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How to Fight Chronic Inflammation

What you eat can fight inflammation.
What you eat can fight inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is your body's immune system constantly in fight mode. Over time, that inflammation can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, arthritis or diseases like Crohn's.

The causes of chronic inflammation read like a menu of modern life. Weight gain, poor nutrition, psychological stressors and poor quality sleep are all to blame. Even if you lead an exceptionally healthy life, you're going to deal with some of these issues. The key is finding ways to deal with the problems, that can minimize or reverse the damage.

Can't I just take an anti-inflammatory drug like a daily aspirin?

No. In a large clinical trial with over 19,000 participants, researchers found that people taking low-dose aspirin had no more protection from heart attacks or strokes than the people taking a placebo. The people taking aspirin increased their risks of bleeding and a major hemorrhage. At the end of the trial, more deaths were attributed to bleeding from aspirin use, than were saved. Researchers warned that excessive aspirin use was leading to around 3,000 preventable deaths a year.

How important are fruits and vegetables in fighting inflammation?

The antioxidants found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables are critical. They help repair cellular damage and the fiber feeds the good microbes in your gut. People who eat a predominantly plant-based diet also tend to carry around less body fat.

What foods cause inflammation?

Red meat, highly processed meats like cold cuts, foods high in fat, sugar and salt should all be treated as indulgences. All the stuff you've been told you should keep at a minimum, is what's going to cause damage to your body.

Do I have to exercise?

Yes, but you don't have to live in the gym. As little as 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise can suppress the inflammatory response. Exercise doesn't just help you live longer, it also keeps you healthier while you're alive. For best results, up the intensity. Do heart-rate-based interval cardio at least 2-3 times a week and lift weights another 2-3 times a week.

Aren't sore muscles after exercise inflammation? I thought that was bad?

The pain you feel is caused by short-term or acute inflammation. It generally goes away in 24-48 hours, leaving your body stronger. That's the type of inflammation you want. Think of exercise as a way of having a little pain now and avoiding a lot of pain later. Muscle soreness after working out is nothing compared to the pain of recovering from a heart attack, stroke or cancer treatments.

How important is sleep?

When we're tired, our bodies produce more of the hunger hormone ghrelin. With more ghrelin pumping through our bodies we want to eat more. At the same time, we produce less of the hormone leptin that makes us feel full. So we've got to eat more food to reach the same level of “full” than if we were rested. But that's not all.

People who are sleep deprived tend to produce more endocannabinoids in the afternoon. Those are hormones that make us eat for pleasure, known as “hedonic eating.” That sudden craving for an indulgent snack around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon may be triggered by fatigue. It gets worse.

Our bodies have to work harder to deal with the food we eat. That forces the pancreas to pump out more insulin to break down our food. That extra insulin increases inflammation and messes with fat cells ability to regulate energy storage and use. All that's just from the lack of sleep.

Changing just one or two of these behaviors can add a couple of years to your life. But putting them all together can increase your life by 10-12 years. Don't change everything at once. Just decide on one thing and stick to it for 90 days. Choose whatever is easiest to start. Once it becomes a habit, pick something else and keep improving.

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