You might have noticed that something called “inflammation” has been linked to everything from cancer to heart disease, to arthritis and even dementia. Yes, researchers have discovered that inflammation might underlie many, or even most, common diseases. But what is inflammation, exactly, and how do you get it? Even more importantly, what can you do about it?
What is inflammation? Technically, inflammation is a good thing – at least in the short term. When your body’s immune system is activated to fight an illness or heal from an injury, you technically have inflammation. But what you don’t want is for that immune activation to continue, creating chronic inflammation over the long term.
Chronic inflammation is what researchers are talking about, when they mention links to various common diseases. If your body stays in “alert mode” for months or years, over time your cells will become damaged. Inflammation will attack your arteries, intestines, brain cells, and more. For example, when the tissues around joints become the target, arthritis can be the result.
Often, we won’t even notice long-term inflammation until symptoms such as arthritis, heart disease, or cancer present themselves.
What causes inflammation? Essentially, anything that triggers your immune system to activate can turn on a long-term inflammation response. Yes, some people do appear more genetically prone to immune system activation. Certain environmental factors like pollution can also play a role.
And, certain lifestyle behaviors can interfere with healing, so that your immune system malfunctions and does not know when to “turn off”. Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating too much sugary or refined foods, lack of exercise, and poor sleep are common culprits.
As we get older, our bodies have a harder time regulating our immune systems. That’s one reason why the health conditions associated with chronic inflammation tend to show up in the above-60 crowd.
What can you do to fight inflammation? Obviously, you don’t have any control over your age or genetic makeup. But you can manage lifestyle factors that tend to increase inflammation. Get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, quit smoking and drinking, and most importantly, eat a healthy diet. Some foods are known to be “anti inflammatory”, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, yogurt, fatty fish, and olive oil.
Other steps, such as reducing stress and losing weight, can also help to fight inflammation.
If you’re concerned about inflammation and the potential long-term health effects, talk to your physician at your next check-up. He or she can help you adjust your lifestyle to reduce your risk of many common inflammation-linked diseases.