- Marie Belzile-Davidson, MS, RDN, LD
What is inflammation and how can you manage it?
Chances are, you have heard of “inflammation.” After all, we talk about it all the time here at The Functional Kitchen! What is inflammation though? Is it always a bad thing?
Think back on a time when you had a cut, sprain, or sore throat. The impacted area likely felt painful and hot, and may have been red and swollen. All of these signs are some hallmarks of inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural and essential process that our bodies use to defend themselves from infections and heal injured cells and tissues. Inflammation produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. It can be a good thing, in the right balance. When does it become a problem though? To understand this, we need to step back and discuss the two types of inflammation that exist:
Types of Inflammation
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a raging fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute, it is usually at high levels, in a small localized area, and is directly in response to an infection or some kind of damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.
Symptoms of acute inflammation may call for short-term treatment(s) such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may require medical attention. In general, acute inflammation goes away after the impacted area is healed (often within days or even hours). Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation - it does its job and then goes away.
Chronic inflammation is different. It is more like a slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms are not localized to one particular area. Rather, they can appear gradually and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term, it has been linked to many chronic diseases such as:
Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
Allergies and asthma
Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS)
Heart disease and stroke
Lung diseases (emphysema)
Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—but instead of subsiding, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet, too much alcohol, low physical activity levels, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight. There is typically more than one "root cause." This is by no means an exhaustive list, these are just some of the more common causes of chronic inflammation.
The reason we spend so much time talking about chronic inflammation in our posts, conversations with clients, and blogs is that it is all too common. But, we also talk about it so much because there are ways to reduce and even minimize the risk of chronic inflammation (and the other diseases it can lead to) with food and lifestyle habits.
Do not worry, reducing or minimizing your risk of chronic inflammation through nutrition is not as daunting as it sounds. On top of that, The Functional Kitchen is focused on helping you live your healthiest and happiest life in a way that is manageable, sustainable, and works for you and your individual needs!
Scientific research has shown that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several of the previously mentioned conditions, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to treat some of these diseases that help lower inflammation, such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including an anti-inflammatory diet—that are an important part of preventing or scaling down inflammation, to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.
“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” according to Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it is estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. Here’s how.
Making your Diet and Lifestyle more Anti-Inflammatory
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet:
Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil, avocado oil).
Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants like berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation. They are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax.
High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage the growth of friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation.
Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures.
Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods, unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups).
Be physically active:
Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long term. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day.
In addition to the above, add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week.
Get enough restful sleep:
Scientific research has shown that disrupted sleep is linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque blood vessels that can lead to heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair.
Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screen-time an hour before bed, and create a relaxing nighttime routine.
Eliminate smoking and limit alcohol
If you are currently a smoker and quit, it can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation.
Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for females or two drinks per day for males.
Manage your stress:
Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
Research has shown that feeling socially isolated is linked to higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)!
See your doctor and dentist:
Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol are linked to inflammation and negative effects on your blood vessels.
You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation. This test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease.
If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist.
Putting it All Together
Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked to many health issues. The first approach to improving and preventing inflammation is through food and lifestyle changes. Start wherever feels like the best place for you right now and start small, trust me! The goal is to integrate anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle changes in a manageable and sustainable way. Start with one small change and once you feel like you are in a routine with it, then layer on another change. For example, try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. That way, you are less likely to feel overwhelmed and just throw the towel in.
If you feel like you are ready to decrease or prevent chronic inflammation but are not sure where to start, reach out to us at The Functional Kitchen! Spaces are limited so do not hesitate to schedule your complimentary call today by clicking here!
Harvard Health. (2018, November 7). Foods that fight inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Magazine. (2019 May-June). Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions? Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/inflammation-disease-diet
Harvard Health. (2020, April). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, May). Quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, June). All about inflammation. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2017, November 21). C-reactive protein test. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-reactive-protein-test/about/pac-20385228
Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 25). Home remedies: How a healthy diet can help manage pain. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/home-remedies-how-a-healthy-diet-can-help-manage-pain/
Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 13). How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586
Medscape. (n.d.). Inflammation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/923743
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020, April 4). Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm
Neuroscience News. (2020, March 5). Social isolation could cause physical inflammation. Retrieved from https://neurosciencenews.com/social-isolation-inflammation-15864/
University of California Berkeley News. (2020, June 4). Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries. Retrieved from https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/06/04/fitful-nightly-sleep-linked-to-chronic-inflammation-hardened-arteries/
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. (2018). The anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_ai_diet_patient.pdf