent chronic inflammation. And while chronic inflammation is a common factor in age-related diseases, there are plenty of things we can do to help stop or reverse inflammation; this, in turn, can minimize our risk of developing these diseases and potentially let us live longer, healthier, more active lives.
Things like quitting smoking, reducing stress, and getting regular exercise to help your body flush toxins are good steps and beneficial in many ways. With diet, what you put into your body has a direct effect on energy, mood, and inflammation. It’s just as important to know which foods cause inflammation as it is to understand which ones prevent or reduce it. Here are a few to get you started; there are lots more inflammation-fighting foods as well:
Foods that Cause Inflammation
Added sugars (pastries, sodas, sports and energy drinks, candy, etc.)
Starchy “white” foods such as white bread, white rice, white potatoes
Processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, most deli meats
All processed foods
Foods that Fight Inflammation
Leafy greens (the darker the better)
Omega-3-rich fatty seafood (fresh caught, not farm raised)
Certain seeds and nuts, like walnuts, flax and chia seeds
Fresh fruits including apples, blueberries, cherries, pineapple
Fresh vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus
Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon
Don’t just think of these measures as something you’ll do “when the time comes”, “when you reach that certain age”, or once you start experiencing problems caused by chronic inflammation. The best time to start is now, at whatever stage of life you may be, so you can give your body the best advantage to avoid unnecessary suffering and damage.