The ABCs of Inflammation

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: April 5th, 2017 | Read time: 2 minutes

Research points to chronic inflammation as the root cause of many serious illnesses, including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. While acute inflammation (such as swelling after a fall) is your body’s natural—and necessary—immune response to tissue damage, chronic inflammation is a symptom of your body being out of whack.

3 Causes of Inflammation & How to Avoid Them

When inflammation is constant, your body has a damaging immune response to a barrage of environmental, physical, and mental triggers, which typically are comprised of poor nutrition, toxic chemicals and stress.

Here are three leading causes of chronic inflammation:

Too much processed food

Processed foods, too many animal products, sugary drinks, trans fats and certain unhealthy saturated fats, and excess alcohol are the usual suspects when it comes to inflammation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition warns that processed sugars trigger the release of the inflammatory response messengers called cytokines. Sugar can be a tricky one, hiding in many foods that you would not suspect. It goes by many names so look out for any word ending in “ose,” e.g. fructose or sucrose on ingredient labels. And numerous studies have shown that saturated fats trigger adipose (fat tissue) inflammation, which can lead to heart disease as well as worsen arthritis inflammation.

Try: Increasing the proportion of fruits and vegetables in your diet, making fish your main protein (or becoming vegetarian) and consuming more omega-3s makes a big difference.

Stress and exhaustion

Research suggests that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, correlates the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn can promote the development and progression of disease. The logic is that inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol, and when cortisol levels go awry, inflammation can get out of control.

Try: If stress has you anxious, tense and worried, consider trying meditation. Spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. According to a new study in Psychoneuroendocrinology, just a little mindfulness training goes a long way, at least when it comes to quieting the mind in stressful situations.

Sedentary lifestyle

A sedentary life is a no brainer, if you don’t mind many unwanted health outcomes—inflammation included. Find time to move your body throughout the day. Sitting at a computer all-day and working out for 30 minutes every night has been shown less effective for overall health than regular movement throughout the day.

Try: If you are a desk jockey, find ways to get up and move throughout the day—stand up or walk around the office during phone calls, use a standing desk, go to the printer or fax machine whenever able, and take a walk during lunch and breaks.