It’s that time of year when many of us get fired up for the big game. Unfortunately, many of us also have another form of being fired up—unhealthy inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system, which occurs when the body’s white blood cells and their chemicals move in to protect the body from infection and foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. This natural and healthy form of inflammation is necessary and can actually save us from further infection or injury. In short, good inflammation is one of our body’s first lines of defense and takes its cues from our immune system, the body’s commander-in-chief against invaders.
It’s when the body’s inflammation responses go overboard that trouble can begin. Sometimes, this usually protective and innocuous immune system/inflammation response—good inflammation—can go into overdrive and become persistent, pervasive and potentially devastating.
In fact, the raging fires of prolonged burning, systemic inflammation can cause all sorts of bodily damage and adversely affect bones, joints, tissues, blood vessels, blood sugar, cells and bodily organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and intestines—to name a few. This kind of damaging inflammation can go undetected, too, as many organs don’t have pain-sensitive nerves, and there are virtually no outward signs of the fires within.
Unrelenting chronic inflammation can even create atherosclerosis—a process by which fatty deposits develop in the artery linings—and can weaken artery walls, cause plaque rupture, prompt thrombus formation and embolize the heart’s blood vessels. All of these developments can increase the risk for an unhealthy heart and overall unhealth.
What might add fuel to the fire, so to speak, is that most people aren’t even aware that they’re walking around with unhealthy levels of inflammation—and it’s difficult to effectively deal with something if you don’t know it’s there. Since there are limited outward signs of this kind of inflammation, a blood test is usually necessary to measure the extent of inflammation indicators like C-reactive protein, or CRP, which is produced by the liver during those excessively fiery times.
The good news, however, is that there are some steps you can take to help tame the fires of inflammation. One of those steps includes eating healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and fatty acids which are found abundantly in fatty fish like wild salmon or sardines. Researchers say that a healthy balance of fats can reduce the production of a hormone-like substance that fans the flames of inflammation.
But fats aren’t the only firefighters in food form. Eating a diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits also appears to support healthy inflammation levels. Antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C in these kinds of foods are believed to interact with a broad range of protective plant compounds to add to these health benefits that can douse the fires within.
The truth is that the foods we eat influence inflammation through chemicals called prostaglandins from the foods’ nutrients. Foods like wild fish, cruciferous vegetables, green, leafy vegetables and some spices like ginger and garlic may be especially healthy for supporting normal inflammation.
And note this: even many “good inflammation” foods like salmon depend on whether they are farm raised or wild. For example, three ounces of farm-raised Atlantic salmon has an unhealthy inflammation score at -180, while three ounces of wild Atlantic salmon comes in at a +493. Other foods that rank positively in supporting healthy inflammation levels include: extra virgin olive oil, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, almonds, chia seeds, walnuts, pecans, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.
Managing one’s weight is important, too, when it comes to cooling those internal flames. When people are overweight, their fats cells increase in size and inflammation-promoting protein production is increased.
The bottom line is this: you can get fired up as much as you want about the game and other interests, but be sure you manage the unseen fires of unhealthy inflammation.