Inflammation: what’s it doing to us?
Inflammation: what’s it doing to us?
By Belinda Llewellyn, ND, Gaia Natural Medicine
As a naturopath, whenever I ask my clients to remove all inflammatory foods from their diet I get one of two responses: 1. They do so wholeheartedly, immediately noticing improvements in their health and vitality; or 2. They freak out and I never see them again!
Eventually I learned that this blanket approach (‘just remove these foods and you’ll be fine!’) wouldn’t work for everyone. I had to find creative ways to help clients make the necessary changes for improved health and vitality – without scaring them away first!
As I listened more intently to where each client was ‘at’, I asked myself ‘What is really going on here?’ and ‘Are they ready for big changes – or do they need little steps?’ Not only do I need to take into account such variables as a client’s genetic make-up, their vitality, lifestyle and environmental influences, but also equally important is their attitude to life; as all of these things impact on a person’s ability to make changes.
When making lasting changes to our health, it pays to be realistic. We all have vices and when certain comfort foods and behaviours have been with us since childhood, it’s not always easy to let them go. In stressful moments we tend not to crave whole foods (our ‘everyday’ foods), but rather the high sugar, high fat and high caffeine foods that really should be a ‘sometimes foods’. Unfortunately these comfort foods also tend to be inflammatory foods.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation can either be acute or chronic. Acute inflammation actually enhances the body’s healing potential. Chronic inflammation, however, offers no benefit to the body. It hinders healing and causes further damage.
It’s most easy to recognise the signs and symptoms of inflammation when they’re on the surface of our bodies, things like localised redness, swelling, heat and soreness in response to a cut, abrasion, pimple or injury. But it’s trickier to recognise inflammation when it’s happening inside of us. (Inflammation at a cellular level is caused by oxidative stress.)
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CHRONIC INFLAMMATION IS LEFT UNCHECKED?
Research reveals that chronic internal inflammation is behind many of our modern-day illnesses, such as:
- Cardiovascular disease (including stroke)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Musculoskeletal problems (arthritis)
- Atopic conditions (asthma, eczema, allergies)
- Digestive complaints (IBS)
WHICH FOODS EXACERBATE INFLAMMATION?
Common reactions to inflammatory foods include bloating, low energy, nausea and bowel and mood changes. Cramping can also occur up to three days after ingestion of a particular food. (Diet diaries are brilliant for keeping check on what foods provoke an inflammatory reaction.) The main offenders are:
- Refined sugar, carbohydrates and fats
- Caffeine – coffee, black tea, energy drinks, coca cola
- Wheat- and gluten-rich foods
- Dairy products
- High intake of animal protein, especially red meat
- Rancid nuts and oils.
WHICH FOODS HAVE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PROPERTIES?
In terms of specific diets or cuisines, think Mediterranean, Asian or SLOW (seasonal, local, organic and whole) food. These food plans include:
- Herbs – turmeric, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, onions
- Enzyme-rich fruit – pineapple, papaya, kiwi
- Oily fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines
- Green tea
- Organic raw honey
- Pre and probiotic foods – fermented vegetables, legumes, whole grains, miso, yoghurt
- Colourful variety of organic vegetables
- Berries – blueberries, raspberries
- Medicinal mushrooms
- Raw cacao.
WHICH BEHAVIOURS EXACERBATE INFLAMMATION?
The following behaviours cause our nervous system to over- or under-produce stress hormones, which eventually activates an inflammatory response:
- Unmanaged stress
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Over exercising
- Poor sleep quantity and quality
- Unhealthy relationships
- Excessive emotions – anger, anxiety, overexcitement.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY BEHAVIOURS TO EMBRACE
These behaviours calm the nervous system, thereby reducing stress and inflammation:
- Balance of exercise/activity and relaxation
- Practising yoga
- Breathing deeply
- Keeping a gratitude journal
WHICH ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO INFLAMMATION?
We can’t all live in a bubble, but aim to minimise your exposure to the following:
- Plastics and packaging
- Commercial cosmetics and perfumes
- Cleaning and household chemicals
- Over or underexposure to the sun.
The key to lasting change lies on those hundreds of small decisions we make every day. Next time you’re about to do something that you know isn’t good for you, pause and ask yourself: ‘What do I really need right now?’ The answer may surprise you! You may find yourself answering ‘I really need a hug’ or ‘I just need to chill out for 10 minutes’. Don’t waste energy feeling guilty about what you need. There can be many ups and downs as we make changes in our lives – even positive ones. We need to show ourselves loving kindness until we settle into a new way of being.
My best advice? Focus on what you can eat and do, instead of what you can’t. The results are worth your efforts!
Belinda Llewellyn is Naturopath and Founder of Gaia Natural Medicine in Bayswater. Gaia Natural Medicine offers 1:1 naturopathic consultations, yoga classes in addition to wellness workshops and retreats. Nourish Melbourne members, you receive 20 per cent off your initial consultation with Belinda, and 10 per cent off each consultation thereafter, plus additional offers for yoga and meditation classes. Find out more here.