What is Inflammation—and How Do I Know if I Have It?
Here’s what you need to know about this common health buzzword.
Scan most recent health headlines and you’ll likely find the word “inflammation.” This buzzword seems to go hand-in-hand with rising obesity rates and chronic disease—and while that’s certainly not inaccurate, there’s a bit more to the story.
Inflammation, your body’s protective response to injury, infection, or harm, isn’t always linked to poor health. In fact, in the short term, it’s a completely normal process. There are two types of inflammation to know—acute and chronic—and they’re actually quite different from one another.
Acute vs Chronic Inflammation
Acute, or short-term inflammation, is caused by sudden outside trauma to your body, such as a sliced finger or banged knee. You’ll probably notice that the affected area becomes puffy, red, and may be warm to the touch—this is simply part of the healing process, and a sure sign that white blood cells from your immune system are working hard to repair your body. A similar immune response occurs when you’re sick with the flu or pneumonia, and eventually your body will return to its normal healthy state.
On the other hand, chronic or ongoing inflammation is a much more worrisome condition. Think of it as your body’s natural defense system, but in hyperdrive. The presence of harmful toxins in your body can cause your white blood cells to malfunction. They may not completely eradicate the toxins, or they may start to attack otherwise healthy cells. Signs that your body is experiencing chronic inflammation may be increased belly fat, persistent gastrointestinal issues, and increased blood glucose levels.
When your body stays in a state of chronic inflammation over a long period of time, you have a greater risk for developing chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
What Causes Inflammation?
While research is still unfolding, we do know that chronic inflammation can be caused by health, environmental, and diet factors. Cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol intake, food allergies, poor gut health, lack of exercise, stress, poor sleep, and more can all spark inflammation in your body. Turn any of these actions a long-term habit, and your inflammation can become chronic.
RELATED: Foods That Cause Inflammation
An unhealthy diet, in particular, has been linked to inflammation. Consuming too many calories, unhealthy fats (saturated fat, trans fat, and omega-6 fats), refined carbohydrates, and added sugars are all risk factors for inflammation. Foods we commonly associate with inflammation include animal proteins such as red meat, processed food products, fast food, and soda.
Can You Reduce Inflammation?
Following a healthy, balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and forming good sleep patterns are some of the best ways to ward off inflammation in your body. Limit (or avoid) red meat, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods—and do the majority of your shopping at the farmer's market (instead of the snack aisle).
Working plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet—like broccoli, salmon, avocados, tomatoes, tart cherry juice, and spices such as turmeric—can help keep your body in balance. Fiber-rich foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, sweet potatoes, leafy greens like kale can also play a role in decreased inflammation and a healthier microbiome.
For an eating plan that’s naturally full of anti-inflammatory foods and practices, try the Mediterranean Diet. This heart-healthy way of eating emphasizes plant-based foods, healthy unsaturated fats, whole grains, and yes, the occasional glass of red wine. The Mediterranean Diet also promotes a healthier lifestyle by encouraging exercise and social interaction—both of which are linked to lowered stress levels.
Lastly, cooking healthy meals at home—and dining out less—is one of the easiest ways to control your diet. Do this, and you’ll naturally find yourself eating more anti-inflammatory foods and feeling healthier. Give these delicious anti-inflammatory recipes a try:
Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg
Anti-inflammatory foods such as extra-virgin olive oil, tomatoes, quinoa, and eggs make this energy-rich breakfast bowl the perfect way to start your day.
Get the Recipe: Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg
Salmon Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette
Salmon, tart cherry juice, leafy greens, edamame, and almonds make this simple but stunning salad into an anti-inflammatory-rich lunch or dinner.
Get the Recipe: Salmon Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette
Turmeric Chicken-Stuffed Peppers
Vibrant yellow turmeric contains a pigment called curcumin that packs powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Here, we use the super spice to give a health and flavor boost to roasted chicken stuffed inside cheesy bell peppers.
Whether you improve your diet, start exercising, or reduce your stress levels, taming inflammation in your body will put you on the right track for better long-term health.