Today, we’re going to look at the crucial role that the paleo diet plays in reducing and controlling inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is the activation of the immune system in response to infection, irritation, or injury. It occurs when blood cells, antibodies and other immune system components are directed to the site that’s under stress in an attempt to repair the damage.
Anyone who has ever injured a joint, or suffered from a common condition such as allergies or hay fever, will be familiar with the feeling of inflammation – that hot, engorged, swollen sense of pressure and soreness that’s hard to ignore.
And ignore it we most certainly should not. As reported by Allergy Consumer Report, scientists are finding increasing evidence that prolonged inflammation in the body also plays a key role in the development of several chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, and many others. You can read the full article here.
Clearly, the effective treatment and control of inflammation is crucial in the treatment of disease. For example, therapeutic supplementation with vitamin-D3 has been shown to reduce inflammation and is linked with improvements in Crohn’s disease (a form of inflammatory bowel disease), and a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care indicated that men taking a single aspirin daily could cut their risk of developing asthma by 22% (aspirin has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body – although it isn’t without its own inherent dangers, and daily aspirin use is contra-indicated by other studies).
The smart move, of course, is to reduce the likelihood of such diseases occurring by preventing or minimising inflammation in the first place. There are two main ways to do this:
- Minimise or eliminate those things which cause inflammation in the body
- Adopt anti-inflammatory nutritional and lifestyle habits
Minimise or Eliminate Inflammatory Agents in the Body
These include dietary components: easily damaged polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which contribute to an excess of omega-6 in the body (and – worse – refined seed oils which are already damaged and highly toxic); refined sugar and other foods with high glycemic values, which rapidly elevate insulin levels; common allergens such as casein (from milk) and gluten (from grains); and artificial food additives which the body doesn’t recognise as food.
Here, Sally Fallon, founder of the Weston A Price Foundation, talks about the negative effects of modern agents of inflammation in the diet:
Other causes of inflammation include anything that places the body under prolonged pressure: mental stress; lack of sleep; and excessive exercise. Do your best to reduce the proportion of these factors at play in your life.
Adopt Anti-Inflammatory Practices
Here’s a run-down of some of the most easily applicable ways of preventing and reducing inflammation in the body:
- Eat a paleo or traditional diet. Automatically devoid of the the dietary factors which trigger inflammation – and rich in several which are actively cooling – the paleo diet provides a solid foundation to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
- Eat a wide variety of vegetables and a modest amount of high-antioxidant fruits. Add abundant portions of deeply pigmented vegetables to every meal for their natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Those to favour are green leafy vegetables, vibrantly hued vegetables, and berries. Anti-inflammatory stars of the vegetable kingdom include: broccoli, garlic, spinach, kale, bok choy, cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower, and onions. Some people will need to be wary of veggies from the nightshade family – including aubergine, potato and tomato – which contain the chemical alkaloid solanine which some people synthesize in a way which can trigger inflammation.
- Several anti-inflammatory herbs and spices exist, and should be added to cooking and salads for flavour and beneficial qualities. Turmeric, oregano, garlic, and ginger contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols which limit destructive free-radical production in the body. Other cooling factors include capsaicin, which is a naturally occurring ingredient in chilli peppers, as well as rosmarinic acid (in rosemary), and vanillin and zingerone (both found in ginger). Be sure to also consider including basil, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, dill, fennel, hyssop, sage, thyme, goji, graviola, and willowbark, which contains salicylic acid, one of the active ingredients in aspirin. Green tea and spirulina (an algae) have also both been shown to combat inflammation in the body.
- Balance your essential fatty acids (EFAs). The Standard American Diet is woefully imbalanced, with the ratio of omega-6:omega-3 standing at around 17:1 rather than the optimal 1:1. Adopting a properly implemented paleo diet – complete with grass-fed ruminant meat and pastured eggs – will help redress the balance. Ensure you include regular portions of cold water oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut) and consider supplementing your omega-3 fatty acid profile by adding in a daily dose of cod liver oil, a nutritional powerhouse.
- Balance your bacteria. Antibiotic use, stress, and poor diet can all upset the delicate balance of gut flora, resulting in an infiltration of undesirable bacteria that can lead to inflammation. This imbalance can be addressed by supplementing with a good probiotic such as acidophilus or bifidus, or – even better – by including naturally cultured foods in the diet. In addition to well-known cultured foods such as yogurt and cheese (if you can tolerate dairy), consider easily made and delicious lacto-fermented condiments and drinks such as sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, and kombucha.
- Exercise sensibly. Over exercising can cause inflammation – and so can not exercising enough. The solution? Become generally active, walking and moving around whenever possible, and add in a couple of strength training workouts per week, along with a weekly sprinting session. For more on effective paleo fitness, you can read my previous article on the subject, here.
- Sleep well. A lack of sleep can create a stress response in the body which exacerbates inflammation. However, the process of getting a good night’s sleep can be stressful in itself! Rather than turn this into a nightly battle, simply bear in mind that most people will need between six and twelve hours a night (this varies dependent on age and activity level). It’s best to keep sleeping and waking times consistent. Try to give yourself time to unwind before bed, and sleep in complete darkness. If you can manage to wake up without an alarm, that’s good too.
There you have it – apply those principles, along with the anti-inflammatory paleo diet, and you’ll be a real cool character!
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