The Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle: A Fountain of Youth?
Ginger Garner MPT, ATC
It may come as a shock, but you may have hidden inflammation in your body that is causing premature aging and disease. In fact, researchers and health care professionals alike report that most all modern diseases are caused by inflammation in the body (Hsu 2010, González-Gallego et al 2010, Larrosaa et al 2010, Sticher et al 2010, Hyman 2009, Garcia-Lafuente et al 2009, Aggarwal and Harikumar 2008, Aggarwal et al 2007, Fantuzzi 2005).
Inflammation plays an important role in your ability to achieve health and wellbeing. When it is present, other than in a situation of acute injury or infection, inflammation damages your body’s ability to heal itself, setting you up for a lifetime of low grade, persistent, degenerative inflammation and accelerated aging.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses – including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease.” – Dr. Andrew Weil, Harvard trained MD
Diets claiming to ward off aging are highly popular, yet the nutrition scene is waist high in confusing, sometimes conflicting information. The good news is I have sorted through it for you. The frontrunner with the most scientific evidence to support anti-aging is the anti-inflammatory diet.
Not a “Hollywood” diet, the anti-inflammatory diet is more of an approach to living. It prevents aging by preventing inflammatory processes in the body that cause chronic disease. Further, there is evidence that adopting an anti-inflammatory lifestyle regimen can help prevent aging and disease more than just diet alone.
But how do you know if you have too much inflammation in your body?
You could benefit from an anti-inflammatory lifestyle if you:
• Are overweight or have difficulty losing weight
• (being overweight means you have excessive adipose (fat) tissue. Adipose tissue has been proven to harbor inflammatory chemicals which cause inflammation)
• Are sedentary (being inactive is now one of the greatest predictors of chronic disease because resting chemical levels, which cause pro-inflammatory responses in the body, are higher)
• Have arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
• Have heart disease
• Suffer from allergies (seasonal or food)
• Have diabetes or at risk
• Have respiratory or breathing problems such as asthma
• Are autistic or have an autistic child
“Finding out whether or not you are suffering from hidden inflammation is critical, because almost every modern disease is caused or affected by it”. – Dr. Mark Hyman, physician and functional medicine expert
It doesn’t take long to see that everyone can benefit from this method. If you are doubtful, have a C-reactive protein test. This tests for the amount of inflammation in your body, which can be completely unnoticed or hidden.
The main benefits of adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle are (Gonzales 2010, Jin 2010, Larrosaa et al 2010, Mamplekou et al 2010, Muller 2010, Pantsulaia et al 2010, Sticher et al 2010, Garcia-Lafuente et al 2009, Jurenka 2009, Tice et al 2003, McAlindon and Felson 1997):
- Decrease your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, dementia.
- Decrease your risk of cancers like breast, prostate, colon, and colorectal
- Decrease your risk of neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases
- Lose & maintain a healthy weight
- Improve lung health
- Improve neurophysiological and psycho-emotional health (i.e. depression)
- Decrease allergies
- Stabilize blood sugar
Getting on the Anti-Inflammatory Train
There are a few stops to be made on the road to healing yourself. I recommend you make changes incrementally and slowly. In other words, get on the train and make a single change at each stop rather than trying to make them all at once.
• 1st Stop: Change Your diet. To reap the full benefits you will have to add anti-inflammatory foods AND get rid of foods that are inflammatory agents. The nutrition portion is similar to a typical Mediterranean diet. However:
If you have a tough time with change, start by ADDING anti-inflammatory foods and herbs to your diet such as turmeric, blueberries, flax seeds, fatty fish, leafy greens. Fruits and vegetables rich in flavonoids are known to provide anti-inflammatory effects (see sources).
If you are ready for change, the quickest way to see results is to ELIMINATE foods known to cause inflammation in the body such as wheat, dairy, meat, processed foods, and sugar.
• 2nd Stop: Exercise. Regularly. There is enormous evidence supporting the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise (see sources). In fact, not exercising is one of the single greatest factors that cause the inflammatory process to begin. In other words, you don’t suffer from inflammation randomly – it is caused in large part from living being inactive. Just 30 minutes daily has been proven effective for weight loss and anti-inflammatory effects.
• 3rd stop: Green Your Environment. Exposure to environmental toxins, such as second hand smoke and other pollution like household chemical cleaners or living in larger cities, can also contribute to chronic inflammation in the body, causing you to age prematurely. Leaving your shoes at the front door (instituting a “no shoes in the house” policy), which my family started doing in 2004, is a great way to instantly reduce your exposure and green your house.
I personally started following an anti-inflammatory diet, in the Ayurvedic tradition, in 2004. There were immediate seismic changes in my health. My seasonal allergies vanished, I lost 20 pounds, I had more energy, and my osteoarthritis symptoms vanished along with my nagging chronic tendonitis and other problems.
However the biggest life change was welcoming my son Michael. Ridding my body of the life long low-grade inflammatory state it had been in played a role in his arrival. Science was just starting to connect the dots at that time, between inflammation and infertility. Now there is overwhelming evidence supporting the many health benefits of the anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
It’s Easy. There are no gimmicks, supplements, drugs, or expensive “programs” you need to be successful at following the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. All you need are organic whole foods, 30 minutes of daily exercise, and a positive attitude.
• The Inflammation Cure – the first book I bought about the diet, written by a North Carolina MD, PhD.
• The Complete Idiot’s Guide to The Anti-Inflammation Diet – I have not read this book, but it is written by Harvard MD Christopher Cannon.
Websites & Shopping
• Anti-Inflammatory Herbs & Spices I cook with these on a daily basis, and especially go to them when I have fallen off the proverbial anti-inflammatory diet wagon such as at Christmas or a birthday.
• VitaCost.com - Living on a remote island can make it hard to find whole foods, so I shop online to find gluten free (kid friendly!) products such as pizza crust, pancake, and even birthday cake mixes. (Yes, I make gluten free birthday cakes for my kids. They love them and it tastes great, especially the chocolate.) The best part – $5 flat rate shipping.
Items to shop for: Search for Organic, Gluten Free, or Wheat Free products. Stay away from “gluten-free or organic junk food” (readily available, highly processed foods that claim to be healthy just because they are organic or gluten or wheat free). Stick with whole foods.
1. Aggarwal BB, Harikumar KM. Potential therapeutic effects of curcumin, the anti-inflammatory agent, against neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 2009 Jan;41(1):40-59. Epub 2008 Jul 9.
2. Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H. Curcumin: The Indian solid gold. Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 2007; 595: 1-75.
3. Elenkov IJ, Iezzoni DG, Daly A, Harris AG, Chrousos GP: Cytokine Dysregulation, Inflammation and Well-Being. Neuroimmunomodulation 2005;12:255-269 (DOI: 10.1159/000087104)
4. Fantuzzi G. Aipose tissue, adipokines, and inflammation. J. Allergy Clin. Immunol. 2005; 115:911-915.
5. García-Lafuente A, Guillamón E, Villares A, Rostagno M, Martínez J. Flavonoids as anti-inflammatory agents: implications in cancer and cardiovascular disease. Inflammation Research. Vol 58 (9); 2009-09-01: pp 537-552.
6. González-Gallego J, García-Mediavilla MV, Sánchez-Campos S, Tuñón MJ. Fruit polyphenols, immunity and inflammation. Br J Nutr. Oct;104 Suppl 3:S15-27. 2010.
7. Hsu A, Bray TM, Ho, E. Anti-inflammatory activity of soy and tea in prostate cancer prevention. Exp. Biol. Med. 2010 235: 659-667.
8. Hyman, M. Is Your Body Burning Up With Inflammation? August 27, 2009. Article originally published in Huffington Post.
9. Jin JH, Kim JS, Kang SS, Son KH, Chang HW, Kim H. Anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic activity of total flavonoids of the roots of Sophora flavescens. J Ethnopharmacol. Feb 17;127(3):589-95. Epub 2009 Dec 23.2010.
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24. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods. March 2003. Beltsville, MD. http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/Flav/flav.pdf
[Photo Credit: The photograph originally appeared in this article on Turmeric – which is also a spice my husband and I use frequently in our kitchen for its anti-inflammatory powers.]Ginger Garner MPT, ATC — is an educator and subject matter expert in medical therapeutic yoga and women’s health. As a published author and sought after speaker, Ginger pens the popular blog for mothers — Breathing In This Life (BITL –which is one of the columns in Yang-Sheng magazine and network). Ginger is founder of Professional Yoga Therapy (PYT), the first education program for Complementary and Alternative Medicine practice in medical therapeutic yoga in the US. Ginger’s focus is on education and activism for maternal and child health – through BITL, her school, PYT, through the organization she founded for Haiti relief in 2009, Musicians 4 Missions, and her work with the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. Ginger has spoken and performed across the US to educate people about medical yoga and to raise awareness and funds for improving women’s health. As a working mother of three she has learned a thing or two about finding work/life balance through the healing arts, which she shares through BITL, at www.gingergarner.blogspot.com. See Ginger’s work at www.gingergarner.com.