The inflammatory process is part of the body’s normal response to attack (viruses, bacteria, allergens, injuries or insect bites, for example). It is a first-line defence mechanism vital for identifying tissue damage and/or eradicating pathogens.
In its acute phase, inflammation manifests in dilation of the blood vessels which allows an influx of immune cells (primarily neutrophils and macrophages) to the affected site where, in a process called phagocytosis, they digest damaged tissue, germs or antigens.
Short-term inflammation encourages healing but when it persists, it becomes really problematic: this is referred to as chronic inflammation. With constant demands being made on the immune system, it becomes weaker and more vulnerable to disease. This ‘silent’ inflammation is indeed a factor in most long-term diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and auto-immune disorders (1-3).
A good way of identifying inflammation levels is to test the blood for C-reactive protein (CRP). Produced by the liver, this is an early and specific marker of an acute or chronic inflammatory response. Normal CRP levels are below 6 mg/L.
When you move around, your muscle cells release two mediators which naturally reduce inflammation levels: interleukin-6 (IL-6) and interleukin-10 (IL-10) (4). This effect is even greater in the case of prolonged physical activity. An excellent reason to put on your trainers (or head for the pool)!
Not only does exercise offer immediate benefits, it’s also an important aid to losing weight. Adipose cells are thought to exert a pro-inflammatory effect on macrophages, large numbers of which accumulate in fatty tissue (5). So by shedding a few pounds, you’re likely to reduce your inflammation levels too.
A key tool in our armoury, antioxidants play a central role in maintaining inner balance. To gain maximum benefit from them, make sure you consume them regularly.
A star performer from Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric offers extraordinary antioxidant properties largely due to its content of curcuminoids (6). Unfortunately, these compounds are poorly absorbed by the body in their natural state, but cutting-edge supplements have managed to remedy this by combining turmeric with natural phosphatidylcholine (as in the product Super Curcuma, where the curcuminoids are 29 times more absorbable compared with standard supplements).
Given the complexity of the biochemical reactions that control the body, you could also diversify your intake of ‘supermolecules’, by choosing a synergistic formulation (combining turmeric with 12 exceptional substances including tulsi, bromelain, gingerols, quercetin and rutin, the supplement Inflarelief is the benchmark in this field) (7-9).
On top of increasing your antioxidant intake, reviewing your dietary habits as a whole is another way of lowering your CRP level.
The emphasis should, of course, be on fruits and vegetables, but don’t forget about pulses: as a source of fibre and plant proteins, they, along with wholegrains, provide a good alternative to meat which actually maintains inflammatory states (10). They also have a low glycaemic index, a key priority in fighting inflammation. So high-sugar foods are off the menu! (11)
Typically, our diet also has a a poor omega 6:omega 3 ratio. Though omega-6 fatty acids are essential, they exert a pro-inflammatory effect if consumed in excess. It’s a good idea, then, to redress the balance by boosting your omega-3 intake (with, in particular, oily fish, and linseed, rapeseed or hemp oil) (12).
With regard to ‘healthy fats’, palmitoleic acid (or omega-7), which is abundant in body tissues but negligible in the diet, is currently attracting considerable scientific interest (13). It may therefore be appropriate to supplement with this invaluable amino acid (by taking, for example, Palmitoleic Acid, a purified palmitoleic acid supplement, obtained from sustainably-fished anchovies).
How about injecting some brightness into your diet with a bowl of berries? Despite their small size, they pack a hefty punch in terms of health benefits, because of their high content of exceptional compounds (14). Leading the pack are bilberries and grapes, both of which have antioxidant properties that come from their anthocyanin and leucocyanidin content (15-16).
If berries are something you rarely buy, think about supplementing with extracts of red berries and fruits to restore your inner balance (with a product such as AntiOxidant Synergy, based on turmeric, bilberry and grapeseed, and enriched with powerful natural substances including green tea, resveratrol, glutathione and pine bark).
No fewer than 41 studies published between 2003 and 2013 refer to a link between psychosocial stress and raised CRP levels (17). So taking time for yourself, engaging in relaxing activities and managing your emotions better could all have a positive effect in reducing chronic inflammation (and better still, preventing it!)
Are your knees and hips now a painful reminder of good times in your past? A resin obtained from the bark of the tree Boswellia serrata, boswellia supports joint health as a result of its high content of boswellic acid (18-19). Taken in the form of a dietary supplement (for example,5-Loxin®, standardised to 30% boswellic acid for optimal efficacy), it offers valuable support for inflamed joints.
And one last ingredient to discover is white willow bark, often recommended by naturopaths for its salicin content, which is converted into salicylic acid in the body.
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