Is Your Body Maintaining Healthy Inflammatory Response?
The process of inflammation is a crucial body defense mechanism. It’s how the immune system guards you against bacterial or viral infection — and how your body repairs tissue that has been damaged.
When you strain a back muscle from overwork, your body responds with symptoms such as swelling, pain, redness, or loss of function. This acute inflammation is a healthy but temporary response to heal your injury.
But there is a different type of inflammation, one not so beneficial.
Inflammation in Overdrive
Unfortunately, many people live with an immune system in overdrive, which affects the body’s ability to maintain optimal health. While acute inflammation targets a local area (like your back muscles), a less-than-optimal inflammatory response affects the entire body.
This inflammatory process may go on undetected for many years, and eventually play a role in maintaining optimal health. The aging process itself leads to an accumulation of harmful inflammatory cytokines.
This inflamed state triggers release of pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which affect immune function. These chemicals can help immune cells communicate and direct them toward the area in need of support.
Cytokines possess both pro- and anti-inflammatory actions. For good health, your body needs to achieve balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines.
Healthy Inflammatory Response
Many health experts believe that reducing this low-grade inflammation helps support optimal health. Of course, the body still needs to be able to respond in an appropriate way with an acute immune response when necessary.
When there is inflammation at the site of a damaged artery, specialized immune cells migrate to the site, embedding themselves in the artery wall. They then release chemical substances that affect cardiovascular health.
Many research studies have demonstrated this connection between inflammation response and cardiovascular health. For example, a study published in the journal Circulation followed 2,225 participants who were between the ages of 70 and 79. The results indicated that inflammatory markers were significantly elevated in subjects who did not maintain optimal cardiovascular health.
Having a healthy inflammatory response also affects brain health. The brain contains immune cells called microglia, which can secrete chemicals affecting the brain’s inflammatory response. The ability to maintain a balanced inflammatory response helps support memory and brain function.
In older adults, microglia live in what is called a “primed” state. This makes them react more strongly when the immune system is triggered.
Now that you’ve seen that maintaining balanced inflammatory response is the key to optimal health, you’ll discover how to protect yourself. First, let’s see what makes inflammation start or progress.
What Leads to Inflammation in Overdrive?
In addition to the aging process, many other factors affect the ability to support a balanced inflammatory response
- Excessive stress
- Obesity or overweight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Blood sugar
- Poor diet
- Insufficient sleep
- Oral health
- Reduced levels of sex hormones
How to Support Healthy Levels of Inflammation
With so many potential factors causing inflammation, it’s important to take steps to support healthy levels of inflammation in your body. Here are ten tips:
- Eat plenty of nutrient-dense vegetables every day, including broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, garlic, onions, and others.
- Maintain good oral health, which affects healthy inflammation and heart health.
- Perform moderate exercise most days of the week.
- Make sure to get 7 to 9 hours of healthy sleep each night. Make your bedroom conducive to sleep, keep it free of light-emitting devices, and keep to a consistent sleep schedule.
- Work with your doctor to get down to your optimal weight. Fat cells, particularly those in belly fat, affect healthy levels of inflammation.
- Get plenty of antioxidants in your diet. You’ve seen that free radicals and oxidation affect inflammatory response. That’s why antioxidant nutrients can support healthy levels of inflammation. Antioxidants are particularly important for older individuals. Aging leads to a decline in the body’s ability to defend itself from free radical damage. In addition to food, you can also boost antioxidant intake via supplementation. Vitamin C and several other vitamins are antioxidants. There are also many antioxidant nutrients, including polyphenols such as resveratrol and others.
- Lower your sugar intake. Sugar also affects free radical production and healthy inflammatory response.
- Lower your intake of omega-6 oils, which you will find in many processed foods, baked goods, salad dressings, and vegetable oils. These are highly refined oils, which become rancid and oxidize, forming pesky free radicals.
- Seek new ways to reduce your stress level, since stress affects healthy inflammation in the body. Use relaxation techniques, take a yoga class, spend more time in nature, and connecting with family can help lower everyday stress.
- Ask your doctor to perform a CRP or C-reactive protein test, which is a nonspecific measure of body-wide inflammation This test is relatively inexpensive and while it doesn’t identify where the inflammation is located, it is a marker of how inflamed your body is at the time of the test.
You’ve seen how inflammation affects your health. Please try some of these simple strategies to promote healthy inflammatory response and optimal well-being.