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Inflammation is part of the body’s response to foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens. It’s also caused by irritants like pollen, dust, and damaged tissues. Inflammation is triggered when certain hormones in your body call for your white blood cells to come and clear out infections and damaged cells. When the threat has passed, the inflammation recedes and the body heals.
Often, however, inflammation turns on and never fully turns off, instead becoming systemic and chronic. Inflammation is a widespread problem in the U.S. Many of us are walking around on a “slow simmer”, as Nurse Practitioner Marcelle Pick says.
Constant fatigue, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux can be symptoms of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is closely linked with increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Certain physical conditions and behaviors can result in chronic inflammation. Here are some of the more common ones.
1. Weight gain. Enlarged fat cells secrete chemicals that contribute to inflammation throughout the body. Keeping a healthy weight, through proper diet and exercise, is important to reduce inflammation.
2. Overexercising. On the other hand, overtraining and not allowing sufficient rest time between exercise sessions can overtax muscle and other tissues and lead to inflammation. It’s important to allow sufficient rest time between exercise sessions. Also, consider lowering the intensity or duration of exercise sessions. For example, a minute of running, followed by a minute of rest, for 20 minutes, can be more effective than 60 minutes of jogging.
3. Inadequate sleep. An adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep is the body’s time to rest and repair damage to cells. Insufficient sleep can keep the body stressed, causing inflammation.
4. Stress. Constant emotional stress and anxiety can cause the body to release inflammatory chemicals as though it is under attack.
Here are some ways to reduce inflammation:
1. Reduce stress and anxiety. Regular walks in the park, meditation, pursuing a favorite hobby, enjoying a good book or movie, and socializing with friends or relatives are possible ways to reduce chronic stress. If necessary, a change in lifestyle may be in order, to remove the source of the stress.
2. Get adequate sleep each night.
3. Keep a healthy diet and regular, moderate exercise. Colorful vegetables like red peppers, tomatoes, squash, and leafy green vegetables, fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, and salmon, nuts, and soy are believed to reduce inflammation and counteract the damaging effects of chronic inflammation.
If you or your doctor suspect you have chronic inflammation, your doctor can order a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test (hs-CRP) to measure the concentration of inflammatory cells in your blood, for around $20 to $70.