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Inflammation is caused by an immune reaction on the cellular level. It can be caused by infection, damage to our cells/tissues or allergies, but also by many lifestyle factors including smoking, pollution, excessive sun exposure, poor nutrition and diets high in refined sugars, refined and trans fats. Small amounts of well-controlled inflammation is a good thing. The reddening of skin after a cut or abrasion is due to inflammation which signals immune cells to fight infection.
Chronic ‘background’ inflammation is not a good thing. An effective analogy is to think of it as the slow burn that’s found in the embers of a fire that seems to have been extinguished but hasn’t. It doesn’t take much fuel to re-ignite the flames, likewise, if someone has diabetes, heart disease or even those who are still seemingly healthy, a body that is vulnerable to insults can quickly take a turn for the worse.
Inflammation, health and aging
Most chronic diseases and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours are associated with higher amounts of inflammation, however it becomes a chicken and the egg discussion when we try to answer the question: does inflammation cause chronic conditions or do chronic conditions cause inflammation? The answer appears to lie somewhere in the middle with each increasing and worsening the other. Reducing inflammation seems to slow down the progression of chronic diseases, minimizes their impact and there is evidence to suggest that chronic disease may be prevented if inflammation is stopped early enough.
This is the goal of many drug treatments as well; ASA, ibuprofen, Vioxx, statins, prednisone and more are designed to reduce inflammation.
Inflammation has been linked to many things that we associate with the normal progression of aging, including wrinkles, arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other forms of senile/vascular dementia, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and many cancers. Much inflammation can be greatly reduced by changing our habits and environment and following an inflammation-reducing diet, one that is rich in antioxidants and phyto-nutrients. While not as powerful as drug treatment, lowering inflammation through diet is a powerful tool that you can arm yourself with. It’s easy, cheap, safe and best of all, delicious!
Next week, in Part 2 of Inflammation and Health, I’ve review the principles of an anti-inflammatory diet and show you how to use everyday foods to tip the balance in your favour. It’s easier than you think!