What is inflammation? How does the body control inflammation? What inhibits an anti-inflammatory response? And should you be concerned about it?
Inflammation is the body’s response to pain, injury and illness. It is a natural process that the body uses to heal. This could be a scraped knee, a headache or something more serious like a terminal disease. Heart disease, obesity, depression, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases are all linked to inflammation (1).
In general terms, we want acute inflammation. This is the type that happens when we have an infection, get sunburnt or suffer physical trauma. Acute inflammation presents itself as heat, redness, swelling, pain, and a loss of function to the effected area. Acute inflammation heals and allows us to function normally again in a relatively short period of time.
It’s when we start experiencing chronic inflammation that things start to go bad. Chronic inflammation is when the inflammatory response is turned on and continues to hang around for weeks, months and years.
So what makes us chronically inflamed?
There are several areas of our diet and lifestyle that contribute to chronic inflammation, these include:
- eating a lot of processed foods
- lack of sleep
- constant stress – physical or mental
- poor gut health
- an imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats
- overconsumption of Aspirin/ NSAIDs/ Steroids
The Science-ey bit… (you can skip this if you like)
Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that control inflammation in the body in order to maintain homeostasis. There are both pro (PG2) and anti-inflammatory (PG1 & PG3) prostaglandins that are formed from fat sources found in our diets.
Foods containing omega-6, omega-3, and saturated fats are converted into essential fatty acids (either linoleic acid or alpha-linolenic acid) and then prostaglandins which our body uses to manage inflammation. This process requires proper digestion, proper liver function, and the production of digestive enzymes in the digestive system. An imbalance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the diet can cause the wrong type of prostaglandin to be produced (PG2).
Certain foods and drugs have been shown to block the formation of prostaglandins. Aspirin, NSAIDS and steroids block normal prostaglandin function by inhibiting the process of conversion from essential fatty acids. These drugs may help mask pain or discomfort, but they actually prolong the healing process; by inhibiting the formation of prostaglandins, the body in unable to create its’ own anti-inflammatory responses.
How to best manage inflammation.
A natural way to manage inflammation through nutrition is to ensure an adequate range of quality fat sources are included in the diet. Eating plenty of butter, coconut oil, avocado, oily fish, nuts & seeds is a good start. Watch that you aren’t consuming too many omega-6 fatty acids – these are found in seed/vegetable oils (basically anything deep fried), processed/ packaged supermarket items (check the label) and poor quality fats from processed meats.
So in a nutshell – include good quality fats in your diet daily, focus on addressing lifestyle factors like sleep and stress, and you will be on your way to avoiding and control inflammation.