While not all inflammation is a concern (it’s actually essential for keeping us alive), when it is persistent and/or chronic, it becomes highly problematic. You will often hear about it in association with health conditions such as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases as well as excess body fat and rapid ageing.
Inflammation is of course a natural, normal and necessary response to infections, damage or injury to tissues inside your body. We just don’t want it switched on all the time as this is when things can go awry. So, what is it and how does it happen? Put simply, inflammation is your immune system’s response to a stimulus. That stimulus might include problematic substances you ingest via food and drinks, absorb via your skin, or breathe in, or those that the body is directed to produce inside itself. Chronic inflammation is most commonly driven by lifestyle choices so the good news is there is plenty you can do to help reduce inflammation and minimise the collateral damage that can occur when it is always switched on. Here are five effective and natural ways to reduce inflammation.
1. Nurture your gut
The community of microbes in your gut, known as the gut microbiome, play a powerful role in modulating the immune system. Different types of gut bacteria can either increase or decrease levels of inflammation. You can support the health of your gut by incorporating as many different types of plant foods as you can into your way of eating – variety is key. Think different types of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses, herbs and spices. These all contain different substances that feed your good bacteria and help them to thrive. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh and kefir are also excellent to include, likely due to their beneficial effect on stomach acid production and hence maintaining the vital pH gradient of gut itself. You may also like to include warm, slow cooked foods and bone broth which offer restorative, gut healing properties. How you eat is just as important as what you eat. Ensure you chew your food well, eat slowly in a calm undistracted state.
2. Love your liver
The liver is responsible for detoxifying (altering the structure of) problematic substances inside us so that they can then be eliminated. When the liver isn’t able to do this critical detoxification work efficiently, due to damage from alcohol, toxins or viruses, inflammation increases. We can support the liver by reducing our exposure to what I like to call “liver loaders”—alcohol, refined sugars and synthetic substances that are often found in processed foods, conventional cosmetics and household cleaning products. In addition to reducing your intake of liver loaders, your liver will benefit from consuming more bitter foods such as green leafy vegetables as well as iron, protein and sulphur-containing foods.
3. Amp up your intake of anti-inflammatory foods
An anti-inflammatory way of eating essentially means choosing predominantly whole foods, with a focus on plenty of plant foods. There are also a number of foods that have potent anti-inflammatory properties and increasing our consumption of these can help too. These include turmeric, ginger, flaxseeds, and oily fish, due to their long-chain omega-3 fatty acid content, as well as grass-fed meats. Some people may benefit from supplementing with curcumin (the main active constituent in turmeric) or a high-quality fish oil to help with lowering inflammation, however this is best discussed with your qualified healthcare practitioner first to determine if it is suitable for you. For most people it is.
4. Address your stress
Chronic stress can also contribute to inflammation and let’s face it, ongoing high levels of stress seem to be the norm for most people these days. The stresses of modern life aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, so it’s crucial that we have practices in place to help mitigate the effects of this on the body. Breath-focused practices are a fantastic way to help lower stress hormone production—this could involve diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, tai chi, qi gong or restorative yoga. If you are constantly stressed, worried, rushed or overwhelmed, it’s also important to consider what might be at the heart of this and how you might be able to change your perceptions of pressure and urgency in everyday life. I wrote about this in my book The Invisible Load
5. Try cold immersions
Cold water immersion or ice baths have been a popular recovery method for athletes for some time and are gaining more popularity with the general population. There is a growing body of scientific research that supports the use of cold water immersion therapy for a variety of health conditions – including reducing inflammation. It involves immersing the body in cold water for a short period of time, usually between 5 and 20 minutes. This is something you can do in the ocean (when the weather is cold enough), your shower or at a local recovery centre or bathing house. If you live or holiday on the Gold Coast, Australia, you might like to try The Bathhouse at Ground for a revitalising cold plunge experience under the giant fig tree.