7 Foods to Prevent Acute Inflammation Naturally (Or Calm It)
Inflammation has become quite the buzzword lately, touted as the cause of everything from acne to Alzheimer’s and from digestive issues to obesity. And while new research continues to support that theory, it’s important to remember that inflammation can actually be a good thing. When the body detects injury or illness, the immune system jumps into high gear, sending T cells, white blood cells, and lymphatic fluid to the scene. Water and blood also flood in to remove toxins and flush the area. This onslaught of antibodies causes increased circulation, swelling, even pain—all of which actually help the body defend itself against illness and infection. Inflammation happens externally, in response to bumps, bruises, scrapes, and scratches, and it happens internally, to fight infections and disease.
This type of inflammation—also known as acute inflammation—is a quick immune response that ends as soon as the injury has healed. So what does it have to do with food? Research suggests that eating the wrong kinds of foods also causes inflammation, not the acute variety, but the chronic kind—and that, by definition, doesn’t go away. Over time, chronically inflamed organs and tissues start to degenerate, toxins build up, and our organs are depleted of vital nutrients. All of this eventually takes its toll, potentially damaging the intestines, heart, kidneys, pancreas, joints, skin, and bones.
“A diet that’s high in inflammatory foods causes a constant, low-grade inflammation in the body,” says Elson Haas, MD, author of The False Fat Diet (Ballantine Books, 2001). “If the immune system is preoccupied fighting this constant inflammation, it’s not as able to help protect the body against other things that can pop up, such as abnormal cells in breast or prostate tissue.” According to Haas, “modern diseases are merely symptoms of the underlying issue of inflammation, which is just the body trying to heal itself; the question is, ‘from what?’”
The Diet That Does a Body Bad
By and large, the food choices we make dictate whether our bodies remain in a constant state of disease. Our too-busy-to-cook, high-stress Western lifestyles have led many of us to eat fast foods or packaged goods lacking in vital nutrients and high in pro-inflammatory ingredients, like trans fats, sugars, refined starches, processed meats, hydrogenated oils, and artificial sweeteners. A steady diet of these inflammation-provoking foods spikes blood sugar and can also cause the body to stop responding to fat-regulating hormones.
According to Barbara Rowe, MPH, RD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Health (Fair Winds Press, 2008), modern convenience foods actually confuse our bodies. “Since these foods are so new to the human diet—most having been introduced only in the last 60 to 70 years—inflammation is a natural immune response to deal with them.”
But even those of us who steer clear of junk food and unhealthy fats may still need to pay attention to the ratio of good fats we eat. By now, we’ve all heard of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fats are the most underconsumed in the American diet, while omega-6s predominate—by a lot. In fact, thanks to all of the packaged convenience foods we eat—even the organic and all-natural varieties—most of us get about a 30-to-1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. Since omega-6s are pro-inflammatory, too much of them can cause low-grade inflammation in the body. “This inflammation prompts the oxidizing of the LDL, or bad cholesterol, which then makes it more sticky and more likely to adhere to the artery walls,” which leads to heart disease, says Haas. Adding omega-3s helps counteract the damage omega-6s do and may prevent that oxidation of LDL cholesterol.