Inflammation is now known to be the root cause of all chronic disease. From cancer to chronic pain, diabetes to Alzheimer’s, asthma to obesity, inflammation lies at the source. This makes uncontrolled inflammation something we undoubtedly want to manage if we want to be healthy and feel good. In addition, since inflammation increases with age, we will likely have a day where we wished we would have done more to decrease the level of inflammation in our body (if that day isn’t today). So how do we do this? Google it and you will see meds galore. Just as anti-inflammatory medications are ubiquitous, so are their side effects, whether we feel them or not. The national institute of health recently designated inflammation as a priority. This means they are prioritizing the research of inflammation in order to understand, and treat inflammation better, which really mostly means more drugs. This is where things get really complicated. Can you imagine what goes into trying to formulate a drug, test the effectiveness and figure out the numerous side effects that are inevitably happening, both long term and short term and that vary from person to person? It’s so much! How can you KNOW what a medication is doing to someone on every level? Anyways, it is extremely common to treat inflammation starting with meds, and if we continue to only mask the inflammation without dealing with the source, the problem will likely worsen and require stronger drugs, and then possibly surgery. If surgery doesn’t change the way we are treating the problem, then there will be more surgeries. As a physical therapist, I know the pattern and if you ask any healthcare provider, they likely know it too.
How do we make sure that we do not fall into this pattern? A great place to start is by learning how to manage inflammation naturally, trying out a few things, and seeing how we feel. For most, it’s a mindset shift, from trying to feel better right NOW to feeling better the rest of our lives. Inflammation is medically defined as the body’s attempt at self-protection, so I look at trying to manage inflammation naturally from a very simple point of view. If we are nice to our bodies and give them what they want, so they do not have to protect themselves so much, we will have less inflammation. If we have less inflammation systemically, we will be less likely to have one or more chronic diseases, we will ache less, and we will look and feel healthier. Sounds simple, right? Simple, but maybe not so easy, depending on our circumstances. Although, no matter where we are, we can either go in a positive or negative direction, it really is a choice.
So what do our bodies want? We need to be open to the answer because we are the only ones who know it, but here are some ideas that may help. Something will likely stand out, so follow your instincts. There are a wide range of things our bodies thrive on, but for simplification purposes, most of us can narrow it down to a few key players: good nutrition, enough sleep, positive energy, and movement. Trying out just one of these suggestions, or coming up with on your own, could be just what you need to upgrade your health.
Nutrition– Below, there is a list of some natural anti-inflammatory foods and it is long. This is a good thing, right? It is nice that there are so many options, but the list may feel daunting to some. If you are not really a list person, a good idea taken from Ayurvedic medicine, the oldest medicine that exists, is to simply eat a wide variety of colors each day. And, no, a rainbow birthday cake does not count! No cheating with artificial colors!:) Or if you prefer, use the list below to inspire you to be creative about what to put in a smoothie, salad, or soup each day. Keep it simple and use what is already in your kitchen. Next time you go to the store, buy fresh and colorful veggies, fruits, and greens, then they will be there waiting for you the next day. Consider making a big batch of bone broth and freezing it in single and multiple serving portions. Add spices, herbs, greens, veggies and meat, if you like, to the broth and viola, you have a tasty, fast meal where you can add the fresh produce you have in your fridge. Eat a small handful of nuts and seeds each day. Drink water often. Enjoy tea. In addition, inflammatory responses are known to be much more likely if we are deficient in Vitamin A, which is found in orange foods, like carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, dried apricots and….big surprise…dark, leafy greens. (It’s like everything good for you is in those greens!) Vitamin A, when consumed with healthy fats, has optimal absorption in the body, so consider cooking with grapeseed oil, coconut oil, or grass fed butter and putting olive oil and avocado on salads and in smoothies.
I wholeheartedly believe in the idea of adding good stuff into your diet versus taking away the bad stuff. As you add the healthy items in, the not so healthy (or downright toxic) items don’t have as much room and you stop craving them as much. They organically and slowly fall away, making the whole process much easier versus quitting something cold turkey. It is a perspective shift when it comes to improving your eating habits; it is about adding, not taking away food. Since food is very emotional, the taking away thing can be mentally brutal; most of us have been there. But, if you prefer “a diet”, consider a Paleo diet, especially if you are a woman, since it will help lower the level of inflammation in your body or simply take out most of the processed foods and sugar from your diet. Lastly, having well balanced hormones, something most of us could really use, is crucial when it comes to decreasing the amount of inflammation in our bodies. Our hormones are impacted greatly by the quality of our nutrition, with breakfast having the most impact. It has been determined that starting each day with a savory, protein and veggie filled breakfast and saving the fruit sugars and complex carbs for midday, helps equalize hormones. In addition, the Peruvian herb maca, is known to help balance hormones for men and women.
Sleep– Try getting 8-9 hours a sleep a night. If you are not sleeping enough, take some time to understand why. If you wake up at night and cannot go back to sleep, stress could be the cause. When you are lying there awake, consider trying some deep breathing, stretching, or smelling calming essential oils. This can be a lovely way to help you drift back to sleep when your mind is going. To reduce stress, try a few, short periods of stillness each day or search stress management techniques online (there are hundreds, if not thousands) and see what looks appealing.
If you cannot fall asleep when you first go to bed, try turning off any screens, especially laptops and tablets, an hour before bed. The brightness of the screen confuses your brain about what time of the day it is and this decreases your nighttime release of melatonin. Also consider putting a couple slices of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water and drinking it before bed to help you wind down. It could help to go to bed a little earlier than usual and simply lie down, close your eyes and breathe. You can focus on your rib cage filling up and emptying out or think about a few things you are grateful for. Consider not drinking any caffeine after 1 pm, or not at all, and see what happens. Like I said, do whatever it takes to improve your sleep, which could mean you need to ask for help to figure it out. Asking for help from an expert or even just casually asking a friend, especially someone that knows you well, is a great way to speed up the growth process and to get some support.
Positive energy– Doing things that make us feel good, choosing to be around people that lift us up, and managing our stress are great ways to have more positive energy. We are all different, so what are your specific needs? I am surprised with how often I find that my clients do not know their needs and do not know how or do not see the importance of reducing their stress. If that sounds familiar, spend some time pondering the idea. What makes you feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful? Being in nature, doing yoga, surfing, playing music, or creating art? Whatever it is, simply enjoy doing it more. In addition, here are some proven ways to decrease inflammation while elevating your vibe:
~”Earthing” or “grounding” are the terms used to describe coming in contact with the earth, most commonly done by walking barefoot in grass or on sand. When we touch the earth, electrons are easily obtained by our bodies which has an antioxidant effect, protecting our bodies from inflammation by improving the function of our immune systems.
~Get some sun. In the last century, we have moved from primarily working outside to primarily working inside, and we have seen a huge jump in vitamin D deficiency. This makes us prone to higher levels of inflammation, therefore, more pain and an increased susceptibility to a whole slew of diseases, like cancer. Consider checking your vitamin D levels by buying a home test kit or asking your doc, or just keep it simple, and get outside more often.
~Acupuncture has been proven to decrease inflammatory markers in the blood. Acupressure, where pressure is placed on an acupuncture point, is effective also, but the needles provide a more profound effect. These are proven safe and effective methods.
~Spend some time being still for a couple minutes a few times a day. In these moments, try to focus on your breath and consider finding gratitude and forgiveness for yourself and others.
~Set an intention to slow down and be present more often.
Movement– What activity do you, or might you enjoy doing? If you don’t know, think about what you enjoyed doing when you were a child, or try something new you have always wanted to do. Joseph Campbell said “follow your bliss” and this is exactly what I am talking about. Figure out what is supportive to your body and mind and do it! You deserve it. Consider walking in nature, swimming in the ocean, dancing, playing with a pet, or trying a yoga, Pilates, or a tai chi class. What sounds fun? For me, I am super excited to get back to rollerblading on the Newport Beach boardwalk again when I move back to Orange County. I also tried stand up paddleboarding in Panama and hiked to many waterfalls with my husband here in Costa Rica. This does not just feel like exercise to me; these activities are exhilarating! If you have a hard time getting motivating or excited about doing some movement, I recommend being active with other people. It is funny how being held accountable can be so motivating:), plus you get to connect with people in your family or community.
I had a good time researching the most current research on inflammation, writing this blog post, and learning more about holistic health, so many thanks for reading this post! Please don’t hesitate to send any questions my way. Happy Holidays! Let’s make 2016 great by feeling better and enjoying life more fully.
Natural Anti-inflammatory Food List
Fruits: Pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, Acerola cherries, guavas, kumquats, lemons, limes, mulberries, rhubarb and capers
Vegetables: Onions, Garlic, chives, leeks, spinach, chard, collards, broccoli, kale, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, green beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and lettuce.
Spices and herbs: Turmeric and ginger (very potent anti-inflammatories that rivals meds in clinical trials), cayenne, rosemary, garlic, thyme, oregano, parsley, cilantro, fennel, mint, dill, tarragon, cannabis, and boswellia.
Beverages: green tea, white tea, black tea, red wine, cocoa, pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice
Fish and fish oils: wild salmon, sablefish, mackerel, herring, artic char, oysters, rainbow trout, striped bass, tuna, whitefish, and sardines
Beans, nuts and seeds: especially Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soybeans and ground flax seeds
Hemp oil and flaxseed oil, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids
Dark chocolate and oats
Consider immune boosters like astragalus, elderberry, olive leaf, vitamin C, zinc, cat’s claw and again, turmeric and ginger.