The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle: The Natural Way To A Healthy Life
Over many years I have found that preventing or reversing inflammation is all about listening to your body. From that listening you can begin to learn first-hand what increases or reduces your body’s inflammatory response. You can cool your body’s inflammatory response and keep it healthier over time by taking one step at a time, at a pace that feels right for you.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is not a “diet”, it is not “all or nothing”. An anti-inflammatory lifestyle builds over time, and the longer you eat these foods and exercise on a regular basis, the better you feel!
The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle
1. The most important part of the anti-inflammatory diet includes generous portions (70-80 percent of your plate) of deeply-pigmented vegetables (deep greens, bright orange, yellows, reds, and purples) to every meal for their fiber and natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Your dark greens like kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, arugula, and other are the backbone of healthy diet.
2. Add essential fatty acids (EFA’s) to your diet with grass-finished beef, free range eggs and poultry. As for fish, while its health benefits were once beyond compare, many species today contain high levels of mercury, PCB’s, and other toxins. With that unfortunate reality, experts suggest you significantly limit or avoid Atlantic varieties, and eat only wild Pacific or Alaskan salmon (unless organically farm-raised). Because toxins magnify as you go up the food chain, smaller species such as sardines, anchovies, and shellfish are still good choices.
3. Healthy Snacks include a handful of nuts and seeds, especially walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed, which are good sources of omega–3’s. Add apples, pears, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries for added crunch, fiber and anti-oxidant power.
4. Fresh herbs such as basil oregano, cilantro, garlic, and ginger and turmeric contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that limit free-radical production in the body, as well as increase flavor and improve digestion. Many are easy to grow and help you to create amazingly simple and delicious meals bursting with flavor!
5. For cooking purposes my oil of choice is unrefined organic coconut oil, and for dressings it’s a high quality first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, which is high in oleic acid, an omega–9 with anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
Inflammatory Foods To Eliminate
Eliminate certain foods and additives from your diet. I know how hard it can be to say no to the many foods that turn the body’s inflammatory dial up high. Number-one on the list of offenders would be trans fats — hydrogenated oils. Next would be the sugars, refined carbohydrates, and gluten-containing foods that we often crave when our systems are off-balance. These and many other additives and preservatives are well hidden in processed convenience foods, making them very difficult, but not impossible, to avoid.
You will also need to steer clear of known allergens, and be aware of increasing food sensitivities as well. Gluten, eggs, dairy, soy and nuts are some of the most common dietary irritants. To help you identify sensitivities that could be causing you problems, follow an elimination diet, avoiding a substance for two weeks, then reintroducing it for a day or two. Yes, it can be tough at first to make changes like this, but the payoff is huge — it can make a tremendous difference in how you feel in a surprisingly short period of time. Tipping the balance — away from pro-inflammatory, toward anti-inflammatory — can take place almost overnight.
Natural Anti-Inflammatory Supplements
Add a high-quality daily multivitamin/mineral complex. Though many studies have examined the impact vitamins such as folic acid and the other B’s have on our tissue function and levels of inflammation, the role these vitamins play remains unclear. There is, however, a clear connection between higher blood levels of certain nutrients and lower risk of health conditions caused by inflammation like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and insulin resistance. Along with the benefits of folic acid, other B vitamins, and EFA’s as described above, vitamin D also has known anti-inflammatory effects, and vitamins C, A, and E are widely celebrated as powerful antioxidants, countering the effects of free radical damage.
Because omega–3 fatty acids are in shortest supply in our modern diet, many experts recommend you take an omega–3 supplement daily to rebalance your diet. This is one of the simplest, safest, yet most effective steps you can take to quell chronic inflammation in your body. I have found fish oil EFA supplements to be most helpful, but if you are a vegetarian, algal sources can be used with good result. Just be sure your EFA supplement has been tested and proven free of mercury and other heavy metals — otherwise it might do you more harm than good. You can even have the ratio of EFA’s in your blood measured with an EFA profile that evaluates omega–3 levels versus omega–6’s versus omega–9’s. Remember, when it comes to essential fats, it’s all about balance.
Evoking Your Body’s Natural Anti-Inflammatories
Adopt healthy habits and get some physical activity every day. Fuel your body with natural anti-inflammatory agents and keep your joints flexible and well-nourished by exercising every day. Start slowly with a five-minute walk and build your stamina. I recommend at least 30 minutes of activity, five times a week. Exercise is a great way to counteract stress, especially when combined with deep breathing — as with yoga or tai chi. These exercises are appropriate for all ages and at all levels, increasing balance, strength, and flexibility.
Go out and play! Or, stay in for a change and get away from it all. Whatever it is that most relaxes you, simply do it: find some time to relax. If you live with chronic stress, investigate meditation or biofeedback therapies to learn the relaxation response. Talk therapy can also help people navigate through their emotional minefields. Often your church or fitness center will advertise support groups or community-building events. This is one way you can share emotional burdens (and we all have them!) with willing listeners. All of these activities can calm inflammation by lowering cortisol, your stress hormone.
Get plenty of rest — it’s the perfect inflammation antidote. You need to sleep between seven and nine hours a night to give your body time to heal from the previous day’s demands. A good night’s sleep can undo the effects of the inflammatory response, so don’t undervalue the simple act of going to bed on time. Invest in the bed and bedding you find most comfortable: some individuals swear by a lambskin mattress covers, others by feather beds, and some will have nothing but a 100% cotton futon. Remember, you are worth it.
Further Steps To Reduce The Causes Of Inflammation
Break your bad habits. Substances like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine place a heavy burden on your system, so eliminate them or at least moderate your intake. One of the fastest ways to reduce inflammation is to stop smoking and using stimulants. Try quitting for a week or two and see how good you feel. That will encourage you to quit forever. If that doesn’t work, find a support group or professional help and keep trying until you quit.
Examine your surroundings and color them as “green” as possible. Use natural cleaning products and detergents. Limit your reliance on dry cleaning and air fresheners. Test your air and water and, if necessary, get high-quality filters. Bring in lots of houseplants to help filter the air you breathe. If you work in a “sick” building, you have the right to object. OSHA has a toll-free number for inquiries: 1-800-321-6742. Or go to their website, www.osha.gov.
Practice a gentle detox or cleansing program a couple of times a year. It’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to environmental toxins, so it’s a good idea to periodically detoxify. For more information on how to do this, read my article on Detoxing For Better Health and make an appointment for a Free Initial Consultation. My Supported Cleanse Program is a great way to gently and rapidly down-regulate systemic inflammation.
Investigate alternative therapies to deal with pain management. Because of the confusion about the long-term effects of pain medication and steroids, you should consider only using anti-inflammatory drugs for short periods during acute crises. If you’ve tried everything but still notice symptoms of inflammation, you may want to try some form of adjunctive therapy. Many people have found significant pain relief through acupuncture, massage, water therapy, and other mind–body treatments that reduce pain and inflammation naturally without having to call upon drugs. For more on this, read my article on alternative healthcare and how to make it work for you.
Pay Yourself First
Calming inflammation in the body is a process we are constantly undergoing, much akin to maintaining our natural hormonal balance. But it can be done if we remind ourselves how quickly inflammation can speed out of control and how important reducing inflammation is for our health. Just as we need to make healthy choices to support our hormones, we need to do the same to sustain the natural checks and balances of our immune response. After all, your body is the only permanent home you have — it only makes sense to heed your inner smoke alarms.
As we learn more, we continue to see that taking care of ourselves naturally is the best way to prevent and correct worrisome health conditions. Our bodies are wonderfully complex and resilient, but they need our nurturing. If we start paying ourselves first by keeping watch over our internal fire, we’ll reap untold rewards.