Inflammation in the body is how our immune system responds to injuries or diseases. It is our bodies' way of fighting back any foreign bacteria or viruses that we come into contact with. Inflammation can be a completely normal and very effective part of the healing process or can persist longer than necessary – the latter being something we should keep an eye on especially as we get older.
Let’s explore the nature of inflammation in our bodies, and how we can avoid developing chronic inflammation as we age.
The two types of inflammation
Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response to foreign bacteria and harmful stimuli – a process that is necessary so that the body can begin healing. This type of inflammation is called acute inflammation – it happens when we get sick, injured or wounded, where white blood cells swarm to a specific area where they are trying to protect our bodies from something foreign. We can often physically see acute inflammation in the form of swelling or redness.
The other form of inflammation - chronic inflammation - is more worrying. Chronic inflammation is a prolonged inflammatory response. When we suffer from chronic inflammation, our bodies are in a constant state of alert. Where normally our immune system protects and heals, chronic inflammation, when left unchecked, can cause tissue damage or cause even more serious health issues that can lead to death.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a number of factors, including untreated infections or injuries, autoimmune disorders, and long-term exposure to irritants such as air pollution. Furthermore, our diets and lifestyles - particularly smoking, alcohol, chronic stress, obesity and unhealthy eating habits – can be contributors.
How chronic inflammation impacts our health
Chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of health issues, including heart disease caused by inflamed blood vessels, lung problems (e.g. asthma, infections, bronchitis, etc.), diabetes, allergies, and a higher risk of cancer.
Inflammation can impact our bodies inside and out. It makes it really hard to lose weight because it slows our metabolisms right down and influences hunger signals. It also makes our skin age faster due to faster cell ageing, interferes with our bone growth, and causes gum inflammation disease, commonly known as periodontitis.
How can nature help protect against inflammation?
We can naturally avoid uncontrolled inflammation by living a healthy, active lifestyle, and by eating a vitamin-filled, nutritious diet. Food with good fats such as fish, walnuts or almonds, and avocados - eaten in moderation along with rich green vegetables, tomatoes, legumes and grains - are all excellent components of an anti-inflammatory diet.
A new study by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease - conducted by Sian Richardson and Dr Chris Ford - has also identified that food with polyphenol (excellent micronutrients) helps prevent chronic inflammation. Richardson said:
“The results of our study suggest that (poly)phenols derived from onions, turmeric, red grapes, green tea and açai berries may help reduce the release of pro-inflammatory mediators in people at risk of chronic inflammation.
“Older people are more susceptible to chronic inflammation and as such, they may benefit from supplementing their diets with isorhamnetin, resveratrol, curcumin and vanillic acid or with food sources that yield these bioactive molecules.”
Therefore, diets rich in fruits and vegetable which contain polyphenols help protect us against age-related inflammation and chronic diseases. Blueberries, cherries (which we can get a good dose of from a gout supplement), can be extremely helpful in protecting against inflammation as well. The occasional glass of red wine has also been proven to have excellent anti-inflammatory effects.
On the flip side, too much sugar, refined grains or saturated fats can have an inflammatory effect, so it's good to keep an eye on how much white bread and fried food we are eating to avoid the onset of chronic inflammation.
As well as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise also plays a huge role in preventing inflammation from flaring up. A study conducted by the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, revealed that a 20-minute session of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects. Another study involving inflammation and ageing also recommends regular exercise as a strategy to reduce inflammation in the elderly.
Inflammation: It’s everyone’s concern
Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world, with increasing age being one of the biggest risk factors. However, as long as we try our best to keep to a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, get regular exercise, and take health supplements as needed, we can remove its triggers and reduce its harmful effects.