Improve your overall well-being and reduce your risk of chronic disease in the process.
It's amazing how something silent and unseen can wreak so much havoc. But in the case of chronic inflammation, which is the starting point for a host of health issues — including cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases — that's exactly what happens.
And many of us are making daily choices that unwittingly promote this detrimental response, which results from an immune system imbalance. If we can address that, we can cut the risk for the aforementioned long-term health problems and help ease many near-term ills, such as skin disorders, joint pain, digestive problems, migraines, anxiety and mood swings.
One of the most effective ways to start healing chronic inflammation is by healing "leaky gut syndrome" — i.e. damage to the gut lining that can be triggered by alcohol, food sensitivities, certain medications, low-grade gut infections or chronic stress. The weakened lining allows proteins and bits of bacteria to permeate the gut wall and escape into the bloodstream, which sets off an inflammatory response throughout the body. (Learn more about how an out-of-balance gut affects your well-being here.)
As insidious as inflammation may be, you have the power to reduce it, heal your gut and protect yourself from a litany of health problems in the process.
How to Reduce Inflammation
1. Curb Sugar and Processed Foods
To me, sugar is public health enemy number-one, the worst toxin we expose ourselves to. It’s time to cut it out of your diet, once and for all. It's not easy — sugar dependence has a strong pull. But these tips can help you kick the sugar habit.
You also want to look out for processed packaged foods, which are too prevalent in the Standard American Diet (fittingly called SAD, for short). If it comes in a box or a bag or has more than two or three ingredients on the label, steer clear most of the time. These made-in-the-lab "Franken-foods" will most likely be loaded with gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, unhealthy oils and other ingredients that can trigger an immune response — and chronic inflammation.
2. Fill up on Fresh, Real Food
Eating fresh, local or organic produce is one of the easiest, healthiest things you can do to deter chronic inflammation. The more variety the better in order to feed the good bacteria that keep the gut lining strong. Make an effort to pile your plate with anti-inflammation foods such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies and extra virgin olive oil.
And go heavy on spices! Not only do spices add more flavor to your meals, many of them also deliver an anti-inflammatory boost as well, so apply them liberally and enjoy. Topping the list of anti-inflammatory spices: turmeric, ginger, rosemary and basil.
3. Try an Elimination Diet
A great way to quickly put the brakes on inflammation is by eliminating foods and liquids that have the potential to be toxins, irritants or allergens. For a period of 14 days or more, eliminate not only sugar and processed foods, but also alcohol, gluten (wheat, spelt, kamut, rye, barley, and malt), dairy, soy, corn, eggs and nightshade vegetables (white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers). Afterwards, reintroduce foods slowly so you learn which ones may be triggers for you. I strongly recommend working with a health coach during an elimination diet, to help you get individual guidance.
4. Take Care of Your Mouth
We all know that brushing and flossing your teeth regularly is essential for the health of your mouth, but the benefits extend to your gut too. Good dental hygiene keeps the mouth’s bad bacteria from sneaking into your gut microbiome and triggering inflammation.
5. Exercise More, but Don’t Overdo It
Regular exercise is essential, but pushing yourself to the limit with long, hard gym sessions is not. In fact, overtraining actually promotes chronic inflammation – so it may be time to rethink your approach. To find the right balance, particularly as you get older, work with a qualified personal trainer, and trade those long workouts for shorter interval-training sessions.
That being said, losing excess weight can help reduce inflammation — fat cells fuel inflammation. They secrete a type of hormone that contributes to inflammation, so maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of keeping inflammation at bay.
6. Soothe Mind and Body
Relentless stress weakens your immune system and promotes inflammation, so fight back by giving your mind and body regular meditation breaks. Even a few minutes of meditation first thing in the morning or at the end of the day can help quiet your mind.
7. Sleep it Off
When you're sleeping less than six hours a night, you’re putting your body in the inflammation danger zone. Allow your system at least seven to eight hours of shuteye per night to give it the time it needs to restore, refresh and repair. Coming up short night after night promotes oxidative stress, which leads to chronic inflammation.
8. Nourish Your Gut with Bone Broth
Bone broth is one of the best anti-inflammation foods. It's full of gelatin and collagen, which soothes the intestinal tract and helps heal a leaky gut. The gelatin and collagen also support your joints and bones, and reduce inflammation throughout your body. It's easy to incorporate into your diet as a base for soups and stews, whether you make it from scratch (ambitious!) or buy it from a reputable online purveyor.
If you’re in New York City, stop by THE WELL Kitchen & Table for a cup of our homemade bone broth, made fresh daily.
RELATED: 3 Winter Bone Broth Recipes
9. Minimize Chemical Exposure
Buy organic produce when possible, filter your water, switch from plastic to glass for food storage and reheating and use gentler organic or homemade natural cleaning products. Try to reduce the use of personal care products or use ones with "clean" ingredients.
RELATED: How to Start a Clean Beauty Routine
10. Ditch Alcohol, OTC Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Unnecessary Antibiotics
As innocuous as over-the-counter “anti-inflammatory” meds or alcohol may seem, their damage is real, so the less you consume the better. If you’re popping a few ibuprofen every day to manage aches and pains, or knocking back a few glasses of wine a night, you’re also throwing off the delicate bacterial balance in your gut. This can undermine the integrity of your gut wall, and set yourself up for chronic inflammation.
If your doctor offers antibiotics, and it’s not a critical situation (i.e. one that will never get better without antibiotics), you may be better off just saying no. Antibiotics kill bacteria, both good and bad, and wind up disrupting your bacterial balance.