Inflammation is something we’ve all experienced – it happens with minor injuries and illnesses, like a sprained ankle or a bad head cold. It’s painful, warm to the touch, and sometimes causes visible swelling, but it’s also a necessary part of the immune system’s response to these health setbacks.
However, there are times when inflammation doesn’t contribute to healing – chronic, systemic inflammation is a continual process which is at the heart of many illnesses and chronic pain conditions. And the worst part is, you can be making it worse and not even be aware of it.
Here are some ways you may be inadvertently contributing to chronic inflammation in your body, and ways you can interrupt the process and hopefully promote healing instead.
1. Not Enough Water
When your body is deprived of water, your cellular function slows down, affecting every single organ in your body. Brain fog, headaches, fatigue, hunger, and other conditions aren’t far behind – so make sure you’re drinking that six to eight recommended glasses of water a day!
According to one article, hypersomotic stress – which is caused by dehydration – “is linked to many maladies, including acute and chronic, as well as local and systemic, inflammatory disorders.”(1)
2. Grain Consumption
Whole grains are less associated with chronic inflammation than refined grains. When you’re picking bread and other grain products, check the ingredient list for “whole wheat” as opposed to “wheat” or “wheat flour” – opting for whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa can make a world of difference(2).
A lot of people opt for diet sodas because they assume that having a lower calorie content makes it the healthier choice. But significant research has shown that the artificial sweeteners contained in diet sodas can lead to an increased insulin response, which is associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other inflammatory conditions(3).
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to soda, consider sparkling water flavored with fruit.
4. Eating Processed Foods
Many processed foods contain emulsifiers – preservative agents that are known to cause inflammation and other conditions in animal models(4). If your diet is heavy in fast foods, consider cutting down – you may notice that your inflammation levels go down as well.
5. Too Much Sugar In Your Diet
While artificial sweeteners are bad for your health, sugar itself can also cause intestinal inflammation(4). What’s more, diets that limit the intake of sugar “are associated with decreased risk of a variety of chronic disease.”(5)
6. You Skip Cultured Foods (Probiotics)
“Western civilization is facing a progressive increase in immune-mediated, gut-related health problems, such as allergies and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, and genetic factors are an unlikely explanation for these rapid increases in disease incidence,” writes Erika Isolauri, of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Turku, Finland(6).
Isolauri suggests that probiotics can serve as natural inflammatories – “the modification of gut microflora by probiotic therapy may offer a therapeutic potential in clinical conditions associated with gut-barrier dysfunction and inflammatory disease.”
7. You Don’t Eat Your Leafy Greens
Studies have shown that dietary nitrate – which is found in dark leafy green vegetables like kale and beetroot – can reverse inflammatory effects(7), so be sure to get lots of these important veggies.
8. “Good” Fats Versus “Bad” Fats
There are certain types of fats – specifically omega-3 fats – which can help reverse the effects of inflammation(8). But the average American diet has an imbalance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Both types of fats are important, but an ideal diet is one that contains more omega-3’s than omega-6’s.
Foods rich in omega-3 fats include wild salmon, certain nuts, and of course fish oil supplements.
9. Cooking Oil
Swapping out certain types of cooking oil – like vegetable oil, canola oil, and corn oil – for healthier types like olive oil and coconut oil can make a huge difference. Although these healthier alternatives tend to be more expensive, the cheaper types of cooking oil tend to encourage inflammation(9).
10. You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise
We all know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for you, but the concrete ways in which it damages your body can sometimes seem unreal to us. So here’s a reality check: not moving your body regularly contributes to chronic inflammation.
Fortunately, this is an easily remedied problem – regular exercise can reduce inflammation markers, and any type of exercise counts, from a brisk walk to just spending some time pulling weeds in the garden(10).
11. You Have Excess Weight
“The discovery that obesity itself results in an inflammatory state in metabolic tissues ushered in a research field that examines the inflammatory mechanisms in obesity,” writes one team of researchers(11). They’re right – obesity is strongly associated with chronic, low-grade inflammation. Losing excess weight can help significantly with managing chronic inflammation.