When inflammation is an acute symptom, i.e. 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 allergies, allergic rhinitis, hay fever, hives, and dermatitis. 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 health challenges like 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 the bloodstream. This causes an immune reaction, which can be a constant source of inflammation throughout the body. If certain pathogenic bacteria, known as Gram-negative, invade the bloodstream, this invasion can become 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 prevent or reduce inflammation, as well as some of the damaging effects associated with it. A diet rich in vegetables and fruit can provide cell-protective antioxidants, effective at reducing some of the damaging consequences of inflammation.
The following foods provide Omega 3 in different forms
• Fish, particularly oily fish and preferably not farmed – go for anchovies, sardines, mackerel, whitebait and herring, as well as wild-caught salmon and trout
• Flaxseed/linseed – sprinkle up to 1 freshly ground tablespoon on your breakfast cereal or smoothie or add the chilled oil to your salads (always keep linseed oil in the freezer)
• 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 fruit. Make soups, green smoothies and steamed vegetables a daily feature of your diet.
• Opting for organic vegetables and fruit. Organic food has a higher ‘phenol’ content. Phenols are compounds associated with better health.
A Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist can help you identify and address potential inflammation triggers in your diet and lifestyle, and tailor-make a personalised plan that supports your present and future health.