If you have glimpsed at magazine racks in grocery store check-out lines lately, you know that “anti-inflammation” appears to be the latest and greatest health craze. Yet, anti-inflammation has been at the core of health care for centuries and addressing the cause has always been a core principle of naturopathic medicine. 

So, while not the “latest,” I do agree with labeling it as the “greatest” because reducing inflammation can have profound effects on overall health. In this article, I will discuss the role of inflammation and detail a straightforward approach that will demystify how to address it with daily habits. 

The foundations of health encompass a myriad of lifestyle practices that can minimize inflammation.

Inflammation is our body’s natural response to protect itself and forms of reaction depend on the nature of the initial event; a fever when fighting an infection, inflamed skin around a scratch, and a swollen ankle after a twist or sprain are all examples. Inflammatory symptoms include redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of tissue function. This results from chemical signaling, part of which causes an increase in dilation of blood vessels, allowing delivery of other inflammatory and immune molecules to penetrate the local tissue that needs help. The orchestration of inflammatory events helps the body heal itself and recover relatively quickly. Without this response, humans would not be able to survive the slightest injuries; it plays a critical role in the survival of our species.

Acute inflammation itself is not inherently bad since survival is optimal. However, there are circumstances in which acute inflammation can become uncontrolled and turn into chronic (long-term) inflammation referred to as inflammageing.  This is when the body’s inflammatory response persists.

The current craze is focused on chronic inflammation which has been scientifically proven as the underlying cause of tissue damage and numerous diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, dementia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer.1-6 Although the reasons for chronic inflammation are unique to each person’s make-up and circumstance, common lifestyle changes can effectively reduce inflammation.

This past March, I purchased three publications, including a National Geographic, whose entire publications were dedicated to the subject.7,8,9 In review, I found that each highlighted aspects of wellbeing known in naturopathic medicine as the “foundations of health.” These simple practices are the bedrock of health, underlying all other interventions, and have stood the test of time and modern science. They include clean water, nutritious food, adequate sleep, physical movement, fresh air/outdoor exposure, community/social engagement and spiritual/ideological beliefs.

Seems simple enough, yet in our world today, many of these basic necessities are a challenge for most of us to incorporate daily. When these foundations are not met for long periods of time, or to a large degree, it can greatly stress our system and negatively impact our function.

Optimizing these foundations in your life will give you those large brush strokes to calm the flames of inflammation. 

Obstacles to achieving these foundations are plenty in our fast-paced, convenience-based lives. Even if you are eating clean food, our food supply is far from being nutrient dense due to depletion of nutrients in the soil and modification of crops to grow faster, larger and more resistant to pests and weather. Toxins permeate our water supply, food production, air quality and other products in our environment. Electronics replace human interaction.

Stress can present as many medical conditions and is a key reason people visit their doctor’s office.

In fact, there are so many challenges to fulfilling these simple foundations of health that most of us live with a chronic deficit of more than one factor.  With this consideration, it’s no wonder there is an increase in chronic disease in our modern world.

But there are certainly things you can do to mitigate these challenges. Let’s circle back to stress for a moment; it comes in many forms and, like inflammation, not all stress is bad. Stress can challenge our bodies to help us grow stronger and more resilient. But chronic physical, mental and/or emotional stress has harmful effects on our well-being. It contributes to chronic inflammation by not allowing the body to switch out of the survival (fight-or-flight) mode and get the healing (rest-and-digest) time it needs. 

Stress might not be as obvious as when we confront traumatic or difficult situations.  It can be more insidious, such as having to get somewhere on time, being preoccupied with mental thoughts and multi-tasking. When our foundations of health are not being met, we have less resilience to these additional stressors and they then have a greater impact on our health.

It is estimated that 75-90% of all doctor office visits are related to stress. They include symptoms such as digestive problems, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, headaches and hypertension to name a few.10-15 Incorporating ways to
“de-stress” and bring your body into the rest-and-digest state is key to addressing inflammation.

Here are a few time-tested tips to help mitigate inflammation. You may have heard them all before, but incorporating them as a doctor’s prescription to enhance health may be just what you need to start incorporating them into your daily routine:

Nutritious food

  • Aim to get five servings of vegetables a day.
  • Increase healthy fats (nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil, freshwater fish) and reduce unhealthy/saturated fats (included in next bullet point). Together this will help to support omega 3:6 ratio and shift the inflammatory pathway down the less harmful route. Supplementation with a high-quality fish oil or vegetarian source of omega 3’s can be helpful. Mediterranean diet recipes also follow this plan.
  • Reduce known inflammatory items such as alcohol, caffeine, dairy, grains, red meat, refined sugar, fried foods, seed oils, fast food, processed and packaged foods containing additives, preservatives and other unknown ingredients.
  • Because of our nutrient-depleted soil, mineral supplementation can be beneficial.

Clean water

  • Aim to drink half of your weight in ounces of clean water per day (180lbs person = 90oz/day).
  • Adjust amounts to meet physical demands, heavy workouts, hot climates, etc. 
  • Avoid plastic containers and drinking vessels (See Dr. Ceja’s article on clean water sources on page 11 and my previous article “Start Your Day Off Right: With Water” (Nov/Dec 2020).

Physical movement

  • Take multiple short walks (5-10 minutes) per day.  This is not only good for circulation, but excellent for mental health.
  • More frequent, less intense movement is great.  It does not have to be an hour at the gym breaking a sweat to have a positive impact on your health (see Dr. Sheppard’s article on sweat on page 14).
  • Make sure you allocate days to take breaks from physically demanding workout schedules. Focus on restorative movement on those days, which will allow your body to recover, aiding in long-term success and reducing risk of injury.

Adequate sleep

  • Dedicate eight hours per night to be in bed (even if you are unable to sleep).
  • Remove electronics from the room.
  • Keep the room cool, dark and quiet.
  • Avoid blue light exposure (from electronics) two hours before bed.
  • Try to watch the sunrise and sunset.

Fresh air/Outdoor exposure

  • Invest in an air purification machine for your bedroom or home if possible.
  • Avoid outdoors on low quality air days.
  • Try to spend at least 15 minutes outdoors, weather permitting and preferably with your feet on the ground. 

Community/Social engagement

  • Plan regular interactions with your community when possible and where you feel safe. If in-person is not possible, use electronics to your advantage for audio or video chats.

Spiritual/Ideological beliefs

  • At your own discretion. This does not have to be a religious practice. It can be as simple as treating others with kindness and respect.

Mitigating stress/Self-care

  • Practices such as paced breathing, yoga, meditation, mindfulness and gratitude are just a few mind-body options that can have profound effects on reducing stress and inflammation, and improving health and well-being. Implement such activities for
    10-20 minutes each and every day.
  • Remember self-care is not selfish. Find activities, therapies or practices that work for you and take time to enjoy them on a regular basis.
Taking time to view the sunset can have a positive impact on mental health.

These foundations are a simple, yet effective roadmap to strengthen your ability to reduce chronic inflammation. Prioritizing self-care and learning healthier ways to process physical, mental and emotional stress can minimize the additional impact of chronic stress on chronic disease.

It is my hope that you understand how profound self-care and the foundations of health are in your daily routine. I recommend keeping this article somewhere you can review it periodically as a reminder of the simple efforts you can make daily to address chronic inflammation. As always, discuss any changes to your health routine with your health care practitioner before implementing them.

Dr. Jainuddin is a naturopathic primary care doctor with One Life Naturopathic and can be reached at (442) 256.596. For more information visit www.onelifenaturopathic.org.

References available upon request.

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