5 Signs of Chronic Inflammation You Can’t Ignore–Ignoring It May Lead to Heart Disease or Cancer

April 27, 2019 Updated: May 6, 2019

Inflammation is the body’s natural survival mechanism that typically indicates that your body is fighting off a disease or repairing damaged tissue. However, if inflammation persists for long periods of time, it may signal a problem in the body. Many serious health conditions are tied to chronic inflammation including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer.

Chronic inflammation may be the body’s response to lifestyle and environmental factors like poor dietary habits, stress, extra abdominal fat, insufficient sleep, or toxins from cigarette smoke or other types of pollution. Chronic inflammation has many negative effects. It can damage cells and organs, which can cause unpleasant symptoms, reduce quality of life, and even increase the risk of stroke.

Joint pain
Joint pain because of inflammation (Magic mine/Shutterstock)

There are two different types of inflammation. Acute inflammation happens suddenly when, for example, you cut your finger and the body responds with pain, redness, swelling, and heat, and the inflammation goes away within hours or a few days. Chronic inflammation begins similarly but doesn’t dissipate as the body fails to eliminate the problem or sometimes fails to recognize that the problem has been solved. It persists for several months to years. Here are 5 signs that may indicate you have chronic inflammation:

1. Body Aches

Body aches Chronic Inflammation
Illustration (Fizkes/Shutterstock)

A number of inflammatory illnesses can cause body aches because of the hard work the body is doing to fight off the illness. Colds and flus are viral infections that cause inflammation, mononucleosis, different forms of arthritis, and other serious diseases can all cause body aches.

2. Chronic Fatigue

Chronic Inflammation fatigue
Illustration (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Severe exhaustion may point to chronic inflammation. A 2015 study from Arthritis Research and Therapy found that treating inflammation in autoimmune diseases helped improve fatigue.

3. Mood Disorders

Mood disorders Chronic inflammation
Illustration (Sam Wordley/Shutterstock)

Chronic inflammation may also be a cause behind depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Mounting research suggests that major depressive disorder (MDD) might actually be an inflammatory condition. In some studies, interventions that help treat depression like physical exercise and psychotherapy were shown to decrease the amount of inflammatory biomarkers.

4. Digestive Problems

Digestive problems Chronic Inflammation
Illustration (G-stockstudio/Shutterstock)

People with chronic inflammation might experience gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, or acid reflux. This occurs if inflammation develops in the organs related to the digestive process.

5. Weight Gain

weight gain chronic Inflammation
Illustration (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

A study in the Diabetes journal measured inflammatory markers of almost 3,000 middle-aged men. In a follow-up, the study found that the level of inflammation went hand in hand with weight gain. Weight reduction in the men who were overweight resulted in reduced inflammation.

7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Eating a nutritious diet may help reduce inflammation, lessen symptoms of chronic inflammation, and prevent health risks caused by chronic inflammation. For people with autoimmune diseases, an anti-inflammatory diet might not “cure” the condition but may prevent symptoms from worsening.

The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with helping people lower the risk of various diseases, and is inherently an anti-inflammatory diet. This diet is rich in tomatoes, non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains. Below is a short list of certain foods or food groups which have been identified to help reduce chronic inflammation.

1. Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach (Kkolosov/Shutterstock)

Greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, and cabbage are rich in vitamin K, an antioxidant that boosts the immune system. Additionally, these vegetables are packed with fiber that can help manage weight, and obesity, which can increase the risk of chronic inflammation.

2. Nuts and Seeds

Nut mix in glass bowls
Nuts (tashka2000/iStock)

Walnuts, cashews, chia seeds, and others all contain a number of anti-inflammatory benefits. Some have a high magnesium and vitamin E content, and others a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linoleic acid (ALA). These vitamins and ALA are all known to reduce inflammation.

3. Fatty Fish

Delicious cooked salmon fish fillets
Delicious cooked salmon fish fillets (Maria Uspenskaya/Shutterstock)

Fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines also contain omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids help inhibit the inflammatory agents that get released during an immune system response.

4. Whole Grains

Quinoa (Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock)

Like veggies, whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat are rich in fiber. Fiber is known to lower a substance in the blood that points to inflammation and fiber foods are much more effective at this than fiber supplements.

5. Fruits

Fruit (pixabay/pexels)

Berries and citrus fruits contain lots of antioxidants that boost the body’s immune system. Especially colorful berries like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and strawberries.

6. Tomatoes

Tomato (Odd Andersen/Getty Images)

This Mediterranean diet staple is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant nutrient. Lycopene can be very effective at reducing certain inflammatory compounds related to some types of cancer. Pairing tomatoes with olive oil can increase the benefits of lycopene.

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil
Olive oil (Panuzz/iStock/Thinkstock)

Like nuts and fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil contains healthy fats. It also contains a compound called oleocanthal, which reduces certain enzyme activity and, in turn, inflammation.

Foods to Avoid

Pollo Fritto Fried Chicken for Hanukkah
Fried Chicken (Linda Pugliese)

Eating foods that reduce inflammation is part of the equation. Foods that fuel inflammation include refined carbs like white bread, fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed meats such as hot dogs.

When in doubt, a good guideline to follow is to choose fresh, whole foods and avoid highly processed foods. This can help reduce the amount of added sugar, sodium, and refined carbohydrates in the diet, while increasing the amount of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Everyday food choices may take time to exhibit noticeable effects, but sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet can help prevent health problems in the long run.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.