Thursday, February 28, 2013

What is Inflammation? Answers That Will Surprise You!

If someone asked you whether inflammation is a good thing or a bad thing, what would you say? Most people way say that inflammation is a bad thing ... and they would be wrong, sort of. Actually, inflammation is one of your body's defense mechanisms, which is a good thing. It's just when the body gets confused and becomes inflamed at the wrong times or responds to the wrong stimulus that inflammation becomes a bad thing.

What is Inflammation Specifically?
When your body senses infection or certain chronic conditions considered "threatening," your body reacts by becoming inflamed. Specifically, your body:
  • increases blood flow to the affected area
  • moves white blood cells and other protective cells to act against bacteria and viruses
  • releases protective chemicals into the tissues around the affected area
These actions all sound good, and do in fact help your body fend off foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. On the other hand, all those chemicals, white blood cells, and other "protective" substances your body releases can cause you to notice symptoms such as redness, swelling, heat, pain, and excess nerve stimulation. The good news is that, if you are healthy, once your body has fought off the foreign invaders, you will no longer experience these less-than-pleasant symptoms of inflammation.

Unfortunately, the body occasionally becomes confused as to when it does and does not need to react defensively. For instance, some people experience a condition called leaky gut syndrome. What is leaky gut syndrome? It is the condition in which food is allowed to move through the intestinal lining and into the bloodstream. Since proteins, starches, and fats do not belong in the bloodstream, your body naturally assumes these foreign substances are invaders, and reacts with inflammation. The result is often allergies, including both food and environmental allergies

In other cases, the body attacks itself with inflammation even when there are no foreign substances. Certain types of arthritis are good examples of the body mis-interpreting the need for defensive action.  These types of arthritis are called autoimmune diseases, in which the body's normal immune system attacks and damages its own tissues.

Can You Reduce Inflammation with Diet?
Research now shows that causes of inflammation can often be found in the diet. For instance, researchers now agree that the following dietary conditions can lead to inflammation:
  • the wrong ratio of omega-6 (found in fast food) to omega-3 fatty acids (found in algae and coldwater fish)
  • lack of phytochemicals (found in algae and dark leafy greens)
  • excessive fat, simple carboyhydrates, and red meat
  • too many refined and processed foods
... and this is just the short list!

So what can you do with your diet to support a more healthy lifestyle and help your body know when it should and should not react with inflammation? Here are 3 simple dietary changes that can really support your body's immune response:

1. Straighten Out Your Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Here are the sad facts about omega-6 fatty acids (the ones found in fast food and junk food) and omega-3 fatty acids is that most Americans have the ratio exactly backwards in their diets. Here's the deal:
  • To be healthy, you need 3 to 4 times as many omega-3's as omega-6's.
  • Most Americans get 10 to 20 times as many of the wrong omegas (omega-6's) as omega-3's.
See what we mean about the backwards part of the fatty acids? It's no wonder that so many Americans suffer from inflammation. The problem is that omega-3's are so much less available in foods than omega-6's. Eat any fast food meal and you will get plenty of omega-6's. But where do you get the much-needed omega-3's? Coldwater fish, fresh fruit, dark-green leafy greens, AFA blue-green algae, seeds and nuts, and flax and olive oil. Add just a bit of each of these foods to your diet to make a significant difference to your health. For people on the run, we find that adding AFA blue-green algae is one of the simplest ways to get the right ration of fatty acids because this form of algae has the exact ratio of fatty acids the human body needs (plus plenty of phytochemicals).

2. Choose Foods Wisely -- Not Difficult!
We get that not everyone is Rachel Ray or a cooking genius. But the truth of the matter is that you don't need to be in love with cooking to eat healthy. You just have to make better food choices. Do not stop at your local fast food joint for a quick meal fix. Instead, shop smart once a week at your local grocery store. Here's a quick rundown of an anti-inflammatory diet from Christopher Cannon, MD of Harvard Medical School (http://bit.ly/WjKq3w):

Breakfast 
  • steel cut oatmeal with berries or yogurt
  • coffee or green tea
Lunch 
  • tuna salad on whole grain bread OR
  • a smoothie with seasonal fruits
Snack 
  • an ounce of dark chocolate OR
  • about 4 walnuts
Dinner 
  • spaghetti with turkey meat sauce
  • spinach salad with oranges and walnuts
  • apple cranberry pie without butter
Now that doesn't sound too difficult, right? Who can't make oatmeal ... really!

3. Spice It Up
Research shows that spices like ginger and curry are natural anti-inflammatory spices. So add some of these to your foods when you're doing a little light cooking ... or even when you're not really cooking but just "throwing together" a healthy salad or meal. Now that's as simple as it gets!


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