by Kayla Little, RDN, LDN, cPTInflammation has become a buzzword in the health and wellness world within the last 5-10 years, and it seems everyone is trying to “decrease inflammation.”
Part of the reason for this is that more and more research is uncovering links between chronic inflammation and the development of health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Sufficient, uninterrupted sleep, regular movement, and a rigorous exercise regimen can help to minimize inflammation. Reducing stress – a major part of both depression and anxiety disorders – can also reduce inflammation. When there is substance use, it’s important to know that avoiding excess alcohol, soda, and processed foods can decrease inflammation.
The other major component of our inflammation profile is how and what we eat. Some interesting recent research confirms that eating more slowly and eating less, more often, may reduce the level of inflammation.
So what is this inflammation? In common language it is the body’s process of warding off foreign bodies. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), “inflammation occurs when tissues are injured. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling. This helps isolate the foreign substance from further contact with body tissues.”
How does this affect our daily health? Well, the body can experience unnecessary inflammation caused by lifestyle choices at a micro level in the brain, arteries, gut (or intestines) and joints, directly impacting how we feel on a macro level. Science is learning more and more every day about how the gut-brain axis affects mental health, including depression and anxiety – two major causes of substance use disorder.
If the brain is in an inflammatory state, it is unable to fire directly, creating delayed response in decision-making processes as well as setting the stage for depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.
When the gut is inflamed, it is unable to absorb nutrition adequately, wreaking havoc on the rest of the system including the brain – if the brain is “starving” how can we expect it to work at full capacity?
Joint and arterial inflammation can lead to chronic pain and risk of heart attack. Chronic pain and fibromyalgia contribute to the list of leading causes of substance use disorder.
A visual plan Dr. Andrew Weil, the holistic health expert, devised an anti-inflammatory food pyramid that demonstrates the best way to consume anti-inflammatory foods, starting with highest quantities from the bottom and tapering your way up Consuming a diet rich in fresh, wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, lean protein and healthy fats while limiting processed foods, soda, artificial sweeteners, and excessive amounts of both alcohol and sodium is a surefire way to decrease inflammation and improve gut health. Water and herbal teas – such as green, white, and oolong – are the most important beverages to decrease inflammation. How much water? Probably more than you currently take in. Shoot for half your body weight in ounces of water per day – 120 pounds, 60 ounces of water.
Try this day of nutrition to begin your anti-inflammatory lifestyle:
Fruit and Greens Smoothie:
2/3c plain Greek yogurt
1 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup kale
1/2 medium banana
1 cup berries
1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
Apple w. 1 Tablespoon of Peanut Butter
Herbal Green, white or oolong tea
Brown Rice w. Sautéed Onion, Garlic, Turmeric, Mushroom, Slivered almonds
Rotisserie chicken w. skin removed
Edamame and Berries
Herbal Green, white or oolong tea
Mixed greens salad w. onion and Grilled Salmon
Olive oil based salad dressing
Mashed sweet potato w. Cinnamon
1oz 80% dark chocolate