By Kate Wharmby Seldman
When skin is inflamed, it’s red, swollen, sore and itchy. Other parts of your body can be inflamed, too, if they’re injured or under attack from germs. The body produces this response as a way to increase blood flow to injured areas: improved circulation helps stimulate the immune system and heal the inflamed area.
Research is still being done on inflammation’s specific effects on the body, but some doctors are now beginning to believe that inflammation can also be harmful to the body: it can cause a host of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s and heart disease. It may also turn the body against itself, as in autoimmune disorders where the body thinks its own tissues are threatening foreign bodies, and begins attacking them. Type 1 diabetes and lupus are just two of the conditions that may be caused or exacerbated by inflammation; inflamed tissue is what causes the immobility and pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation related to a specific disease, such as arthritis, is often treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS, like ibuprofen. Steroids are sometimes prescribed to keep inflammation under control. Gentle exercise, stretching, and rest are also suggested, as is keeping weight in check.
Some doctors advise following what’s referred to as an anti-inflammatory diet. This is a diet low in omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in many processed foods, and high in omega-3, found in fish and walnuts, among other foods. Studies have shown that a diet high in omega-6 can stimulate the release of cytokines, cell proteins associated with inflammation. Nitrites are another cause of inflammation: processed meats such as sausages, deli meats and hot dogs contain these substances, and should be avoided. Saturated fat should be kept to a minimum – fatty foods contain arachidonic acid, too much of which can trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Refined sugar also contributes to inflammation.
It may also be necessary to avoid the nightshade family of plants: tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant are in the nightshade family, and they may worsen inflammation. These vegetables contain solanine, a chemical that can cause pain. No studies have been done that confirm these suspicions, but some people report their pain lessens if they stop eating these foods.
Berries can be great anti-inflammatory foods. They’re packed with quercetin, a phytochemical that combats inflammation, and is also found in the skin of red onions and apples.
If you believe inflammation is responsible for your health issues, the anti-inflammation diet is worth a shot. It conforms to the basic tenets of healthy eating, without being drastic or eliminating essential nutrients. Stick to lean meat; low-fat dairy; whole-grain bread, pastas and cereals; nuts and seeds; and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water.
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