How to decrease inflammation
The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks chronic inflammatory diseases as the number one threat to human health. Diseases classified by chronic inflammation include arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and numerous other cardiovascular diseases. The role of inflammation in the body is to act as a defense and repair system against pathological invaders and tissue damage. It is most useful when activated acutely, but can lead to negative outcomes when it becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation is defined as low levels of inflammation that can be triggered even when the body does not need an immune response. Over time the immune system may become weaker, causing arteries and organs to break down under constant pressure.
Although the direct cause of chronic inflammation is not known, studies have found that inflammation increases with age and with weight gain. The correlation between age and an increased inflammatory response is thought to be due to mitochondrial dysfunction, free radical accumulation over time, and an increase in visceral body fat. The link between a sedentary lifestyle and inflammation is strong, suggesting a change in lifestyle may be advantageous in reducing inflammatory disease. A strong case that supports this claim can be seen through the release of molecules from fat cells. Fat cells can trigger the steady release of adipocytokines (a small immunomodulation protein) that triggers inflammatory responses. As fat cells atrophy, on the other hand, they release an anti-inflammatory hormone, adiponectin, therefore reversing the negative effects of inflammation within the body. Other factors seen to play a role in increasing inflammation within the body include a diet high in sugar and saturated fat, smoking, and stress. Behavioral studies have found that stressful events can elicit the release of neuropeptides, such as Substance P (SP), and other inflammatory chemicals. Not only do these stress mediators increase inflammation, but the tendency to make poor food choices increases, ultimately leading to even more inflammation within the body. Symptoms of inflammation include weight gain, body aches, fatigue, depression, anxiety, frequent infection, and gastrointestinal complications, such as constipation or diarrhea. Luckily, many of these adverse symptoms can be relieved, along with inflammation itself, via changes in lifestyle.
One of the most important and all-encompassing forms of generating a healthier lifestyle is through the continuous use of exercise. As we exercise, either through endurance or resistance training, our muscles naturally release cytokines IL6 and IL10. Furthermore, exercise leads to a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol. As we exercise our body learns to deregulate our sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight response, and upregulate our parasympathetic nervous system, our rest and digest response. By up-regulating our relax response, the stress on our body decreases, therefore decreasing our blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Our cholesterol can further be lowered through our diet. A diet low in processed carbohydrates, low in red meat, and low in sugar can reduce the amounts of harmful LDL cholesterol. Furthermore, supplementation of vitamin D and omega 3 can improve health by aiding in the maintenance of bone density, improving skin health, and by reducing the chance of cardiovascular disease.
According to the Harvard alumni health study, it was found that those who exercised had a greater longevity. They concluded people need around 150 minute of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Simply adding about 20 minutes of exercise a day can vastly improve health. Although we can’t always see inflammation, we should be wary that it is always there. We should also be aware that it can be treated and even prevented through functional medicine. Before engaging in any major lifestyle changes, be sure to gain clearance from your doctor. Once you have the green light, get set, and drive yourself toward a happier, healthier you.
B.S. Biochemistry, Exercise Physiology
University of Miami