By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Inflammation represents the body’s natural response to injury. If you sprain an ankle, it swells up.
However, chronic, systemic inflammation — where the body remains in a prolonged and ongoing state of inflammation —signals something more serious. Reducing the causes of systemic inflammation largely has to do with identifying and minimizing dietary sources of inflammation.
“It really is a priority, because inflammation is the root of all diseases,” said JoAnn Colosimo, nurse practitioner in functional medicine at Invision Health in Buffalo. “We address it immediately at our initial consult. It’s one of the first things we do right away.”
She said that if this problem lasts for too long, the individual can become more susceptible to disease and struggle with nerve-related issues. Colosimo added that food sensitivities such as gluten and dairy, can trigger inflammation in the gut that can go systemic.
Colosimo said that lab results before and after changing the diet have shown her difference food can make, as inflammatory markers go down over time once inflammatory foods are eliminated.
Sally Gower owns Eat Well Buffalo and is a certified life coach from the Institute for Integrated Nutrition, plant-based diet certified through Cornell University, and certified food for life educator for Western New York. She said that nutrition and lifestyle can reverse inflammation.
“Sugar is extremely inflammatory, along with red meat, saturate fat, white flour, pop, diet soda, sweetened tea, alcohol and processed foods,” she said. “If you’re going to eat grains, which are healthy, eat whole grains.”
She also listed smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and poor sleep as contributory to inflammation.
“Find something you like to do and do it,” she said. “Get a standing desk. People with the highest activity level have the lowest level of inflammation.”
Stress also contributes to inflammation. Taking time to relax and partake in pleasurable activities can help reduce and manage stress, such as walking in nature, massage therapy, mindfulness and tai chi.
As for food that reduces inflammation, Gower recommends green tea, coffee, water and kombucha, a fermented tea beverage.
“Add spices with healthful foods, like turmeric and ginger,” she said.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, leafy green vegetables, cherries, nuts and seeds are also anti-inflammatory.
It may seem confusing knowing what’s anti-inflammatory and what’s not, but it all comes down to focusing on a plant-based diet, according to Mary Jo Parker, registered and certified dietitian nutritionist, nutrition therapist and consultant in private practice in Williamsville.
“You could look at the traditional Mediterranean diet, even diets like the Okinawan or DASH diet,” she said. “They all have in common that they’re rich in fruits and vegetables and have nuts, seeds, fish and things like flax, walnuts and other things rich in omega 3 fatty acids.”
Unfortunately, the typical American diet revolves around convenience and fast foods with too many sources of simple carbohydrates and too much red meat. Parker said people should limit these to help reduce inflammation.
Remaining stressed out, overfed and under-exercised “all contributes to greater states of inflammation and more likely to develop chronic disease states over time,” Parker said. “Everything points back to an inflammatory state in just about any chronic disease. Inflammation is a hallmark.”