What do heart disease, stroke, arthritis, colitis, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and Alzheimer’s have in common? Well, yes, they’re all diseases, but the A-plus answer is that they’re all caused by or associated with inflammation.
Scientists are finding that the common cause in a long list of illnesses is an inflammatory process that’s run out of control. Inflammation is controlled by a group of hormones called prostaglandins. Some prostaglandins promote inflammation, others reduce it. You can affect these hormones through a number of factors, including emotions, lifestyle, and especially diet.
In Chinese medicine, inflammation tends to be associated with heat. This heat can be very apparent when you have an infection of red and warm arthritic joints. The heat, however, may not be so obvious and cause subtler symptoms such as a mild sensation of feeling warm, chronic thirst for cool drinks, irritability, lots of sweating, restlessness, and constipation.
This inflammatory heat can come from a variety of sources. One is through improper diet, which according to Chinese food therapy includes too many spicy, greasy, or rich foods, as well as sweets. Heat also occurs from stagnation in Chinese medicine. This simply means that when things don’t move well, it creates a buildup that causes heat. In your body, anything from your energy or digestion to your emotions can stagnate. If you’ve ever seen someone get hot with anger, that’s an emotional stagnation causing a little heat. For example, maybe someone got cut off in traffic. Instead of just letting it go, and letting their mind move on, the person fixated on the offending driver and got angry.
Western scientists have found that the foods you eat can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Fats are strongly linked to inflammation, because your body makes prostaglandins from fatty acids. Similar to Chinese food theory, the fats that promote inflammation include partially hydrogenated oils and fats, and polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, peanut, and safflower. Also, trans-fats, such as margarine or vegetable shortening, and saturated fats, as found in animal products—except fish—promote inflammation.
Now, you may be thinking that there’s nothing you can eat, but there are actually one or two healthy choices you can make. Just kidding! There are a lot. Anti-inflammatory foods include fish, especially deep-sea fish; fish oils; olive oil; nuts, especially walnuts; ground flax seeds or flaxseed oil; and soy foods. Other anti-inflammatory foods include colorful fruits and vegetables, known for their high antioxidant content, which also decreases inflammation. In addition, ginger and turmeric are both effective in taming inflammation.
There’s a blood test that measures the level of inflammation in your arteries called C-reactive protein. However, if your health insurance plan tends to deny more than approve, a fasting blood insulin test is more likely to be covered and is also an indicator for inflammation. In general, higher insulin levels in your blood mean greater inflammation.
Tips to Manage Inflammation
Maintain an appropriate weight. Fat tissue is an accumulation of dampness, which over time will ultimately turn to heat.
Get regular exercise. Exercise gets energy moving and relieves stress, both of which can reduce inflammation. It also improves the health of your heart and lungs. You don’t need to sign up for a triathlon; walking for 20 to 30 minutes at least four times a week will do the trick.
If you’re a smoker, quit now. Today. In case you haven’t noticed, smoking creates heat in your body, inflames your lungs, and inhibits your circulation.
Take processed foods off your shopping list. In most cases, processed foods are made with lots of sugars, trans-fats, and chemicals—all of which can contribute to inflammation. If an item has a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf and roll your cart to the produce aisle.
Get your stress under control. Take a yoga class, do some deep breathing, or visualize your happy place–whatever it takes. Stress is a killer in its own right. You can find simple stress relief exercises online and meditation is a great option.
Floss. That’s right, floss. There’s a direct relationship between gum disease, inflammation, and heart disease.
Get medical care for any infection that doesn’t heal quickly. Again, there’s a direct link between chronic infections and systemic inflammation.
Pay attention to food sensitivities. These can cause inflammatory symptoms, not only in your gut, but throughout your body. Some common culprits include grains that contain gluten; dairy foods; and the nightshade plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. If you suffer from digestive problems, you may want to experiment with eliminating those foods that you suspect are causing problems.
Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on AcupunctureTwinCities.com