Bethany Qualls is a writer and researcher with a background in journalism and editing. She’s written on everything from handmade ceramics to translation localization, taxidermy to finance, though frequently not under her own name. Her passion is to help people harness the power of words, no matter the context.
Less pain, more energy
3 ways to reduce inflammation in your body
A few years ago I was in constant, throbbing pain. My lower back and hip would rank a 9 or 10 on the pain scale for days. The doctors I went to said I was too young to have back problems.
Fast forward a few months when I learned I had herniated discs in my lower back that were pushing on nerves connected to my hip. But before my MRI revealed this root cause, I’d already started taking action to reduce my pain so that I could at least function in my daily life.
One of the biggest game changers was cutting out inflammatory foods and drinks, even though at first it was incredibly hard to give up my morning tea and afternoon coffee routine. This, along with a single cortisone injection and concentrated physical therapy, eliminated my unbearable pain with no severe recurrence since.
While back pain like mine is a relatively common affliction, others are struggling to live with chronic pain from myriad illnesses. For most of you, however, the greatest challenge is getting up in the morning, because you don’t feel as good as you would like to. Maybe you don’t feel as energetic as you used to. Maybe your body is not functioning quite as well as it once did. If your doctors are like mine, they will focus on your age. However, at any age, there are concrete steps you can take to help you with reducing inflammation in the body and feeling better now.
What causes inflammation?
Typical inflammation is the body’s response to injury or an attack by germs. When your tissues are injured, the damaged cells release inflammatory mediators including histamine, bradykinin and prostaglandins. These chemicals do many jobs, including forcing the narrow blood vessels in the tissue to expand, allowing more blood to reach the area. They also isolate the area from other body tissues, so the problem stays localized.
You’ve probably seen surface indications of inflammation as redness, swelling, pain and local heat, which are all ways for the body to get more nourishment and immune activity to the area that needs it. This acute inflammation is actually a good thing: it’s your body’s defense mechanisms at work. Even better, inflammatory mediators attract white blood cells called phagocytes that basically “eat” germs and dead or damaged cells. All this helps the body heal faster after trauma.
What inflammation does to your body over time
However, chronic and persistent inflammation often damages the body, leading to many serious diseases or worsening the effects of existing chronic conditions including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
In addition, there’s growing evidence that chronic inflammation could be linked to diseases like cancer and even some forms of dementia. What is certain is that continued and unnecessary inflammation can also increase pain levels in daily life.
And, did you know that inflammation can make you age faster? In a 2015 study on aging, people with the lowest levels of inflammation had the best chance of staying mentally sharp while growing older.
What you can do about it
Even if you don’t have one of these exact issues, chances are that reducing your body’s inflammation will make you feel better than you do now. Here’s how to do it.
Turns out there’s some truth to the idea “you are what you eat.” The foods below can not only help you with reducing inflammation in the body, but they will boost your overall health.
- High-fiber foods: More fiber in your diet is likely to decrease inflammation, says the Arthritis Foundation. Whole grains can give you a boost of fiber as well. But don’t discount sources like celery and bananas as well.
- Go fresh: Reach for more fruits and vegetables; the more colorful the better. Berries are packed with antioxidants, as are dark leafy greens. Peppers and tomatoes have also been shown to reduce inflammation, though as members of the nightshade family they can act as triggers for some people, explains Health. No matter if blueberries or beets, try to only buy and eat organic produce to avoid potentially harmful pesticides.
- Add some spice: Some of your favorite spices reduce inflammation. Add some turmeric, cayenne pepper, thyme, rosemary and chili powder. Onions and garlic, too, can dial down inflammation in the body. Ginger, cinnamon and cloves are also anti-inflammatory powerhouses.
- Omega-3s: These fatty acids help reduce inflammation. You’ll find omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish like salmon and sardines as well as leafy green vegetables, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax oil and ground flax seeds. If you eat fish, check the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch card to ensure you’re eating varieties that are sustainable and not high in toxins. Taking an omega-3 supplement, whether plant- or fish-derived, is another good way to ensure proper levels. Look for those that contain EPA and DHA if you go this route.
- Water: That’s right, water is helpful for flushing out toxins and irritants that cause inflammation. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces a day. So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you should drink 80 ounces, which is 10 cups (not 8!) or nearly two and a half liters. The more we understand our bodies, the more we understand how essential water is not only to life but also to ensuring optimal function. In fact, go grab a glass of water right now and begin reducing inflammation in the body right now.
- Supplements: Whether omega-3s, concentrated green food, probiotics or even a quality multivitamin, supplements help create the baseline for a body that’s low inflammation. Supplements can also help target inflammation triggers through concentrated doses of cumin or other anti-inflammatory spices if you need an extra boost.
Move your body – and chill it out
- Move: Regular exercise is an excellent way to prevent inflammation. If you sit most of the day, make sure to walk at least 30 minutes a day. Short, intense workouts a few times a week also help reduce and prevent inflammation over the long term. In addition, regular exercise has the added benefit of reducing your stress level, which helps with reducing inflammation in the body. Plus, keeping weight at an optimal level means your body can perform its essential functions with ease, which means you are less likely to hold on to inflammation.
- Cool off: Cryotherapy is another anti-inflammatory technique that’s gained popularity over the years. In fact, its effects “have long been recognized by sports therapists as a resource for post-workout muscle recovery and temporary pain relief,” explained Penelope Green in “The Big Chill” in Vogue (March 2015).
How it works is fairly simple. When you enter a cryosauna, your blood vessels contract because of the extreme cold. Your blood rushes to your core, resulting in increased circulation and triggering both natural anti-inflammatory response and release of endorphins. The principle is similar to an ice bath – or the cold-water plunge that Tony Robbins does every day – but faster (you only stay in the chamber a few minutes) and, frankly, more pleasant.
- Stress management: Constant stress makes your body produce more cortisol, a hormone that can actually make inflammation worse. So if you reduce your stress, you’re likely to reduce your inflammation levels. More sleep, meditation, yoga, long walks, vacation, even breaks from technology/screens are all great ways to support your immune system.
Say no to these foods
Of course, you can’t just eat and freeze your way to reduced inflammation. There are plenty of triggers that cause inflammation. Even though experts don’t always agree on the details, the general consensus is that more processed foods lead to health issues. Some specifics to target may include:
- Sugar: According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Cut out foods with added sugars like candy and soda, and look for hidden sugar traps that are making your levels spike, then crash.
- Refined grains: We’re looking at you, white bread. Simple carbohydrates like white flour break down into sugar right in your mouth. These acid-forming foods rob your body of vitality while supplying no real nourishment. Cut them out and reduce inflammation in your body today.
- Salt: Too much salt causes the body to retain water and, you guessed it, increased inflammation. The average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day, which is almost 2 teaspoons of salt. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. That’s roughly 1 teaspoon of salt. Processed and packaged foods and restaurants often have incredibly high sodium levels; eat fresh foods whenever possible.
- Caffeine: Study results are mixed on coffee and inflammation, but caffeine can definitely be an inflammation trigger for some. For me, cutting caffeine out for a month – yes, it was hard – made a big difference in my pain levels. Then I did some experimenting to see what negatively impacted my body. I now happily drink my morning black tea with no negative effects, while others swear by coffee as their way of fully coming alive. As with anything related to health, it varies by the individual.
Using these tools, you should now feel empowered to take charge of your health and have many ways as to how to get rid of inflammation. Start by focusing on one day. Decide to only eat foods that nourish your body and reduce inflammation. Then, instead of turning on the television, go for a walk instead. And when you’re ready to cool off, get a glass of inflammation-fighting water. All these behaviors really add up to a healthier you. The best part is that you can start right now.
Header image © Letterberry/shutterstock