Inflammation has a been a hot topic lately and everyone is talking about it. Why? Well, frankly, because it can lead to very bad things happening in your body. Did you know that despite all the bad press, inflammation in itself is actually good? We experience acute inflammation when we get a cut or scrape and the skin becomes red and swollen. This is when our bodies go to work producing white blood cells to remove harmful stimuli or irritants (i.e., bacteria and viruses).
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is not so great. In a nutshell, this is when your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, but in response to environmental and/or mental stress. It's different for everyone, but basically, our diets, stress-levels, and exposure to products and toxins can result in our bodies working overtime to protect against real or perceived dangers, eventually leading to chronic inflammation as our bodies work on non-stop overdrive.
So now we get to why this is a bad thing: chronic inflammation has been linked to just about every disease out there. For instance, some research indicates that heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke can result from oral health and gum disease through inflammation (another plug for oil pulling!). The theory is that as a result of inflammation, the bacteria from gum disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart. Yikes! On a broader scale, this theory also speculates that what we eat and how we respond to stress leads to inflammation which can lead to somewhat scary things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and even scarier things like cancer. Double yikes.
The good news is that there is hope. Lots of it. There are so many things you can do to fight inflammation - some are super easy and some are a little more difficult. But whatever you choose to do, just do something and do it now. After lots and lots of reading and talking to my doctors and acupuncturist (Kelly Welch - AH-MAZING), below is a list of the 4 things I'm doing to reduce inflammation in my body. Some of these things were really easy for me to change, but others were (and still are) very hard so I've made the change gradually.
4 Ways to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
Food allergies are a huge cause of inflammation. Maybe you're thinking that since you have no known food allergies, this doesn't apply to you so you can go about eating any and everything. I know I used to be that way, but I was oh-so-very wrong. Did you know that roughly 60% of adults can't properly digest milk? Scientists believe that this inability to properly digest milk and dairy can lead to inflammation. Now I'm not saying that you need to go ahead and cut dairy out of your diet right away (though I have been dairy free for 3 weeks now and I feel FABULOUS). But you could try cutting back, or maybe swap out milk for rice or coconut milk (primarily avoiding casein) for a week and see how you feel. You could also try incorporating more of the following into your diet:
Red meat has also been linked to inflammation so maybe try giving steak a break and opt for poultry or, even better, fish every now and then. I went red-meat free in 2008 after I read the book Skinny Bitch, not knowing that the authors are vegan. The book made me want to go Vege all together, but I knew that given my lifestyle, it just wasn't realistic to cut out all forms of animals from my diet completely. So I started small and stopped eating four-legged friends first, only eating organic, free-range poultry and fish on occasion to ensure I was getting the proper nutrients. I found it relatively easy to stop eating red meat, though I do find myself missing the taste of hot dogs and salami (a.k.a. nitrates) every now and then. In my opinion, the hard part has been cutting out dairy since almost every food product out there has some form of milk or cream in it! That, and I really, truly love ice cream. Like bad.
But my point here is that you don't need go all in right off the bat. In fact, if you're anything like me, that is a recipe for disaster because you just end up placing too much pressure on yourself. Just start with what is realistic to you, even if that's only making one small change like using almond milk in your latte or swapping a hamburger for a black bean burger. Whatever the change, see if you can give it a try for a week, then two, then a month and so forth, and notice how your body feels after each week. I'm willing to bet that you'll be feeling pretty good!
Acupuncture is the best. It is a great tool to fight inflammation for two reasons: it helps you rest and relax (take that, stress!) and it can help regulate your blood flow. I walked into my first acupuncture appointment full of anxiety and stressed out to the max. But after just one 30-minute session, I walked out feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. During your first session, you will likely have a consultation with your acupuncturist where I recommend you be completely honest so they can best treat you according to your needs. And after the consultation, you'll have your first session with needles. It is not scary at all, I promise. You barely feel the needles, and you definitely can't see them poking out of you while you're lying there.
If the thought of needles really just freaks you out, you can also try acupressure!
Most of us value convenience and efficiency, and I am proud to say that I fall in that category. But what I think we all to often choose to ignore is that with convenience comes a number of harsh chemicals and toxins in our food, home and personal care products. I bring this up because these toxins are often associated with inflammation. Toxins are considered foreigners to our bodies (no surprise there), so it's natural and even expected that our bodies may enter the "fight or flight" mode when repeatedly exposed to such dangers through our skin and digestive tract. So through this ever-so-clever deductive reasoning, I've come to believe that by reducing toxins, we can reduce inflammation.
As I mentioned before, going organic to reduce toxins and chemicals in my food has been made easy thanks to my local Trader Joe's (I promise, they don't pay me to say this!). As a rule of thumb, I try to limit the number of processed foods I consume and when I do, I only buy processed foods with ingredients that don't sound like a pharmaceutical product. Stores like TJ's, Whole Foods, and M.O.M. make this SO easy and the price points are comparable or even lower than that of a Giant, Harris Teeter, or Safeway.
On the other hand, I've had a much harder time reducing toxins in my personal care and home cleaning products. To start with, I was honestly consumed with vanity (rightfully so, IMHO); I worried that without chemicals, I'd be the stinky girl with greasy hair. And to be fair, with some brands, that was definitely the case. When that happened, though, I just went back to my chemicals until I found another brand to try. Little by little and after much testing, I began to swap out one product than another as I found brands that I trust, both for their integrity and ingredients, as well as for the fact that I still feel (and smell) clean.
Take a Yoga Class (or two, or ten....)
The last thing on my list is YOGA, and I sincerely hope you're not surprised by this :) Rest and recovery is essential to reducing inflammation - how else is your body supposed to know that it doesn't need to fight anymore? I think yoga is a great form of rest because in addition to the stretching and physical release you'll find with it, yoga also teaches us to be at peace in our bodies. Through breath work and meditation (even just sitting quietly for 1 minute can count - it doesn't need to be so daunting!), yoga can help us us calm our minds, which naturally leads to a calmer body.
Being that this is a yoga blog, I will be writing so much more about yoga so I'll leave the details for a later post. But in the meantime, see if you can pay a little more attention to your breath next time you stretch. When you inhale, focus on lengthening your spine or your muscle being stretched and when you exhale, work to let go so that the stretch happens a little more naturally. These controlled breaths will also help slow your heart rate and trigger your body's "Rest and Digest" phase (think opposite of "Fight or Flight").
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...