You hear the term being thrown around quite a bit, especially when talking about food. "Oh don't eat this, it causes inflammation" or "doing XYZ reduces inflammation"...Let's look in a little further and understand exactly what inflammation refers to.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body's way of defending itself against bacteria and viruses. When you get hurt and your wound is all red and puffy, that's inflammation. When you get a sore throat and it's all red, that is also inflammation, working to neutralize the virus. So far so good, inflammation seems legit!
Why can it be bad?
Unfortunately, sometimes, the body attacks itself. This is where inflammation becomes an issue. Simply put, your body doesn't stop releasing the cells that fight off viruses, and they start attacking your own body. When everything works normal, your body sends signals to the brain to stop the inflammation. When inflammation becomes harmful, it's due to these signals not working. Chronic inflammation can cause cancer, diabetes and cardio vascular diseases, hence the importance of keeping it in check.
What exactly causes inflammation?
There are causes that we can't control like our environment, exposure to sunlight, bacteria and viruses. These causes are natural and are bodies are equipped to fight against those. Humans have evolved to resist against these natural causes, but in recent years, we have introduced another cause of inflammation that we can control and that our body hasn't evolved to fight against: diet.
Inflammation caused by diet is mainly due to oxidative stress. WTF is that? Through various mechanisms, your body produces molecules called "Free radicals". Long story short, these free radicals damage our cells. They do so by breaking down our cell membranes. This causes our cells to die. Free radicals also damage our neurons, which screws up our nervous system. I don't have to be a doctor to tell you that it is a big problem. Our body, designed beautifully by nature or whomever your fancy, is designed to fight the free radicals with anti oxidants. Anti oxidants destroy free radicals before they can damage our cells.
To sum up oxidative stress, it's when there are more free radicals than anti oxidants in our body. You can now see the importance of keeping those free radicals in check. If there are too many, our body can't fight all of them off and they start to damage our cells. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if all the foods we eat contained no free radicals. But all processed foods actually contain free radicals. So when you eat crapy foods, you are bringing those bad molecules into your body.
A poor diet can also cause inflammation indirectly. You know that a poor diet can damage our hormone system, clog our cardio vascular system and cause damage in our stomach. These all lead to inflammation.
What can we do about it?
Limiting the intake of processed foods is the most important thing we can do. You know these foods are harmful to your body so might as well avoid them. You can enjoy a little bit of a cheat but I would recommend staying clear to them as much as possible.
The other thing we can do through diet is eating foods high in anti oxidants. All plant based foods contain different amounts of anti oxidants. So just like you can bring in bad molecules with processed foods, you can bring in the good guys with a healthy diet. Making sure that you have at least 1 serving of fruit and 3 servings of veggies per day is a good start.
Exercising regularly will help maintain all the various systems in your body working properly. It helps keeping everything in you body working properly, so that inflammation stays low.
Inflammation is a normal and natural defence mechanism for our body to survive. With our modern diet full of foods that can increase bad molecules in our bodies, it's important to have a basic understanding of diet and inflammation.
Processed foods cause inflammation directly by bringing in those bad molecules into our bodies. You hear all the time about animal products being inflammatory but the scientific literature on this subject is mixed. It seems that all natural, unmodified animal products are not inflammatory. The issue nowadays is that most animal products are modified one way or another. Take milk for example: unless you live on a farm, it is almost impossible to get fresh milk.
You can read this scientific review for further info.
As for meat, large consumption of red meat has been proven to increase inflammation. But like the dairy issue, natural, grass fed meat, is better than lower quality meat. Most animals raised for consumption are stuffed with man made substances, be it anti bodies or steroids to grow muscle, that they end up doing more bad then good when eaten.
Choose you animal products wisely and eat lot's of fruits and veggies to keep your inflammation in check!