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Inflammation the health enemy

Rude Health magazine demystifies the positive role anti-inflammatory foods can play in your life, including turmeric and CBD oil

Our body is designed to react to illness, infection or injury with inflammation,” says Sian Eustace of health store Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Clare. “This reaction should be acute, short-lived and local to the affected area. When inflammation does not go away after an infection has finished or becomes a chronic condition unrelated to infection or injury, it is problematic. This is because being in a constant state of inflammation over time damages the healthy cells of your body. This can manifest as pain or swelling, but can also show as digestive issues, chest pains, exhaustion and certain skin conditions.”

“If inflammation persists internally, even when there is no obvious injury, it can become chronic, more complicated to clear and lead to problems such as arthritis, diabetes or heart disease,” says Jill Bell of health store Well and Good, Midleton, Co Cork. “Typical triggers would be poor lifestyle and a bad diet, an autoimmune disorder, trauma, illness or prolonged stress.”

“Inflammation refers to your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it, such as infections, injuries and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself,” says Giulia Criscuolo, functional medicine expert and life coach who works with Coyne Healthcare. “White blood cells, immune cells and cortisol all play a role in anti-inflammatory efforts, but if the stressors are too constant, the body never heals and instead suffers chronic inflammation. Over time, your body’s inflammatory response can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues and organs.”

What foods should you avoid?

“You should avoid processed foods and foods high in salt and sugar, saturated animal fats and trans fats, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and food additives such as MSG,” says Sian Eustace. “Gluten and dairy can also be problematic for some people. Foods from the nightshade family such as potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers contain a chemical called solanine which has long been thought to contribute to inflammation. However, more recently arthritis groups are questioning the validity of this when balanced by the beneficial phytonutrients found in such plants. Using a food diary could be a way of discovering whether they are contributing to pain.”

“Some foods definitely don’t help, and high on the list would be refined carbohydrates in excess, sugar and all the sweeteners ending in ‘-ose’ such as fructose and glucose,” says Jill Bell. “Manufactured trans fats are known to increase inflammation and risk damaging the heart. Over-consumption of alcohol and processed meats are also known to drive up inflammatory markers in the blood.”

The anti-inflammatory diet

“Without knowing it, your great granny favoured an anti-inflammatory diet,” says Jill Bell “high in antioxidants, high in fruit and vegetables often home-grown and unsprayed though she didn’t boast about organic, with meat from healthily reared animals, home-baked soda bread, rather than cornflakes, and virtually no processed foods - porridge and homemade apple tart instead.”

“Anti-inflammatory foods work in a variety of different and complex ways,” says Sian Eustace. “For example, antioxidants in berries counter harmful molecules called free radicals which are unstable and cause damage to cells in the body. Omega-3 rich oils actually reduce the production of molecules which cause inflammation.”

Recommend anti-inflammatory foods

“Foods to consider are green leafy vegetables, avocados, oily fish, dark and bright coloured berries, olive oil, coconut oil and oils containing omega-3 fatty acids,” says Sian Eustace. “Turmeric spice is a good anti-inflammatory and can either be added to foods and beverages, or taken as a supplement.”

“There are plenty of foods with an anti-inflammatory effect,” says Jill Bell. “Probably the top of the list is omega-3 fatty acids, the type you find in oily fish such a mackerel, salmon and sardines, flax seeds, chia seeds, fresh nuts especially walnuts, tofu and algae. Other well-known anti-inflammatory foods include berries, oranges, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, avocadoes, lightly cooked or raw mushrooms, olive oil, peppers, green tea. Some herbs have hit the headlines in recent times, the outstanding one being turmeric, with ginger a close runner-up.”

Other recommended anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Apple cider vinegar - anti-inflammatory, delicious as a hot drink, also available in capsule form.
  • CBD (cannabidiol) oil - CBD has been shown in studies to reduce chronic pain by reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.
  • Ginger - has anti-inflammatory properties. Fresh ginger can be infused in boiling water to make tea, added to juices and smoothies and to curries and stir-fries.
  • Green tea - full of antioxidants and having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. As tea , in capsule form, added to smoothies.
  • Montmorency cherries – the anthocyanins found in them possess anti-inflammatory properties and can help to alleviate inflammation and pain associated with painful joint conditions, including osteo and rheumatoid arthritis. Try in juice, dried or powdered form.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - found in oily fish are an excellent anti-inflammatory food. If you don’t eat enough oily fish supplement with oils and capsules.
  • Resveratrol - a polyphenol which can be found in the skin of grapes, blueberries and raspberries and is also found in peanuts, pistachios and cocoa.
  • Turmeric - spice that gives curry its yellow colour used medicinally and as a culinary ingredient in India for over 5,000 years. Active ingredient curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

Lifestyle tips

“In addition to getting enough sleep, managing stress and eating a healthy diet, dietary supplements and adaptogens have proven to help with an anti-inflammatory response,” says Giulia Criscuolo. “Certain supplements may help to reduce inflammation. Fish oil, lipoic acid and curcumin are all linked to decreased inflammation associated with diseases.”

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