We often think of inflammation as being a symptom: swelling around our joints as a result of injury or the visible redness on our skin as a result of external wounds. While inflammation can occur as the result of injury and does cause these symptoms, it also presents itself in many other detrimental ways in the body, is often tied to our lifestyle choices, and is most often not visible to the naked eye.
So what is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural and necessary process. It’s one of our body’s (and in particular, our immune system’s) defense mechanisms: its way of fighting foreign particles, microbes and toxins, or working to heal an injury that has occured.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is short lived: our body’s normal and necessary inflammatory response. It occurs as a result of physical injury or infection. As the body sends blood to the site of injury to promote healing, inflammation manifests with swelling and/or redness, and typically normalizes after a few days.
Chronic inflammation is problematic because it’s sustained. It can be caused by a number of factors, and can often be the underlying factor for a number of chronic conditions and other symptoms, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- heart disease
- depression or anxiety
- low energy or fatigue
- brain fog
- digestive issues
In order to support optimal health, the goal is to minimize, through lifestyle factors, chronic inflammation in our bodies.
Factors contributing to chronic inflammation and how to reduce it
When we work out, we cause microscopic muscle fiber tears, which our bodies then need to repair. During this repair process, we see inflammation with increased blood flow to these affected areas to replenish oxygen, fuel muscles and clear out metabolic waste. However, long periods of intense exercise may cause injury and chronic inflammation if the body cannot properly recover.
How to manage: give your body sufficient recovery days, and be sure to include foods in your diet that promote recovery, including protein and antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods (see “Diet” below).
As the old saying goes, “we are what we eat”, and that certainly goes for inflammation. Certain foods contribute to increased inflammation in the body:
- Sugar: Refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods result in spikes and dips in our blood sugar levels. Over time, this pattern can result in “insulin resistance” – a condition in which our hormone insulin can no longer properly metabolize blood sugar. This can lead to cravings, fluctuating energy levels, hormonal imbalances and inflammation.
- Poor quality fats: the hydrogenated (or “trans”) fats found in many processed foods, are also pro-inflammatory.
- Allergens: Eating foods that we are sensitive or allergic to causes inflammation in the digestive tract and throughout the whole body. Foods like gluten, dairy, eggs or tree nuts, to name a few, can contribute to chronic inflammation in certain individuals.
How to manage: While diet can cause inflammation, it can also be the greatest contributor to reducing it.
- Antioxidants: Foods high in antioxidants (e.g. berries, green tea, dark chocolate) and healthy fats (e.g. avocado, fish, extra virgin olive oil) provide powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Macronutrients: Incorporating fiber, healthy fats and protein into every meal can also help maintain balanced blood sugar and energy levels, while keeping cravings at bay and inflammation low.
- Functional herbs: these are a great way to supercharge an already anti-inflammatory diet. Some key herbs known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties include Turmeric, Ashwagandha, Astragalus, Matcha and all functional mushrooms, which are found in JOYÀ’s Functional Superblends.
Stress is our body’s response to factors that threaten our body’s balanced functioning (or “homeostasis”). Regardless of the cause of stress (whether emotional, physical, environmental or other), our body responds in the same way: elevated levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, are circulated, activating an inflammatory response in the nervous system, while simultaneously weakening the immune system.
Learn more about the various causes of stress.
How to manage:
- Reducing and managing stress factors: whether it's a new hobby, movement, spending more (or less) time with friends and family or taking an impromptu dance break at lunch, taking time to slow down and do the things you enjoy, even if just for a few minutes a day, can do wonders for stress levels.
- Sleep: getting enough good quality sleep is one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle! It allows our body to recover and regenerate in many ways, and this includes reducing inflammation.
- Adaptogens: consuming adaptogenic herbs and functional mushrooms is a great way to supplement stress-reducing lifestyle practices. These powerful botanicals, when used consistently and in efficacious doses, have been clinically proven to support hormone balance and help our body resist the effects of stress. Ashwagandha and Reishi mushroom are among the most revered adaptogens, and are the core ingredients in JOYÀ Functional Superblends.
Toxins are present in our everyday life at every turn: from environmental toxins and pollution to cleaning products, personal care products and even our food. These toxins make their way into the body through our lungs, skin and digestive tract. As they accumulate, toxicity can lead to inflammation as the body works harder to detoxify.
How to manage: While you may not be able to reduce pollution in a bustling city, you can opt for cleaner and healthier options at home. Choosing less toxic home cleaning and personal care products will reduce the amount of chemicals we breathe in and absorb, while organic and glyphosate-free options reduce the chemicals we ingest.
As we age, the body becomes less efficient at combatting the effects of everyday stressors and regenerating our DNA and cells, resulting in chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body, particularly our skin. The more “stressors” our body has to defend from, the more inflammation there is, ultimately determining how we look and feel.
How to manage: While we can’t avoid aging, incorporating all of the lifestyle tips above can help promote cellular health and slow down this process.
The good news is that we have the power to support our health! Small changes in what we eat, what we do, how we sleep and what we breathe can go a long way to keeping inflammation low and help reduce the chances of uncomfortable symptoms and even chronic illnesses in the future.
Zuza is currently studying Holistic Nutrition at IHN in Toronto, Canada. She's a balcony garden enthusiast and rescue dog mama.