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  • Writer's pictureKim Smolders

Inflammation. Good or Bad?


Inflammation is the buzz word of the moment in the health & wellness space.


Inflammation is part of the immune system's complex, natural biological response to injury, infection, toxins, pathogens, and damaged cells. Inflammatory cells & cytokines are released into the bloodstream when the immune system senses an invader, which in turn stimulate the defence mechanism, trapping pathogens or healing damaged cells & tissues. The inflammatory reaction typically presents heat, redness, swelling, pain & loss of function, & can be categorised into two types:


Acute Inflammation. The beauty of the immune system in action is evident when you cut yourself, & your skin grows back, or when you have an infection & your body mounts a fever in reaction to this. White blood cells are dispatched via increased blood flow to the affected area, which then release the necessary cytokines to aid in healing. This wondrous, almost magical, way of healing usually lasts minutes, hours or days.


Chronic Inflammation. This occurs when there is consistent, smouldering "fire" happening in the body, where the inflammation process is not turned off as it should be, & can linger for months, even years. The World Health Organisation has stated that chronic inflammation is the greatest threat to modern-day health, with research shownig that it is a key factor in chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heart disease & even cancer.


Chronic lnflammation.

Chronic inflammation can be silent & subtle, only visible in lab tests, or may be present if one or more of the below symptoms is present for three months or longer. It can affect any part of the body & brain, every organ, tissue & cell. is susceptible to it. These symptoms will in time lead to diseases such Alzheimer's Disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), certain cancers etc ...

  • persistent pain anywhere in the body

  • chronic fatigue

  • insomnia

  • chronic gastrointestinal issues

  • ongoing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, mood disorders ...

  • unintentional weight fluctuations

  • frequent infections & illness


Blood markers that can be tested for to indicate chronic inflammation include:

  • high sensitive C-reactive protein (hs CRP) measures a protein released by the liver that rises with inflammation. Ideally the level is below 1, anything between 1 & 3 shows low level inflammation that needs to be addressed.

  • interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine, a small protein, that is released by the immune system. When in excess, it is inflammatory, and also causes the release of CRP.

  • erythrocyte sedation rate is the rate at which red blood cells fall to the bottom of the collection tube. The higher the inflammation, the faster they fall.

  • ferritin is an iron-storing protein. When these are consistently & significantly elevated, this may inadvertently indicate chronic inflammation.

  • homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood should be broken down by vitamin B12, B6 & folate. high levels do not cause symptoms, but are an indicator of inflammation.

Managing Inflammation.

Living a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle is key to reducing & managing chronic inflammation. Curating a healthy lifestyle can be split into four different categories:


1. Diet & Nutrition

What you eat & drink has a profound impact on your body. A wholesome, anti-inflammatory diet that nourishes you with the necessary essential nutrients that meet your needs will help reduce inflammation & negative, disease-causing reactions in the body. This would be a diet consisting of real foods: a large variety of colourful fruits & vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins beans and nuts, high-quality, grass-fed meat & pasture-raised organic eggs, fatty fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, and fresh herbs & spices. The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of this.


Here are some tips to optimise your health through diet & nutrition:

  • Eliminate or significantly reduce sugar & refined carbohydrates

  • Eliminate or significantly reduce processed foods

  • Eliminate or significantly reduce alcohol

  • Eat the rainbow of colourful fruits & vegetables daily for the phytonutrients

  • Eat anti-inflammatory superfoods such as salmon, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, avocado, green tea / matcha, olive oil, dark chocolate (min 80%), mushrooms, chilli peppers, garlic, fermented foods and nuts & seeds

  • Use anti-inflammatory herbs & spices such as turmeric, ginger, oregano, black cumin seeds & cinnamon

  • Up your intake of omega-3 fatty acids from SMASH - salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines & herring - as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds & walnuts

  • Eat sufficient fiber, at least 30gr per day

  • Top up with anti-inflammatory supplements as required such as zinc, selenium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin E, resveratrol, curcumin, DHA & EPA, & probiotics

  • Drink enough water - spice it up with some lemon, cucumber & mint for an extra health benefit

  • Maintain a stable healthy weight for your height

  • Try intermittent fasting - start with a minimum of 12 hours overnight, increasing it to 16:8, 18:6 or 20:4


2. Exercise

It has been repeatedly shown that exercise is essential for good health, & it is also an important part of reducing chronic inflammation. If you are able to exercise or get moving in nature, you get double benefit as being in nature awakens the body's natural processes of defense & calms it down.


Exercise boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which besides from promoting neuroplasticity in the brain also reduces inflammation. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of exercise, or any movement, spread out over 5 or 6 days to get the best benefits. Doing a mix of different exercise, such as aerobic, anaerobic, cardiovascular fitness, strength & flexibility.


How can you incorporate more exercise into your daily routine?

  • Any movement counts, so find something you love to do - walking, dancing, gardening, running, yoga ..

  • Move often as being sedentary for long periods of time has a detrimental affect on your health

  • Just 20 minutes a day of moderate movement has been shown to reduce inflammation

  • Move according to your ability & needs, do not overdo it!

  • Try to incorporate some strength training as healthy, lean muscle mass can work as an anti-inflammatory

  • Stretching is a form of movement that has also been shown to reduce pro-inflammatory mediators


3. Sleep

Sadly sleep is underrated in today's society, & it is affecting our physical, mental & emotional health - studies have shown that there is an undeniable correlation between less sleep & increased inflammation markers.


During sleep, numerous important activities take place in the body: full body detox happens at night when the body is able t0 heal some of the cellular damage, thoughts from the previous day can be processed, our immune system, metabolism & hormones are regulated, & our glymphatic system, the system in the brain that clears waste from the central nervous system, only does its work when you sleep, which helps us our brain stay focused & healthy. Get at least 8 hours a night for optimal health & wellness!


Some ideas to help you set up good sleep hygiene to get a good night's sleep:

  • Be consistent with sleep & wake times - your body's circadian rhythm is delicate & likes a consistent routine

  • Use the bed for sleeping & sex only

  • Keep your bedroom cool

  • Use black out blinds & remove any light sources from the bedroom

  • Get morning sunlight into your eyes right after waking up to regulate your circadian rhythm

  • Avoid blue light from TV, smartphones, tablets at night

  • Use blue blocking glasses if you do need to use your digital devices in the evening

  • Do not drink coffee or alcohol late in the day

  • Stop eating at least two hours before bed time

  • Trying some sleep-enhancing supplements such as melatonin, valerian root, chamomile tea or lavender essential oils


4. Stress management

Stress is part of modern life, so much so that most doctor visits are attributed to it. Your allostatic load is the cumulative burden of stress & life events. It manifests itself as a weight upon our physiology & ability to function, reducing our physical, emotional & mental resilience.


Stress activates the nervous system with a multitude of chemical mediators such as cortisol, epinephrine & norepinephrine that start many biological changes, including increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, reduced digestive & reproductive capacity, diverted blood flow to major muscle groups & increased alertness. These biological changes are known as the fight & flight response in our sympathetic nervous system. This response is great when you are running away from a tiger, like our ancestors used to do, but not so great when living in today's world where triggers come from the traffic jam, social media, emails, financial pressures, 24-hour news, extensive travel, lack of sleep ... Being stuck in this fight & flight state is hard on our bodies over time and will impact hormone regulation & suppress the immune system, making us more susceptible to dysfunction, disease & infection.


Stress is not going away, but we can reframe & change the way we respond to it, as well as incorporate daily practices & techniques that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the counterpart to sympathetic nervous system activation, reducing inflammation in the process:

  • Find a meditation practice you enjoy daily

  • Laugh a lot & as often as you can!

  • Keep a journal

  • Do daily deep breathing exercises

  • Practice yoga, pilates, movement or stretching

  • Get a regular massage

  • Find a good acupuncturist

  • Take a walk in nature

  • Enjoy time with pets & animals

  • Try a digital detox


Chronic inflammation & chronic illness are on the rise around the world. Fortunately, you have control over some of the drivers of inflammation, & there are many lifestyle choices you can make to reverse & even stop inflammation in its tracks. These choices are centered around the key areas of nutrition, exercise, sleep & stress management. If you are trying to implement these lifestyle changes & are struggling, feel free to reach out. I will help & guide you identify lifestyle habits that work for you & your lifestyle, improving your health & wellbeing!


Always check with your doctor before starting any new lifestyle interventions, exercise, nutrition, & supplements. There can always be unexpected interactions with other drugs or supplements you are taking.


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