What is inflammation?
Our bodies naturally respond to injury and infection with a process called inflammation. To defend against a virus or bacteria or to repair an injured area, such as a cut, burn, or tear, the immune system causes inflammation. Known as acute inflammation, it usually only lasts a few days. This type of inflammation is a good thing.
The kind of inflammation you want to avoid is chronic inflammation, which lasts longer. Chronic or persistent inflammation lingers and can cause various illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders. Chronic inflammation is a hidden cause of practically every disease that affects Americans today, including cancer.
What causes chronic inflammation in the body?
The causes of chronic inflammation are complex and are influenced by various factors, including:
- Unhealthy diet: Diets high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, added sugars, and alcohol can contribute to chronic inflammation.
- Sedentary lifestyle: Lack of physical activity has been linked to chronic inflammation.
- Environmental toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins like air pollution, pesticides, and chemicals in household products, can contribute to chronic inflammation.
- Chronic infections: Certain infections, such as hepatitis C, HIV, and tuberculosis, can cause chronic inflammation.
- Chronic stress: Chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of certain hormones, resulting in sustained inflammation in the body.
- Obesity: Excess body fat, especially visceral fat accumulating around the organs, can cause chronic inflammation.
- Genetic predisposition: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to chronic inflammation, like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Although you may not have control over your environment or genetics, you can make lifestyle changes that will help to lower chronic inflammation.
How long does it take to lower inflammation in the body?
The time it takes to lower inflammation in the body can vary depending on the person, cause, and severity of the inflammation. Once you change your lifestyle to reduce inflammation, it may only take a few days, several weeks (Journal of Nutrition), or even months (Journal: Circulation) to see significant improvements in inflammation levels.
Lowering inflammation in the body often requires a multifaceted approach that includes dietary changes, regular exercise, stress management, and other lifestyle modifications reviewed later in this article. The more thorough your approach to lowering inflammation, the faster it will happen.
The best time to start proactively living a low-inflammation lifestyle is now, regardless of how long it will take to lower your levels. Although everyone is different, by following the tips listed below, you may start lower inflammation levels in as little as a few days.
Signs of Inflammation in the Body
While the symptoms of acute inflammation, such as swelling after an injury or a fever from fighting a virus, are easy to recognize, the signs of chronic inflammation are more subtle.
The first things you'll notice if your inflammation levels are high and you begin to lower them are:
- Better-looking skin
- Less puffiness in your face
- Less discomfort in your joints
- A clearer mental state
As time passes, you may notice other changes like weight loss, better digestion, and lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
You can ask your doctor to have the inflammation in your body tested. A blood test for C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and homocysteine levels will probably be performed to assess chronic inflammation. They are typically inexpensive and may be covered by your insurance.
Here are the top seven tips for lowering inflammation fast through lifestyle changes.
1. Exercise regularly, but don't overdo it
Regular physical activity helps reduce inflammation and improve overall health. Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days per week. Whether it's yoga, cycling, or walking with friends, choose something you enjoy and do it frequently.
However, you should avoid overexerting yourself with high-intensity or prolonged exercise (like running a marathon) or high-impact exercise (like running long distances on pavement), which can worsen inflammation by increasing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
It is also important to listen to your body and give it adequate rest and recovery time between workouts. Another tip is gradually increasing the intensity and duration of exercise rather than jumping into a high-intensity exercise program without proper conditioning. A balanced exercise program that includes a mix of cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises can also minimize the risk of overuse injuries and inflammation.
2. Get enough good quality sleep
Several studies show poor sleep increases inflammation in the body. While you sleep, the body makes proteins called cytokines that help fight infection and inflammation. When a person doesn't get enough sleep, their body produces fewer cytokines, which causes inflammation to worsen.
Lack of sleep can also boost the production of stress hormones like cortisol, which causes more inflammation.
Getting sufficient, high-quality sleep can lower inflammation in the body. A study in the journal Sleep showed that those who get at least 7 hours of nightly sleep have lower levels of C-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation) than those who get fewer than 6 hours. So get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. It's not just the duration of sleep that counts; quality is just as important. Quality sleep means uninterrupted sleep and sleep that is not artificially induced by drugs like sleep medications or alcohol. For more information on how to get better sleep, read 12 Pro Tips for Better Sleep Tonight.
3. Reduce stress
Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released when the mind or body is under strain, and they can cause the immune system to create pro-inflammatory cytokines. The body can then become inflamed as a result. Chronic stress can increase inflammation, so finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or exercise, is essential.
Several studies have shown a link between chronic stress and increased inflammation. For example, a study published in the Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal found that individuals who reported higher stress levels had higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Everyone experiences stress, but you can find routines that help you manage stress, such as walking or running, meditating, or yoga. Many additional all-natural treatments for anxiety can have a significant stress-reducing effect, like counseling, which can be especially helpful in relieving chronic stress since it might help to identify the source of your stress.
4. Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
Smoking increases inflammation by producing free radicals, lowering the body's natural antioxidant defenses, and impairing the immune system's ability to fight infections and respond to injuries, which can lead to chronic inflammation.
Alcohol can increase inflammation by increasing oxidative stress, disrupting the bacteria balance in the gut, and stimulating the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Alcohol can also increase the permeability of the gut barrier, allowing bacteria and other harmful substances to enter the bloodstream, triggering an inflammatory response.
Quitting smoking and reducing or quitting alcohol consumption will cause an immediate improvement in bodily inflammation.
5. Follow an inflammation-lowering, healthy diet
Diet has the most significant impact on inflammation. A low-inflammation diet is a way of eating designed to reduce chronic inflammation. It typically includes the following anti-inflammatory foods:
- Berries. Antioxidants called polyphenols, present in plants, have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Dark-colored berries are best, like blueberries, blackberries, and currants, and red-colored berries, like raspberries and cranberries.
- Fatty fish. Omega-3 oils in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, and cod) lower inflammation.
- Whole foods. Minimally processed whole foods are rich in nutrients and fiber, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
- olive oil,
- Herbs and spices. Include anti-inflammatory spices like curcumin in your diet. Use them to improve your dishes and gain the advantages of extra nutrients.
- Ginger. Compounds in ginger inhibit the COX-2 enzyme, which is involved in the creation of inflammation in the body.
- Garlic. Compounds in garlic can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which reduces inflammation.
- Avocados. Flavanoids, fiber, and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in avocados have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Nuts. Compounds in healthy nuts, including omega-3 and fiber that feed your gut, can help reduce inflammation. Walnuts, almonds, and pistachios are some of the best.
- Lean protein: Lean protein such as chicken, turkey, fish, and legumes are better alternatives to red meat.
Low-inflammation diets limit or avoid processed and high-sugar foods, red meat and high-fat dairy, synthetic sweeteners, hydrophobic oils, and refined carbs like white pasta, bread, and rice.
6. Consider specific supplements backed by clinical studies
Through dietary supplements, we can get nutrients that are difficult or expensive to get through meals. Several supplements may help lower inflammation, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA, ALA) are a type of healthy fat shown to reduce inflammation. They are found in foods such as fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, or supplements.
- Curcumin. Turmeric is a spice with anti-inflammatory properties from the active ingredient inside called curcumin. It can be added to food or taken in supplement form as isolated curcumin.
- Vitamin D. Many people are deficient in Vitamin D, which plays a role in regulating inflammation. A healthcare professional can check your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test and recommend a supplement if necessary.
- Probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help improve gut health and lower inflammation. They can be found in most fermented foods like yogurt.
- Black pepper extract. Laboratory studies indicate that piperine, the active compound in black pepper, may effectively fight inflammation.
Before taking any supplements, you should consult your doctor because they can interact with medications.
7. Hydrate with adequate intake of pure water
Water is essential to your body's detoxification process. Drinking adequate water helps remove inflammation-causing toxins.
However, the purity of water is just as important as the quantity. Poor-quality water can introduce more toxins into your body than it helps remove. Most well-run municipal water utilities test and treat water frequently to maintain quality. However, they don't test for all contaminant types. Herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, PFOS (the forever chemical), and other chemicals can be found in drinking water, which is scary. For this reason, a water purification system at the faucet or the water entry point in your home is highly recommended. I recommend a Brita Filter or PurWater filter at the least, and if budget allows, a reverse osmosis filter under your sink.
Inflammation can lead to a range of health problems. Adopting healthy habits into your lifestyle, such as regular exercise, a nutritious diet, stress management, and targeted supplementation, can help lower inflammation quickly and improve overall health.