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Key ways to reduce inflammation and why it matters so much

Inflammation is your immune system’s natural response to perceived injury or infection. It’s a good thing that means your army of beneficial white blood cells is responding to the call to heal.

However, sometimes our immune system army gets triggered by everyday elements like toxins, stress, obesity and autoimmune disorders. It’s unable to fix the underlying problem, so it doesn’t retreat like it’s supposed to, instead staying ‘battle ready’ for an extended period of time. This can lead to chronic inflammation and contribute to long-term health problems like heart disease, arthritis, stroke, dementia, and cancer. So keeping inflammation down is a critical part of caring for your overall health.

The symptoms of chronic inflammation

There are many signs of chronic inflammation and you may have some or all of them. Many symptoms are an obvious sign of something being amiss, like widespread body pain, joint stiffness, muscle weakness or flu-like symptoms. Other times the effects of chronic inflammation are less bold; you might simply feel persistently tired, notice a subtle skin rash or have ongoing uncomfortable gastro-intestinal issues.

Regardless of your symptoms, your doctor can do a C-reactive protein (CRP) test to check for inflammation levels in your body. The same test is used to monitor your body’s response as you work to bring your inflammation levels down.

Treat the underlying cause

Naturally, to reduce inflammation, you must first reduce or remove whatever is causing it in the first place. There may be several factors contributing to an over-worked immune response as ongoing inflammation doesn't happen in the body in isolation.

Common reasons include undiagnosed infection or injury; autoimmune disorders like lupus, psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis; and exposure to toxins like cigarettes, vapes or pollution. Other factors that increase inflammation are chronically high stress levels, obesity and alcohol abuse.

Lifestyle factors contribute to many of the causes listed above, so working on these should help calm your immune system and reduce chronic inflammation.

Eat more anti-inflammatory foods – Foods like oily fish, leafy greens, olive oil, nuts, berries and tomatoes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. 

Avoid highly processed foods – These include cured meats, refined oils and trans fats and refined carbohydrates (sorry, that means cake!). Processed foods alter the bacteria that lives in our gut and interacts with our immune system – too much ‘bad’ gut microbiome can trigger our body into a chronic immune response, leading to increased inflammation. So cut down on processed food as much as you can.

Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity itself is a low-grade chronic inflammation, so getting rid of any excess fat is important. Yes, this is easier said than done, but talk to your health care provider about your options to reduce your BMI. 

Exercise daily – Simply moving your body for 20 minutes each day exerts a powerful anti-inflammatory cellular response. Commit to taking a daily 20-30 minute brisk walk, ride or swim and try to stay consistent. 

Limit or give up alcohol – As discussed above, alcohol is a known contributor to inflammation. Take care not to drink more than the recommended intake guidelines and try to have a number of alcohol-free days each week.

Manage your stress – The link between stress-related diseases and inflammation is well-established, so if stress is an issue for you it’s important to find ways to manage it well. Talk to your doctor and try proven stress-reduction methods like meditation, journalling, yoga and even forest bathing to bring your levels down. 

If you consider the list above, there’s no new news here. The usual framework of eating and drinking well, moving more, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight is what we need to do to keep inflammation levels in check.

Just remember that every step you take towards building that framework is a good step, no matter how small. Every change you make that reduces your exposure to inflammation means you can feel positive that you’re doing something important for your ongoing health.