Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert. Sport & Exercise Nutrition, L2 Strength and Conditioning Coach.
In this article we look at inflammation and how widespread it is, whilst looking at the risk factors and how you may be able to reduce it.
- What is inflammation?
- How common is inflammation
- Risk factors
- How can you fight it
What is inflammation?
There are two types of inflammation. These are:
Inflammation is your body responding to injury or disease, it is your defense system.
Let’s look at acute inflammation first, as this is probably the type most people are familiar with.
Acute inflammation is an immune response to injury.
Acute inflammation is triggered by the immune system when something has entered the body and causes damage to tissue, bacteria or viruses. It is a rapid response that causes blood vessels to leak fluid into the damaged tissue, while also triggering white blood cells to rush in order to kill any invading threat.
This process results in redness, heat, and pain in the area of injury. Acute inflammation can be triggered by such things as cuts or burns but it can also be caused by infections such as an earache or a sore throat.
Second up is chronic inflammation, people are most likely less familiar with chronic inflammation but can have a massive impact on your body.
Chronic inflammation is a response to an irritant that lasts a long time and is not resolved by the body.
People suffering from chronic inflammation may experience effects such as fatigue, weight loss, scarring, and pain.
Some common causes of chronic inflammation are persistent bacteria or yeasts in the mouth or throat, viral infections such as herpes zoster, cancer chemotherapy treatment, and autoimmune conditions such as lupus
A person suffering from chronic inflammation often experiences a condition called "leaky gut syndrome" which causes the protective barrier between cells to become less effective. This makes it easier for bad bacteria from food to enter the bloodstream
Chronic Inflammation is a common term used in popular culture to describe multiple diseases including asthma, arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease.
Whereas acute inflammation may clear up due to healing and considered ‘visible’, chronic inflammation can last for years and may not cause any visible symptoms such as swelling or discoloring of the skin.
How common is inflammation?
If we concentrate on just chronic inflammation, you may be surprised to learn that the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that chronic inflammatory diseases are the greatest health threat to humans.
A mere shred of this concern by the WHO can be witnessed in the USA where 125 million people live with chronic inflammatory disease.
Furthermore, 3 in 5 people die around the world because of a chronic inflammatory condition such as the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
What are the risk factors?
There are numerous factors that can promote inflammation, most of these factors can be a result of lifestyle choices.
As such, in many cases these can be mediated by you. Here’s the list outlined in a paper published by the Nature Medicine Journal of December 2019:
- Low levels of physical activity
- Hormone imbalance
- A poor nutritional diet
- Social isolation and stress
- Disturbed sleep and circadian rhythm
- Pollutants including smoking
- Unbalanced gastrointestinal bacteria
Clearly you can not control your age, however, in most cases we can change our diet, get more sleep, avoid smoking and do more exercise. Furthermore, these changes can also improve your hormone balance and promote the natural secretion of testosterone.
So, with this in mind what can you do?
Exercise and Inflammation
Increasing your activity levels can reduce inflammation by reducing fat mass which contributes to inflammation. Furthermore, by exercising you promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines by the muscle.
Obesity and Inflammation
High levels of visceral fat (a fat layer beneath your abdominals and between your organs) activates a network of inflammatory pathways.
Research published by the University of Oslo found that overeating causes the body to generate excessive inflammation as it causes undue stress to the mitochondria, and the storage of energy (in fat cells) also causes an inflammatory reaction as it increases oxidative stress in the cells.
Therefore, eating fewer calories and exercising more can reduce chronic inflammatory disorders.
Diet and Inflammation
We’ve just mentioned that a calorie restriction can be beneficial towards reducing inflammation. However, let’s address the foods that we eat and how they can have an impact.
A diet that is high in refined sugars, starches, grains, and high in saturated fats which is typical of a ‘western diet’ are linked with higher levels of inflammation.
Whereas a diet that includes lots of whole grains, lean meats, legumes, fish along with fruits and vegetables can reduce oxidative stress, even a diet high in antioxidants has been shown to potentially limit proinflammatory response to foods high in saturated fats.
As men age their levels of testosterone drop, this is a completely normal and natural process. However, you can take action to help regulate the loss, these do include being more active, eating the right foods and even taking supplements.
These are all important steps to consider because testosterone is through to regulate the inflammatory cytokines that are stored in fat tissues.
Stress and Inflammation
People react to different events in different ways. What causes stress to one person doesn’t necessarily have the same effect on another.
However, there is a wealth of evidence that links stress to increased inflammation.
As the triggers of stress can be so different, it can be hard to identify when you are being affected.
However, you can try to minimize stress by reducing workloads, being physically active, engage in social activities, take time for rest and sleep, eat healthy foods while reducing alcohol and recreational drugs.
Sleep and Inflammation
People who do not sleep well during the night are more likely to develop health issues such as obesity related conditions, diabetes and heart diseases.
Increased inflammatory markers are detected amongst those who experience sleep loss due to insomnia, sleep apnea and disturbed sleep.
Ways to encourage a longer sleep duration can include:
- Be regular – go to bed at regular times
- Try to wind down and get in the zone for sleeping
- Ensure the bedroom is quiet and dark
- Avoid using devices such as phones or laptops just before bed
There are several toxins present when smoking cigarettes, these encourage inflammation and a host of other diseases as a result of the reduction of the immune system.
Unfortunately, smoking is highly addictive and data suggests it is on the rise, there are many methods available to reduce or eliminate smoking that can be employed and even in a short period of time you can notice remarkable changes.
How else can you fight inflammation?
We have mentioned ways in which you can make changes to reduce inflammation, but you can also take extra steps, here are six supplements with scientific evidence that you can take to help fight inflammation and oxidative stress.
Vitamin D is fat soluble that can be obtained through natural or artificial means. It may also benefit people who have autoimmune problems and those who have osteoporosis.
The main sources of vitamin D are sunlight, food, and supplements. The sun is the major source of vitamin D, with most people getting at least 400 IU (10 mcg) per day.
Foods like fatty fish like salmon, eggs and beef liver contain some naturally occurring vitamin D. For vegetarians, foods like fortified soy milk or cereal may provide good sources of the vitamin; while cereals fortified with 10% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) can provide around 15-20% of RDI for adults.
Published research shows that vitamin D has a role in the regulation of inflammatory cytokines and reduces the action of proinflammatory cells which can both lead to inflammatory diseases.
Supplements are also available in both oral form and as drops that you put on your skin for absorption.
Ashwagandha is a plant with a number of medicinal properties for humans and animals alike. It is native to India, although it has been introduced to many other countries. In Indian Ayurveda, the ashwagandha is used as a general tonic and for specific conditions such as digestive problems, coughs, and arthritis.
In Sanskrit, Ashwagandha means "the smell of a horse." This name was given because the root smells hay-like and is claimed to be beneficial for horses. It's also sometimes called Indian ginseng or winter cherry.
The modern day fast-paced lifestyle has become a serious cause of stress and anxiety among individuals. It is not only the physical activities that trigger the stress response, but also mental activities like over thinking and worrying. As a result, people are on the lookout for effective remedies to reduce this tension and get back to their usual state of mind.
One of the most popular choices is Ashwagandha - an ancient herb with profound healing properties.
It is used in Ayurvedic medicines for various health benefits due to its apoptogenic nature that helps in combating stress and feeling calmer.
Studies have affirmed these traditional beliefs by showing that ashwagandha has anxiolytic effects on humans which can be attributed to its ability to modulate neurotransmitters.
Ashwagandha has also exhibited anti-inflammatory properties by limiting the expression of inflammatory cytokines. Further analysis of ashwagandha shows that it can maintain immune homeostasis in inflammatory diseases.
Mucuna pruriens, commonly known as velvet bean, the fruit is an important food crop in many developing countries.
The pods can be boiled or roasted and eaten whole or ground into a powder to use as a meal replacement, infant cereal, or flour for other baked goods. Mucuna pruriens is a plant that is native to tropical regions of Africa and South America. It has been used as a natural treatment for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
Urtica dioica is an herbaceous flowering plant that is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and it belongs to the Urticaceae family. The plant's common name comes from its ability to cause stinging and burning sensations when touched.
Urtica Dioica is also known as the stinging nettle. This plant has many health benefits for humans including boosting immunity, treating skin conditions, and reducing inflammation, it is a plant which has long been used in herbal medicine.
Boron is an abundant natural element with symbol B and atomic number 5. It possesses chemical properties similar to those of its group members, carbon, silicon, germanium, and lead. It can form many allotropes, such as amorphous boron (a thin film) or the extremely hard cubic crystal called borazon.
However, boron is found in almost all living organisms. It helps produce the healthy chemical ATP, repair DNA, and synthesize proteins. All these effects can help prevent bodily illnesses like atherosclerosis and osteoporosis.
Boron is a versatile element that can benefit your health in many ways. Studies have shown that it can help the immune system by reducing inflammation, and it also plays a key role in helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Boron influences insulin production which helps keep your diabetes in check.
Vitamin K is a water-soluble vitamin that is essential to produce blood clotting proteins. Vitamin K is also essential for bone health. It helps to form osteocalcin, which promotes bone mineralization and decreases the rate of bone loss.
The most abundant sources of vitamin K are green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Other good sources include asparagus, cabbage and tomatoes.
Since humans cannot produce vitamin K and it is not contained in any animal products, we need to ingest it through food sources.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in plants. It can be used as an antioxidant to help neutralize free radicals.
In terms of inflammation, there is evidence suggesting that vitamin K has anti-inflammatory qualities to reduce the onset and progression of chronic ageing diseases by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines.
As has been noted, inflammation is a huge contributor to deaths worldwide, and considered the biggest threat to human health.
Whilst some contributors to inflammation cannot be avoided, such as ageing, there are others that you can influence such as reducing calorie intake and doing more exercise.
However, you can take further steps to protect you by increasing your intake of the vitamins listed that are know to reduce inflammation accopanied by the other compounds we detailed.
Military Muscle is a vegan friendly, military safe and legal supplement that contains all of the anti-inflammatories we have discussed which makes is a highly convenient and cost effective way to enhance your nutritional status,