When your body is exposed to viruses, bacteria, toxic chemicals or suffers an injury, it activates your immune system. When this happens your immune system sends out inflammatory cells and cytokines (helps to stimulate more inflammatory cells). An inflammatory response is then triggered by the cells in which bacteria and other harmful substances are trapped and the healing of injured tissue begins. Inflammation is visible through swelling, bruising or redness but can also result in pain. Not all inflammation in the body can be seen.
Acute inflammation is a sudden response to body damage and symptoms such as flushed skin, pain, swelling and heat are experienced at the site of the injury. Chronic inflammation is when your body continues sending out inflammatory cells even when there is no danger. Symptoms of chronic inflammation include abdominal and chest pain, fatigue, fever, joint pain and skin rashes. Conditions associated with chronic inflammation include Alzheimer's disease, asthma, cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes and ankylosing spondylitis (explained further below).
Spondolylits is a condition associated with inflammation of the spine. The most common form is ankylosing spondylitis which is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the ligaments and joints of the spine. Causes may include infection, injury or age related wear and tear.
According to a study focusing on the nutritional aspects of ankylosing spondylitis (AS), results concluded that following the Mediterranean diet (anti-inflammatory properties), could provide benefits involving quality of life in AS patients. The Mediterranean diet includes foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of fat included in this diet. Proteins such as poultry, fish, seafood and dairy are included in moderation. This diet assists with inflammation as it is rich in anti-inflammatory foods. A low starch diet, rich in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds), together with medication, may decrease inflammation and improve the quality of life in patients with AS.
Consumption of excess alcohol, having a high body mass index (BMI), exercising at your maximum intensity too frequently or not exercising enough, chronic stress and smoking all are factors which increase chronic inflammation.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) measures how fast red blood cells settle to the bottom of a vertical tube of blood. When inflammation is present the red blood cells fall faster as increased amounts of protein in the blood makes those cells clump together.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is made in the liver and increases when there is inflammation in the body. A value of > 3mg/L is often used to identify an increased risk of cardiovascular disease but inflammation can make CRP rise to > 100mg/L.
Ferritin is a blood protein that reflects the amount of iron stored in the body. This test is normally used to identify if an anemic person is iron deficient or if there is too much iron in the body. Ferritin levels are also increased when inflammation is present.
Fibrinogen is a protein used to evaluate the status of blood clotting in the body and increases when inflammation is present.
These are proteins produced by cells and they serve as molecular messengers between cells which regulate various inflammatory responses. Cytokines are part of the immune system and regulate the body’s response to disease and infection.
This is known as the inflammatory response within the brain and spinal cord. It is recognised as one of the potential mechanisms leading to an onset of psychiatric disorders. Studies have shown that abnormal inflammatory responses can result in changed behavioral responses and cognitive deficits. Variations in genes (encoding pro-inflammatory cytokines), with consideration of environmental factors, may increase risk for chronic low- grade inflammation and development of psychiatric diseases. It is known that Inflammation plays a role in the development of psychiatric disorders, therefore anti-inflammatory therapies may play an important role in the management of these disorders.
Certain genetic variations lead to a more active inflammatory response, and have been associated with increased risk for a number of chronic diseases. The benefit of having this knowledge is that you can change your lifestyle, improve your diet and supplement with targeted supplements to improve health outcomes and reduce the inflammatory risk.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium and limits foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. It mainly consists of fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, fish, poultry and legumes. This diet assists with inflammation as it limits foods that increase information such as red meat, sweets and sugary beverages.
The Mediterranean diet includes foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of fat included in this diet. Proteins such as poultry, fish, seafood and dairy are included in moderation. This diet assists with inflammation as it is rich in anti-inflammatory foods.
Oily fish (mackerel, salmon and sardines), leafy greens (spinach and kale) and olive oil are all food sources which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Fried foods (fast foods), cured meats with nitrates (polony, viennas, sausages), highly refined oils, and trans fats all promote inflammation and it is advised to reduce or avoid these foods in your diet.
Omega 6 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat mainly found in soybeans, corn, safflower and sunflower oil, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry, fish and eggs. When eaten in moderation omega 6 fatty acids are beneficial for heart disease. When eaten in excess they become pro-inflammatory in the body.
Linoleic acid (LA), an omega 6 fatty acid and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid have to be consumed from the diet and are known as essential fatty acids. The omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can be produced from ALA. This conversion is limited and therefore it is important to include food sources rich in these fatty acids in the diet or supplementation with this nutrient. ALA and LA are found in plant and seed oils (rapeseed and walnut oil). EPA and DHA are found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel and herring). AA is found in animal sources such as meat and egg yolk. LA and ALA compete for metabolism by the same enzyme (delta-6-desaturase). A high intake of LA would reduce the amount of enzyme available for the metabolism of ALA, which may increase heart disease and inflammation. Therefore it is important to have a balanced ratio of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in the diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found naturally in fatty fish such as salmon, trout, pilchards, sardine, fresh tuna (not tinned) and mackerel. It is often difficult meeting daily omega 3 requirements, therefore supplements are a convenient and consistent source of omega 3. Taking an omega 3 supplement (2-4 g of EPA and DHA) has been shown to have a positive effect in reducing inflammation in the body by inhibiting the enzymes which produce hormones that spark inflammation.
Ginger is a tropical flowering plant and is classified as a member of the Zingiberaceae family. Ginger’s root or rhizomes is the part used as a spice. It has been shown that gingerol, shogaol and other substances in ginger are involved in inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators therefore making ginger have properties of a powerful anti-inflammatory response.
Curcumin is an active component in turmeric, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is a very strong antioxidant. Curcumin has a low bioavailability due to its water insolubility, therefore it is important to consume a good quality supplement in the form that is better absorbed.
Resveratrol is a class of plant micronutrients called polyphenols. It functions as an antioxidant which helps to reduce inflammation. Food sources of resveratrol include blueberries, peanuts and in the skin of grapes (red wine). It is a very difficult nutrient to take in sufficient therapeutic levels from diet alone.Therefore supplementation with resveratrol ensures the correct amount is utilized by the body to achieve optimal benefits. The trans-resveratrol form is the more biologically active compound.
Phytonutrients (phytochemicals) are chemicals produced by plants and can provide significant benefits for humans who consume plant foods. Phytonutrient rich foods include colourful fruits (especially berries) and vegetables, legumes, nuts, tea, whole grains and many spices. This nutrient has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Anthocyanins are flavonoids (plant compounds) and are water soluble polyphenolic pigments that are responsible for the pigmentation of anthocyanin rich fruits such as blackberries, grapes, black plums, blueberries and grains such as black rice, red rice and black soybeans. Studies have shown that anthocyanins have antimicrobial, antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties which play a role in the prevention and treatment of many chronic diseases.
Boswellia serrata resin (Frankincense) is a gum resin extracted from the Boswellia trees. This resin possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic and pain relief properties. It is commonly used in treatment of inflammatory joint disorders.
Vitamin D has been found to play an important role in the modulation of the inflammation system by regulating the production of inflammatory cytokines and immune cells.
Vitamin A is available in two forms: Beta-carotene is a provitamin that is converted into vitamin A in the body and vitamin A is an antioxidant that protects the body against free radicals. This nutrient has been reported to be beneficial in a number of conditions where inflammation is involved including skin disorders and infectious disease. The richest food sources of beta-carotene include any yellow, orange and green leafy fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, sweet melon, butternut, broccoli, lettuce and winter squash. In general, the more intense the colour of the fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene it contains. Foods rich in vitamin A include sweet potatoes, leafy green vegetables, pumpkins and bell peppers.
Green tea extract has been shown to have many beneficial effects against many diseases. Green tea and its major component epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects by suppressing the gene protein expression of inflammatory cytokines and inflammation related enzymes.
Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid and plays a role in the growth, development and repair of all body tissues. It is an essential vitamin found in food sources such as citrus fruit, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, brussel sprouts and potatoes. This nutrient plays an important role in immunity and inflammation. It reduces inflammation by neutralizing free radicals that cause oxidative damage to the cells of the body.
S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe) is a naturally occurring compound found in the body. It plays a vital role in the immune system, maintains cell membranes and helps to produce and break down chemicals (serotonin, melatonin and dopamine). It has been shown that SAMe may help relieve the pain and inflammation associated with various types of arthritis. Please consult with your practitioner before using this supplement as it may interact with a wide range of drugs.