The term “inflammation” has become somewhat of a buzzword in the world of integrative and holistic medicine, and for good reason. However, it’s less common to really understand what inflammation is, especially chronic inflammation, how it is caused, and what to do about it. Many chronic conditions and diseases are partially, if not fully, rooted in systemic inflammation.

What Is The Difference Between Acute Inflammation and Chronic Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural healing process that is actually necessary to defend and protect the body from infection and disease. What’s unnatural and can be harmful is when inflammation becomes generalized and chronic, rather than acute.

Acute inflammation occurs with a broken bone, infection, or wound. Typical symptoms of acute inflammation include redness, heat, and swelling.

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Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is internal and unseen. It has been connected with conditions such as diabetes, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and even cancer.

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Our inflammatory response produces white blood cells and immune cells that work together with cytokines to fight an invader or infection. In the case of a parasite, bacteria or virus that needs to be eliminated, or a cut that needs to be healed, this type of immune response is not only appropriate, but critical.

However, certain foods and lifestyle choices can also trigger an inflammatory response. By bombarding our body with inflammatory foods and habits on a daily basis, it can lead to chronic inflammation.

Let’s take a look at some specific dietary factors that promote inflammation.

A High-Sugar Diet
Most health experts now agree and studies have shown that a diet high in refined sugar and chemical sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup, can cause obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance.

Refined Carbohydrates
Similar to a high-sugar diet, a diet high in refined carbs has also been proven to greatly contribute to obesity and inflammation. Foods such as white bread, pastas, and commercial baked goods top the list. The negative effects of refined carbohydrates become especially prevalent when a diet also lacks key minerals and vitamins from fresh vegetables and fruits.

Rancid Oils
A rancid oil is one that has been oxidized. The oxidation occurs when a delicate oil is exposed to light and heat and its chemical makeup is altered, creating dangerous free radicals. Oils most prone to oxidation are canola, soy, corn, and grapeseed — all vegetable oils. Studies show these types of oils are also likely to create an imbalance between our omega-3:omega-6 fatty acid ratio, resulting in much higher levels of inflammatory omega-6s. Unfortunately, these oils have usually become rancid before even hitting the shelves at your local grocery store.

Processed Foods
Processed and packaged foods often contain inflammatory ingredients like sugar, refined carbohydrates, and rancid oils. Even more inflammatory are processed foods containing trans fats, which are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats.

Excessive Alcohol
Plain and simple, drinking too much is very inflammatory and can lead to a whole host of problems. Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with higher C-reactive protein (CRP) markers, which are a signal of inflammation in the body.

Sedentary Lifestyle
A lack of physical activity and a lifestyle that is primarily comprised of sitting has also been shown to contribute to inflammatory conditions such as obesity and insulin resistance.

Sleep Deprivation
Research has shown that a lack of quality sleep is directly related to increased inflammation. If you suffer from insomnia, consider working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to develop healthy sleep hygiene.

How To Fight Chronic Inflammation

Now that we’ve looked at some of the primary causes of chronic inflammation, let’s look at some of the most effective ways to reduce it.

In terms of diet, it boils down to avoiding inflammatory foods and consuming anti-inflammatory foods. Which foods fall into which categories?

    These are inflammatory foods you should avoid:

  • Refined carbohydrates such as white flour, bread, pasta, and commercially baked goods. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, is also inflammatory for many people.
  • Refined sugars found in baked goods, candy, soda and packaged foods. Instead, choose natural sugar sources such as honey, agave, maple syrup and fruit.
  • Processed soy, like tofu and soy milk, can be highly inflammatory. Fermented sources of soy are okay, and include miso, nato, tamari and tempeh.
  • Hydrogenated fats such as margarine and crisco, or anything with an ingredient that says hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
  • Vegetable oils such as canola, soy, corn and grapeseed.
  • Vegetables from the nightshade family may be inflammatory for some, especially sufferers of arthritis. Vegetables in the nightshade family include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, goji berries and tobacco.
    These are anti-inflammatory foods you should be consuming regularly:

  • A wide variety of vegetables and fruit. Of course, organic and seasonal is always best whenever possible.
  • High-quality meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Pasture-raised or organic eggs.
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil, flax oil, coconut oil, organic butter, ghee, nuts and seeds, and avocados.
  • Whole grains and legumes, in moderation. Those with a severe gluten sensitivity may have a negative reaction to grains and legumes.
  • Anti-inflammatory superfoods like garlic, ginger, cinnamon and turmeric.
  • Dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher.
  • Herbal teas, fresh-squeezed vegetable and fruit juices, and plenty of water.

What Are The Benefits Of An Anti-Inflammatory Diet?

Aside from the nice side effects of weight loss and increased energy, putting a little effort into following an anti-inflammatory diet can improve common conditions such as pain from arthritis and symptoms related to autoimmune diseases and digestive disorders such as IBS and IBD.

From the perspective of taking a preventative approach to your health, you will lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer as well. Also, your triglyceride and cholesterol levels will likely improve, and blood sugar levels will be more balanced, perhaps even avoiding the all too common mid-afternoon energy crash.

Whether you are trying to improve a current condition or prevent a future one, give an anti-inflammatory diet a try for several months and see how you feel. Chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can lead to a whole host of problems. But, as you hopefully now understand, chronic inflammation can largely be controlled with healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

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