When you experience acute inflammation in your body following an injury or illness, that’s nature’s way of taking care of you. Bruising, swelling, aches and pains, and redness are all signs that your immune system is kicking into action and sending out inflammatory cells to fight off harmful bacteria, fungi, allergens, damaged cells, or toxic chemicals. This is a normal response.
In fact, a healthy inflammatory response is necessary for the good of your overall health and quality of life.REF#921 Your goal is to keep it in balance.
Recent research shows you have more control over promoting a healthy inflammatory response than you might think.REF#921 You may have to adjust your lifestyle and adopt new habits. But when you do so, you could be rewarded with joint comfort, increased mobility, and better lifelong health.*
Read on to learn more about inflammation and its effects, what causes it, and what you can do to support your health as you age.
What Is Inflammation?
Acute inflammation is like a team of EMTs that comes to the rescue when there's an emergency and then takes off as soon as the danger has passed. As we discussed earlier, this is a necessary part of healing and a natural response to assist with cellular repair.
There are several noticeable signs of the inflammatory response becoming too robust and why you may need to balance it, including:
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle discomfort
- Body discomfort
- Occasional sleeplessness
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms that won’t go away, discuss them with your healthcare professional. If caught early, there are natural approaches you can take to support a normal inflammatory response in the body, with lifestyle changes and, as appropriate, natural supplements, including Turmeric, Ashwagandha Root, and Green Tea.
What Causes Inflammation?
Newer research suggests that lifestyle, environmental, and social factors all impact our body’s natural inflammatory response.REF#921
It appears that higher oxidative stress rates are higher in populations living in countries where individuals live a Western lifestyle than in non-Westernized populations where life resembles the way it was for centuries before industrialization. Scientists believe this disparity is the result of generations of exposure to chemical, physical, and biological elements unique to industrialized nations.
While many advances in medicine and sanitation have improved longevity in Westernized countries, certain experts believe we have moved too far away from the lifestyles and diets that influenced good health throughout human evolution. We now know that inflammation is affected by:
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity caused by sedentary lifestyles
- Processed foods
- Social isolation
- Reduction in beneficial intestinal bacteria and increase in harmful bacteria
- Psychological stress
- Sleep disturbance
- Exposure to air pollutants and hazardous waste products
- Industrial chemicals
- Tobacco smoking
While the modern lifestyle makes it difficult to avoid many of these issues, it is possible to temper your behavior to support a healthy inflammatory response and less oxidative stress, which ultimately will support your overall health and well-being. It requires dedication and work, but your health is worth it!
Adapt Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Routines
Populations with relatively low rates of disease related to chronic inflammation eat fresh, minimally processed food. They are physically active, and they synchronize sleep with the setting and rising of the sun.
Given the realities of our industrialized lifestyles, you can’t turn back the clock and live completely like your ancestors — unless you leave modern civilization and live off the grid. But there are obvious adaptations you can make that can maximize your health and well-being.
Changing how you eat, move, live, and sleep isn’t easy. If you haven’t already adjusted your diet and lifestyle, you might want to make changes one at a time.
Basic science and clinical research studies have shown that a diet of fresh, unprocessed foods with the right balance of macronutrients and micronutrients can reduce inflammation. It can also help you sleep better, which in turn reduces inflammation.REF#922
Conversely, highly processed foods, high in sugar, refined grains, trans fats, and salt have been associated with low-grade inflammation.REF#923
Food intolerance and allergies also activate inflammation as your immune system reacts to certain foods it identifies as a danger to your body.
Food intolerance generally affects gut biology and results in digestive issues or headaches, whereas allergies affect your immune system and can result in wheezing, trouble swallowing, hives, swelling, and various skin conditions including eczema. The foods that are most likely to cause problems include:
- Lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products
- Histamines found in red wine, cheese, chocolate, avocadoes, pineapple, bananas
- Gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley
- Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks
The earlier in life you can initiate a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, the better chance you have of preventing disease.
Your diet should have the proper balance of unprocessed protein, unsaturated fat, carbohydrates, and fiber to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. You can use a resource, such as the Center for Disease Control’s MyPlate Plan to determine what and how much to eat depending on your age and weight.
One easy trick to ensure a well-balanced diet is to include a full range of colors in each meal, since different colored fresh food provides different nutrients.
Sitting for prolonged periods, even if you’re a physically active person, can lead to chronic inflammation and disease.REF#922 It can also stiffen muscles and make it harder (and less enticing) to exercise. Make a conscious effort to get up and walk in place, do squats, or stretch every 30 to 60 minutes. You can set a timer to remind you to move.
A few tricks for keeping in motion:
- Take your phone calls standing up and/or walking
- Use a standing desk
- Work or watch television while sitting on an exercise/stability ball
- Put a timer away from your desk (or couch) so you have to get up to turn it off
Physical aerobic exercise not only helps you manage your weight and maintain strong muscles and bones, but it’s also been proven to reduce inflammation and improve your brain health.REF#924 REF#925 When you get adequate exercise, you also sleep better.
Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly, spread out over several days. Walking, biking, running, rowing, and even vacuuming the house can be enough to keep inflammation down.
Your body needs at least seven to nine hours of good sleep to de-stress and repair from injury and illness. Sleep deprivation over time leads to chronic inflammation and disease.REF#926
If you’re not getting adequate sleep, you may need to adjust your sleep hygiene — the combination of lifestyle behaviors, schedule, and bedroom environment that affect your sleep. When those adjustments aren’t enough, you might benefit from supplements that help with occasional sleeplessness to aid a restful night sleep, such as one of Gaia Herbs’ pure and high-quality herbal blends for natural calming support*.
Minimize Your Stress Levels
Psychological stress caused by adverse social interactions can cause physiological changes, including occasional inflammation.REF#921 For the sake of your long term health, you should incorporate practices into your lifestyle that help alleviate stress.
Rethink Your Relationships
Evaluate your relationships at work and in your personal life that could be causing undue stress.
If you have an extremely stressful work situation, you should work with your boss or the Human Relations department to make changes that can reduce your stress level. If your company isn’t receptive, you may need to look for another job. No matter how much you need the job, you’ll be worse off if you develop a crippling health condition from the stress of it.
If people in your life are causing you undue stress, it may be time to let them loose. Loving family members and true friends want the best for you, and will work with you to resolve any conflicts that might arise. If they won’t, they’re better kept at a distance.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and massage are all mainstream options for handling the stress of everyday life in modern society. There are options to fit any budget — from free (on YouTube) to expensive, like private studio classes and spa massages. Find a practice that you love enough to make it a routine. Your body will thank you!
Write in a Journal
Many people find calm in writing down their thoughts and feelings. Start or end your day with 15 minutes of journal writing, and keep your pen moving without editing. Let it all pour out. No one but you ever has to read what you wrote.
There are many resources for writing prompts online (search for “writing prompts for stress relief”) to help you get started, from listing what you’re grateful for to writing about your accomplishments. When you make journaling a daily practice, it can be like a personal therapy session.
Laughter, as many say, is the best medicine. Studies now show the positive physiological effects of laughing, including activating and relieving your stress response.REF#927 Spend time with friends who make you laugh. Take a laughter yoga class (yes, they exist). Watch comedies instead of violent films. Read a funny book. Listen to a comedy podcast. Take yourself to comedy night at a local theater.
Use Natural Products in Your Home
Since the introduction of machinery, automobiles, factories, mass-produced cleaning and personal products, and processed foods over 200 years ago, our planet has been exposed to an ever-increasing number of toxic chemicals. While you can’t eliminate all the pollutants in the global environment, you can control which products you use personally.
By choosing natural products (and foods) instead of those with dangerous chemicals, you not only help minimize inflammation, but you also play a part in reducing the pollutants in our environment.REF#921
Use Natural Cleaning Products
Too many commercial products promise to eliminate stains and odors, make your whites whiter and brights brighter, and provide antibacterial protection. However, these products contain environmental toxins that can be bad for the environment and bad for you, exacerbating asthma and causing respiratory problems and contact dermatitis.
Many products now claim to be “natural” or “green,” but you can't trust their labels since those claims aren’t regulated. (Only New York and California have disclosure laws that require companies to list everything in their products.)
There are many websites that provide recipes for making healthy cleaning products. If you don’t want to go to that trouble, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a website to guide you in finding healthy cleaning products. You can also search online for reviews of natural cleaning products to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your different options. However, even natural solutions can be toxic to you, your family, and your pets so do your research and minimize the use of toxic products regardless of their source.
Use Natural Personal Care Products
Many moisturizers, cosmetics, skin care products, sunscreens, and bug repellents contain chemicals you may not see in the ingredient list. Formaldehyde, lead, mercury, arsenic, and many more toxic ingredients will not be listed on the labels, because the industry isn’t properly regulated.REF#921
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), over 1,600 ingredients are banned for inclusion in personal products in the European Union, whereas in the United States, only nine ingredients are bannedREF#928.
If you want to avoid potentially toxic chemicals, research and be vigilant about the products you use. There are many websites that provide guidance on which personal care products are safe and which to avoid.
Commit to a Healthy Lifestyle that Promotes A Healthy Inflammatory response
Making a change here and there to your lifestyle and diet is better than doing nothing. But when you commit to living a completely healthy lifestyle, with the right diet, physical activity, and home environment, you increase your chance of living a vibrant healthier life as you age.
If you are concerned about your overall health and whether you are doing everything you can to promote a healthy inflammatory response, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider.
You may also want to add a natural supplement to your healthy living routine to support a healthy inflammatory response. Several have been researched for their ability to do so. To learn more, read Gaia Herbs article, “7 Natural Supplements to Reduce Occasional Inflammation.”
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