Inflammation is a bit of a buzzword these days. Sometimes it can be a little scary; it’s associated with some of the most common and severe chronic illnesses, yet is also just a fact of life. It can get a little bit confusing to say the least.
Most simply, inflammation is your body’s natural immune response. When you get a sinus infection, your head hurts and it swells up. The constant rubbing on your nose makes it turn red and grow, too. This is inflammation—your body sends antibodies and proteins to clean up the area, fight the infection, and restore your health. In cases like this, or when you get a cut, bang your elbow, or have a little headache, your body is simply trying to set you straight.
But sometimes the body turns on itself and enters a state of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is when the immune response doesn’t stop. Your body is kept in a constant state of alert—or even war—that can lead to tissue damage and health troubles. This can happen for a couple of reasons. One is that a cause of acute inflammation—like an infection—is left untreated. Some people have “autoimmune” disorders that trick the immune system into attacking itself.
Lifestyle factors can also pose a danger to your body and promote chronic inflammation. These include:
- Chronic stress
- Process and refined foods
When your immune system is constantly firing, it can damage your cells, tissues, and organs, potentially leading to:
- Heart disease
- Type-2 diabetes
- Joint pain
Can you regulate your immune response? Potentially. There are dietary interventions that can help limit the risk for chronic inflammation and promote a safer internal environment. These include foods typically associated with the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers. Leafy green vegetables, olive oil, tomatoes, nuts, fruits, and fatty fish are all staples in the Mediterranean diet.
On the other hand, processed and refined foods may promote inflammation.
Understanding how inflammation works and the various risks it presents can help you make decisions to keep it at bay. It’s possible that reducing inflammation could be essential to reducing the risk of chronic disease and promoting healthful longevity.