When inflammation is an acute symptom, ie, after injury, it’s part of the body’s positive response to aid the healing process. An ‘inflammatory messenger’ causes increased blood flow to an area and attracts white blood cells to fight off infectious diseases and invaders. The process brings about the inflammatory symptoms such as heat, redness, swelling and pain. Once the injury has repaired, the inflammatory process ends.
Inflammation becomes an issue however, when it is a low-lying, continual symptom, known as chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is a symptom of common conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s Disease and Colitis. Allergic inflammatory responses include food allergy, allergic rhinitis, hay fever, hives, and dermatitis, amongst others. Chronic inflammation can damage our DNA, a molecule that carries our genetic instructions for growth, development and functioning. This may be the reason why inflammation plays a part in many of today’s major diseases such as cancer, heart disease and obesity.
Taking a naturopathic approach to inflammation means looking at its causes, and how we can help ourselves to avoid or reduce it.
What can trigger chronic inflammation?
There can be many triggers for inflammation that does not ‘switch off’ when its work is done.
These can include on-going infections, poor gut health, common allergens such as food or pollen, toxins, air pollution, infection, nutritional deficiencies, and the balance of the fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 in the diet.
Research shows that we commonly have 20 times the amount of Omega 6 in a modern Western diet, compared to Omega 3. Excess Omega 6 has an inflammatory effect, whereas Omega 3 has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Gut health is inextricably linked to inflammation. When someone suffers from leaky gut syndrome for example, particles, including bacteria and undigested food, escape from the digestive system and enter into the bloodstream. This causes an immune reaction, which can be a constant source of inflammation throughout the body. If particularly nasty bacteria, known as Gram Negative, gets into the bloodstream, it can be a trigger for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Choosing an anti-inflammatory diet
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can help to prevent or reduce inflammation, as well as some of the damaging effects associated with it.
A diet high in vegetables and fruits can provide cell-protective antioxidants which are effective at reducing some of the damaging effects of inflammation.
The following foods provide Omega 3 in different forms:
- Fish, particularly oily fish and preferably not farmed – go for sardines, mackerel, whitebait and herring
- Flaxseed/linseed – sprinkle up to 1 freshly ground tablespoon on your breakfast cereal or smoothie or add the chilled oil to your salads
- Organic, grass-fed animal produce
- Chia seeds
Some forms of Omega 3 are more readily available to the body than others. Get advice on the form that best fits your dietary preferences, to make sure that you are meeting your Omega 3 requirements.
Maximise your antioxidant intake by:
- Taking green tea or even better Matcha green tea a few times per day.
- Eating a rainbow coloured variety of vegetables and fruits. Make soups, green smoothies and steamed vegetables a daily feature of your diet.
- Opting for organic vegetables and fruits. Organic food has a higher ‘phenol’ content. Phenols are compounds associated with better health.
These foods, drinks, and supplements offer anti-inflammatory properties:
- Rosehip (made into a tea or syrup) helps to reduce one of the markers of inflammation and reduce chemotaxis, the process which attracts all the white blood cells during inflammation.
- Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which inhibits the action of a number of inflammatory agents.
- Nettles, apples and onion all contain a flavonoid called quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cherries help to remove uric acid from the body, which is related to inflammatory conditions such as gout.
- Prebiotic foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion or other bitter greens, miso, and sheep milk yoghurt are all easy to digest, and promote gut health.
- Glutamine & N-Acetyl-Glucosamine tablets can be healing for the gut, therefore preventing undigested food and bad bacteria from getting into the blood stream.
Some foods can cause inflammation in different people.
Eliminating potential trigger foods for a trial period, preferably under the supervision of a nutritional therapist who can make sure that you are still getting all the nutrients you need, can be worthwhile.
- Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers can try avoiding foods that are part of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, aubergine, chilli, tomatoes, tobacco, and peppers. These contain a compound called Solanine which can promote inflammation in people who are prone to it.
- If you experience an issue with known problem foods such as wheat and dairy, it may be advisable to eliminate them from the diet for a while as they can contribute to inflammatory responses.
- Food additives, pesticide residues, and genetically modified (GM) foods may encourage inflammatory responses. Eating organically may therefore be helpful.
A Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist can help you to identify and address potential triggers for inflammation in both your diet and lifestyle, and to tailor-make a personalised plan that supports your present and future health.