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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Quenching the fires of inflammation

Monday, February 06, 2012

Inflammation isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually a healthy response designed to fix problems and enable healing. When you cut yourself, or some tissue is damaged, immune cells rush to the scene. Blood vessels in the area enlarge and become ‘leaky’ enabling your body’s repair team to get to the area. When they arrive, they attack any invading bacteria or viruses, and alert the rest of your immune system. The area becomes a battlefield, and all the activity irritates nerve endings, causing pain.

Eventually the mess is cleared away, and your body begins the healing process. In some disorders, what you eat can affect the amount of pain you’ll feel, and how fast the condition clears. This is particularly the case in arthritis, clogged arteries, auto-immune conditions,  skin problems, and even period pain.

For example, in rheumatoid joints, chronic inflammation is the order of the day. If you develop this condition, your immune system is attacking healthy tissue and creating inflammation as if the joint tissue was an invader. This produces a lot of debris from dead cells, and waste products that don’t just irritate nerve endings, but causes extreme pain. Because circulation in joint areas is slower, the debris from inflammation doesn’t get cleared away fast enough. In the morning, after several hours of sleep, joints feel stiff and painful until you get moving.

Some foods are classified as pro-inflammatory and others anti-inflammatory, depending on the degree to which they can affect this biochemical reactions. You can look up the inflammatory factor number of a specific food at www.nutritiondata.self.com . In general, the foods that are most pro-inflammatory are those with a high proportion of saturated fat: For example, butter, and coconut oil.  (Although milk and fresh coconut aren’t anywhere near as inflammatory.). Foods with a high proportion of saturated fat, like puff pastry, are also strongly inflammatory.

Foods high in unsaturated fat, like olive oil and oily fish are strongly anti-inflammatory (that’s why fish oil capsules are often used to treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis).

Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and meat hover around ‘neutral’.

As with all aspects of a nutritious diet, balance is essential. You can’t completely avoid foods that are pro-inflammatory; the solution is to eat more of the anti-inflammatory foods, and less of the pro-inflammatory foods. In a nutshell, this means including lots of fresh vegetables and seafood in your diet, as well as fruits, some grains, nuts seeds and meat.  And, to eat foods in their natural state as much as possible.

If you are suffering from a chronic inflammatory condition, here’s a positive way you can influence your recovery.


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