Over time, chronic inflammation weakens cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurological systems—often without noticeable symptoms. Common causes include unhealthy diet, environmental toxins, stress, and lack of sleep. But is inflammation always evil? Experts point out that it’s also a vital part of immunity, forming the first line of defense against harmful germs, injury, and disease by transporting protective white blood cells to parts of the body in need. Here, learn how to manage both the good and the bad.
Naturopath: Artemis Morris, ND, Bridgeport, Conn.
Decipher the type.
Inflammation is an immune response that helps to heal an area by increasing circulation. It isn’t always harmful but becomes problematic when it’s overactive, potentially causing chronic conditions like heart disease. A high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test (hs-CRP) is the most accurate way to detect too-high inflammation. While effective, the test isn’t perfect, and other types of inflammation may still be present.
Consider cooking methods.
Avoid grilling, frying, and overcooking food because those cooking methods create advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which increase inflammation. Instead, boil and steam foods to preserve nutrients and water content and prevent AGE formation.
Foods high in refined sugar tax the pancreas, the organ that produces the hormone insulin. When excess insulin floods the bloodstream, it initiates the inflammatory response. Read labels carefully, and avoid candy, white carbohydrates, and high-fructose corn syrup.
Acupuncturist: Deb Ruffalo Ross, LAc, Droge Clinic, New York City
Eliminate problem foods.
If you’re prone to chronic inflammation, as determined by an hs-CRP test, adjust your diet. Limit red meat to no more than a palm-size portion a few times per week. Also, keep your alcohol intake to a minimum—fewer than two drinks per week—and avoid hard liquor, which the body metabolizes as sugar, triggering inflammation.
Create a customized herbal plan.
A common supplement to reduce inflammation is curcumin, a potent antioxidant compound in the spice turmeric. Follow bottle directions for doses, which vary. Also try 500 mg of high-quality fish oil twice a day to lower inflammation-induced pain, such as joint swelling and stiffness.
Balance your qi.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, qi [“chee”] is a vital, internal energy. Qigong, a practice similar to yoga, involves holding postures to balance this energy. By relieving stress and calming the nervous system, this practice discourages inflammation.
Fitness: Scott Danberg, Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, Miami
Recognize the good.
Local inflammation can be beneficial. When you physically exert yourself, muscles develop microscopic tears. A mild inflammatory response begins and white blood cells flood into the affected area to rebuild fibers, causing soreness that usually peaks after 24 hours. Take a rest day after an intense workout to allow muscles to heal.
Focus on hydration.
Dehydration hinders your metabolic functions—you can’t contract and relax muscles as efficiently, so you rely on increased blood flow for movement—increasing inflammation. Drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes when exercising, and especially when it is humid and hot outside.
Plan smart meals.
Eating a balanced diet supports localized inflammation by transporting micronutrients on the cellular level to replenish energy and rebuild muscle tissues. For snacks and meals, aim for 60 percent plant-based complex carbohydrates, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fat. A smart post-workout snack: brown rice cake, apple slices, and 2 tablespoons of low-fat cottage cheese. A proper diet manages inflammation by speeding up muscle repair.