When you get a minor cut or scrape, you’ll notice puffiness around the wound as your body rushes blood and fluids to the site to spur healing. Such limited swelling is a sign that things are working as they should. However, scientists now know that chronic, systemic inflammation contributes to multiple diseases that can lead to diabetes, autoimmune problems and neurodegenerative disorders.
Fortunately, you can make lifestyle changes to decrease the swelling. As a pleasant side effect, you’ll feel better and improve your energy levels. Here are five ways to reduce inflammation.
Uncover Your Unique Sensitivities
Could you have a food allergy or sensitivity? Millions of Americans might, which contributes to systemic inflammation. Some produce violent symptoms, like peanuts, but others might cause only mild gastrointestinal and respiratory distress you hardly notice while spurring widespread swelling.
You’re more likely to know about an existing allergy if you have one of the big eight. Roughly 3 million Americans have celiac disease, and another 40 million are sensitive to this wheat protein. The other seven are:
- Tree nuts
However, you could have other, less well-known sensitivities that increase inflammation. Some people are sensitive to certain cooking oils or entire classes of vegetables, like the nightshade family.
Your best bet for uncovering your unique sensitivities to reduce systemic inflammation is an elimination diet. Purge everything containing the suspected allergens from your plate for at least two weeks before adding foods back in one at a time to test for sensitivities. Avoid items if you experience adverse symptoms after consumption.
Watch Out for Pro-Inflammatory Foods
Some foods spur systemic inflammation. Consuming them in moderation — if at all — is your best health bet.
You probably know that too much sugar isn’t good for your teeth. It also increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
2. Processed Flour
Processed flour is nearly as bad as sugar because manufacturers strip the nutrient and fiber-rich bran and chaff. Furthermore, bleaching creates a chemical byproduct called alloxan that scientists use to induce diabetes in laboratory animals, making this substance double trouble. Stick to whole grain and flour alternatives like chickpea and almond.
You don’t need alcohol for life, and if you don’t drink, don’t start. Although red wine has some antioxidant benefits, you’re better off eating the grapes themselves, as drinking can increase systemic inflammation.
4. Red Meat
You have two good reasons to participate in meatless Monday and extend your membership throughout the week. The World Health Organization identifies processed meat as a carcinogen and red meat as probable. These foods also increase inflammation, so save the steak for special occasions, like birthdays.
5. Fried Foods
Fried foods are nearly always inflammatory. Those fried in lard contain many of the same proteins as meat. Many restaurants use vegetable oil instead, which may be as problematic because of the high omega-6 content.
While you need omega-6 for health, you should consume close to an even balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Many Americans get closer to a 15:1 ratio because of the proliferation of foods fried in vegetable oils, increasing systemic inflammation.
Tame Your Tension
There’s a good reason to tame your daily tension levels — too much stress can increase inflammation. That’s because your body goes into the fight-or-flight response when you feel the pressure, which ramps up cortisol and adrenaline production.
Typically, this response is short-lived and not dangerous when it serves its intended purpose. However, the system malfunctions when stress becomes chronic. High cortisol levels make your body produce more pro-inflammatory cytokines, causing chronic, widespread inflammation and conditions from rheumatoid arthritis to depression.
What can you do to manage stress? Schedule at least 30 minutes for self-care each day. Your activity may include the following:
- A moderate, 30-minute workout
- Mindfully preparing a meal for yourself and your family — with them handling cleanup
- Working on a favorite hobby, like gardening or photography
- Enjoying a cup of tea and reading before bed
- Practicing half an hour of yoga and meditation before bed
Put It on Ice
Inflammation implies pain, puffiness, redness — and heat. You probably know about icing an acute injury to reduce ankle sprain swelling. Did you know you could also use cool water to mitigate stress?
Your vagus nerve plays a crucial role in your body’s stress response but loses tone over time. Cold water can reignite it. Try splashing your face when panic threatens, as your vagus meets your trigeminal nerve in this area. The sensation can shock you back to your senses and help you think more clearly. A cold shower can work wonders when you’re hot and bothered, especially if combined with deep breathing.
Learn to Breathe
The final tool in your arsenal is your breath, which is a direct line to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system. That’s your relaxation side, and these techniques can help you naturally calm yourself:
- 2-to-1 breathing: Exhale roughly twice as long as your inhales.
- Boxed breathing: Inhale for four counts and hold your breath for another four. Then exhale for four counts, pausing again before inhaling.
- The big sigh: This is also known as lion’s breath in yoga. Start by inhaling deeply, elongating and exaggerating your sigh as you stick out your tongue.
How to Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation lurks behind many of the most disabling conditions. What works well for treating acute injuries can become problematic if it turns chronic, leading to disease.
Fortunately, you can control inflammation by avoiding certain foods, including those that trigger unique sensitivities. Taming your stress levels completes the cycle and keeps your levels in check.