Inflammation has been a buzzword in health for a while. Under ordinary circumstances, the body responds to an outside threat such as infection by activating certain proteins to protect the cells and tissues from damage. This is why an infected toe or a sore throat might appear red and swollen.
However, overzealous immune cells can cause chronic inflammation, which means our immune cells are directed against us, causing numerous health risks.
Chronic inflammation has numerous causes, from bacteria or a virus or autoimmune disease to a diet of processed foods that are high in sugar or fat. Ongoing stress can also cause inflammation. When we undergo emotional stress, our bodies send inflammatory markers known as C-reactive proteins to the blood stream. These proteins travel throughout the body,
When the body perceives danger ahead, your “fight or flight” response pumps up your adrenaline to give you energy to deal with a perceived threat. Long gone are the days when we face a predatory animal but we still deal with ongoing stress over traffic, bills, and everyday life. Even focusing on past stress can cause a constant elevation of C-reactive protein levels.
That ongoing rise in C-reactive proteins can cause numerous chronic health conditions.
No matter what the cause of chronic inflammation, elevated immunological protein levels are behind many health risks. Let’s look at some conditions that can be caused by chronic inflammation.
Inflammation in the joints can lead to many problems with the joints, from general joint pain and stiffness to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA.). Osteoarthritis, the most common joint condition, is also known as degenerative arthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease that leads to inflamed joints, pain, and stiffness.
Acute gout affects the first metatarsophalangeal joint (the big toe) due to the inflammatory response of joint tissues formed by monosodium urate (uric acid) crystals within the joint.
Difficulty Losing Weight
In what is a double-edged sword, losing weight is one of the most effective ways to reduce inflammation but elevated levels of inflammation-related proteins can make weight loss more challenging. Chronic inflammation caused by stress has been shown to disrupt ghrelin and leptin, two hormones associated with appetite regulation.
In addition, inflammation slows down metabolism and increases risk for insulin resistance, making it more difficult to lose weight and putting you at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Excess weight may also cause or exacerbate joint problems.
Inflammation may be associated with numerous health conditions, including joint problems that we may associate with age. Is there anything we can do to fend off those changes in the joints?
Inflammation is common in both heart disease and stroke patients, although the causal relationship is inconclusive. Physicians suspect the cause of many heart attacks and strokes is arterial plaque buildup in blood vessels, which the body perceives as foreign. The body then tries to form a barrier from the flowing blood. The plaque may rupture, causing the content to come into contact with blood glucose, triggering a clot.
If a heart artery is blocked, it causes a heart attack; a blocked artery in or leading to the brain causes an ischemic stroke.
As we’ve seen, inflammation is a driver of many joint disorders or conditions, including that morning stiffness and pains.
Is there anything we can do to improve joint health? You’re in luck.
If you work at a computer screen (or spend hours on social media at night), make sure your upper body is posed 20 to 26 inches from your monitor. The top should be even with the top of your head and your arms should hang comfortably at your sides. Use a document holder, as well as a hands-free headset. Take a break to stand every thirty minutes or so.
Did you know what you wear can impact joint health? Step away from those stilettos. Even a three-inch heel places seven times the amount of pressure on the foot than a 1-inch heel. Choose shoes for support, as well as style. The extra pressure on your feet can lead to or exacerbate osteoarthritis of the knee.
You Are What You Eat
A healthy diet can not only help with weight maintenance (and even weight loss) but will ensure you take in the right mix of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients to support joint and bone health. Be sure to include plenty of vegetables in your meal-planning. Choose the rainbow, a variety of colors, to ensure you’re getting a wide range of nutrients.
Make a salad with dark leafy greens such as kale or spinach, or broccoli for a boost of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include Greek yogurt, figs, salmon, and calcium supplements. Make sure you get enough vitamin C, which has been shown to protect against osteoarthritis. Add an orange or grapefruit to your breakfast plate.
Serve fatty fish, which has omega-3s, at least twice a week. Choose cold water fish like wild salmon or mackerel. Omega-3s have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in stiff joints. If you aren’t getting enough omega 3s, consider adding a quality krill oil supplement.
Turmeric: Related to the ginger family, this spice contains the active ingredient curcumin, which may reduce inflammation, pain, and stiffness associated with RA and osteoarthritis. The spice may also be used to treat bursitis, which is the inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions in the joints.
In order for the curcumin to be absorbed in the blood stream, turmeric must be consumed with black pepper (piperine) and fat, which most recipes in Indian curries include both. A study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2009) compared curcumin with ibuprofen -- and found that curcumin decreased pain and improved function as effectively as the over the counter medication.
Cauliflower: Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or kale are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
A 2005 team of Maryland researchers looked at the effects of sulphoraphane, an antioxidant compound in cruciferous vegetables that blocks an enzyme causing both inflammation and joint pain.
Ginger: Years of research have shown ginger’s powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may treat a variety of ailments, including degenerative conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism.
In addition, ginger blocks the formation of two inflammatory compounds, prostaglandins and leukotrienes, which makes ginger a more powerful weapon against inflammation than over-the-counter NSAIDs that block just one inflammatory compound. The antioxidant properties of ginger have the potential to eliminate existing inflammation in the joints.
Here's a recipe chock full of anti-inflammatory ingredients to boost your joint health.
Time: 15 minutes
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
1 medium head cauliflower, stemmed and cut into bite-size florets
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, chopped
1 cup chopped kale
2 teaspoons ginger paste
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 can full-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1. In a medium stock pot, heat the coconut oil for 30 seconds on medium heat.
2. Add the cumin seeds and stir until they start to sputter. Then add the onions and cook for another minute, and then, add the tomatoes, stir and cook for a few more minutes until the tomatoes soften.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir together. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from burning.
4. Ladle the soup into 4 serving bowls and enjoy! Leftover stew can be stored in air-tight container and saved for lunch the next day.
As both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, the ingredients of this delicious cauliflower and turmeric soup are sure to help you feel satisfied with your meal as well as happy with your healthy lifestyle choices.
Be sure to check out the many other 1MD recipes for more ways to healthily broaden your culinary horizons.