By Shannon Morehouse, MA, CHHC, and Laurel Sterling, MS, RD
When most people picture inflammation, they think of a bump on the head, an infected wound, or an arthritic joint. However, inflammation is a precursor to major health conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, Alzheimer’s, and skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Chronic inflammation begins at the cellular level and is most often due to free radicals. Many factors can produce free radicals including smoking, pollution, acidic foods, foods high in sugar or saturated fat, and stress. Through a combination of diet, lifestyle, and dietary supplements, we can reduce the damage caused by inflammation.
Reduce your Intake of Acidic Foods and Increase your Intake of Alkalizing Foods
An acidic environment in your body, even if mildly acidic, can cause inflammation. Check your pH levels often with Heritage Store pH test strips. We recommend testing pH in your urine the first thing in the morning. If your pH is acidic, then you want to reduce your intake of meat (especially red meat), dairy, alcohol, refined food (like white pasta and breads, crackers, and cookies), artificial sweeteners, and sugary foods. You want to increase your intake of vegetables, especially leafy greens. Munch on almonds for a tasty alkaline snack and add lemon to your filtered water for an alkalizing effect. If you are having a difficult time getting veggies in, mix a green powder, such as Whole Earth & Sea’s Fermented Greens into your breakfast smoothie.
Increase your Consumption of Antioxidants
Antioxidants will defeat the free radicals; they’re responsible for preventing oxidative stress (hence their name being antioxidants). Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, and cauliflower are especially beneficial.
Many herbs are high in antioxidants, so spice up your cooking with ginger, turmeric, parsley, cayenne pepper, oregano, and rosemary. Whole grains are high in several antioxidants, so consider quinoa, brown rice, millet, or amaranth in place of pasta and bread. All fruits are high in antioxidants. Some of the most alkaline, antioxidant-rich fruits include watermelon, grapefruit, mangoes, melons, grapes, kiwi, blueberries, apples, and even raisins!
Lastly, research studies have shown that green tea contains powerful antioxidants.
Increase Mineral-Rich Foods
Calcium and magnesium will help keep inflammation at bay. Many mineral-rich foods are also alkaline and high in antioxidants. Some good choices include almonds, kale, and parsley. Also try adding mineral-rich legumes (garbanzo beans, black beans, and pinto beans) to your grain dishes.
Avoid Foods that Inhibit Mineral Absorption
Even some of the healthiest foods can inhibit mineral absorption. Night-shade veggies like potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant contain the calcium-inhibitor, solanine. Rhubarb, cranberries, plums, spinach, and chard contain oxalic acid, which is also a calcium inhibitor. Also, limit your caffeine and sugar intake, as both can inhibit mineral absorption.
Increase your Consumption of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids are very helpful at reducing inflammation. Fish, plant, and nut oils are the primary dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found in salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, and herring, as well as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
Sometimes, we cannot address our inflammation enough with foods, stress reduction, and proper sleep; it is then when we need to look to supplements.
Consider incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your supplement regime. Fish oils lower LDL, triglycerides, fibrinogen (a clotting indicator), homocysteine (a strong oxidant), and inflammation. They also improve blood pressure and HDL levels. Flaxseed Oil is a good choice for those who would like a vegetarian/vegan option. This works in the body similar to fish oil. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid are crucial in normalizing homocysteine levels. A great product that includes all of these is Designs for Health’s Homocysteine Supreme. Magnesium is alkalizing, assists with sleep, helps decrease anxiety and nervousness, relaxes all smooth muscles, and the list goes on. Nutrient-rich soil is becoming increasingly rare; and as a result, foods are deficient in many minerals. It is crucial to replenish our body with these minerals on a daily basis.
New Chapter Organics’ Zyflamend is a wonderful product that includes turmeric, ginger, oregano, green tea, holy basil, rosemary, and Baikal skullcap. These herbs are utilized by the body to naturally promote a healthy inflammation response. A similar product called Meriva 500-SF by Thorne Research, is a highly bioavailable curcumin extract, which is a powerful antioxidant found in turmeric. Another herb known for its anti-inflammatory properties is cayenne. There is a product called Cool Cayenne by Solaray, which is gentler on the stomach than others. Boswellia from Himalaya is another great option. Boswellia (also known as Frankincense) blocks the synthesis of inflammation-causing leukotrienes.
Also consider enzymes and flavonoids like NOW’s Quercetin with Bromelain. Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple. Studies have shown that bromelain inhibits the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Quercetin is a potent flavonoid found in onions, apples, and other veggies. This was found to also help mediate inflammation. Wobenzym N is a clinically backed product that contains plant-based enzymes, pancreatic enzymes, and antioxidants.
Get Enough Sleep, as sleep deprivation has been shown to increase free radicals.
Reduce Stress, as stress is pro-inflammatory. Studies have shown that meditation, yoga, prayer, or other stress-reduction activities can have a positive effect on chronic inflammatory conditions.
Exercise, but don’t overdo it. Exercise consistently to maintain a healthy body weight and stimulate a healthy immune system but vary the intensity. You want to avoid constantly exercising with very intense efforts for long periods of time because this puts oxidative stress on your body, producing free radicals.