For a fit body, you need to go to war against inflammation. It’s the cause of a plethora of illnesses – and involved in eight out of 10 of the leading causes of death. Keeping it in check will help your muscles recover sooner, stave off viruses and even keep your skin in its best condition.
Inflammation. It’s the reason behind your throbbing toe, asthma, IBS and Alzheimer’s. And while it may seem like a good idea to start a feud with it, the truth is we can’t live without it. Inflammation can be healthy, even in mundane activities (like when you cut your finger dicing chicken and your body sends in an army of immune cells, triggering the feeling of heat around the wound, the swelling and the redness – inflammation).
Similarly, when you do an especially hard workout, your muscles’ response is to inflame the targeted area – bringing blood, amino acids and other nutrients in to help heal all those torn fibers, and rebuild them.
That’s your goal – to build stronger muscles – so you cannot only be stronger, leaner and faster, but also healthier. You need inflammatory responses to get results. It might, however, prevent you from training as hard as you’d like, so wouldn’t it be great not to feel so sore so you could head back to the gym sooner to work out some more?
The dark side of the swell
Inflammation can also get out of control. Take, for example, allergies. This is where your body mistakenly sees a substance as a scary threat when in actual fact it’s best ignored. In people without allergies, this is exactly what the body does. It ignores the substance and will simply process it out of the body. However, if you have an allergy, your body responds accordingly. Worse still is an autoimmune condition, where the body begins to look within itself for enemies. That’s the equivalent of re-reading your tweets, thinking they’re from trolls, then trying to attack them.
Then, because you’re a woman, there are unique aspects of inflammation to consider. Oral contraceptives appear to be linked with long-term, low-grade inflammation, according to research published in PLOS ONE. The researchers found 30% of women on the pill had high levels of inflammation markers compared to just 7% of those not.
When low-level long-term inflammation is going on, you put your body at risk of potentially life-threatening diseases. This is down to the inflammatory cells not having a real job to do, so they flow around your bloodstream, damaging artery walls and adding to overall plaque build up. This has a knock-on effect on your overall health in a huge way because your blood vessels carry nutrients around your body. So, if your skin shows signs of water retention, it could be a low-level inflammation.
While bacterial and viral infections need to be responded to with inflammation, some types may trigger long-term inflammation, which is damaging. The stress hormone cortisol and adrenalin can also trigger inflammation and, over time, your body’s ability to shut off this inflammatory response becomes impaired, leaving you with a body, in a constant state of high alert. For some individuals, the cause or triggers of chronic inflammation isn’t clear, and there is no anti-inflammatory diet to sort it out.
There is, however, evidence that obesity is related to chronic inflammation. “We do not know which comes first,” says Professor Caroline Apovian from Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “It may be inflammation and weight are accumulated at the same time. The predisposition to inflammation and weight gain is genetically determined and is different for different phenotypes. For example, some people who gain weight have no inflammation, and some mildly overweight folk have lots.”
– RELATED: 3 Foods That Will Reduce Inflammation –
Delicious solutions, or not
While weight loss and gain may or may be linked to inflammation, certain foods appear to influence it. However, if you’re thinking that your diet can fix your inflammation problem, you might get disappointed. The idea of an anti-inflammatory diet is, says Apovian, jargon. She argues that while your diet does influence inflammation, it’s not simply a case of eating the right ingredients. “While trans fats, processed carbs and sugar-laden foods increase your risk, there is no fix-all diet.”
Popular anti-inflammatory diets suggest eating less unhealthy fats, more healthy fats (omega-3), upping intake of vegetables and fruit and using spices more regularly and in greater quantities. This is roughly also what Apovian recommends: “Eat lots of fruit, veg, lean protein, whole grains, and dairy,” she says. “Do not eat or drink anything with the keyword: added sugar.”
If you’re already following guidelines for a healthy diet chances are you’re avoiding these foods. But what about those hangover treats? Researchers from the University at Buffalo found when they gave study participants a 900-calorie breakfast of hash browns, as well as two English muffin egg sandwiches, their blood showed high levels of inflammatory markers for four hours afterwards, which could put your body in a state of constant inflammation, triggering all sorts of health issues in the long-term.
Although food isn’t necessarily the easy fix you may be looking for, there is good news. One of the best fixers of inflammation appears to be exercise. In a review published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, exercise was found to boost cytokine levels (type IL-6 and IL-10) and these in turn inhibit TNF alpha, stimulate IL-1ra, and so limit IL-1 beta signalling.
In other, less scientific terms, it means that exercise helps stop your body from creating a crazy inflammation war. And those sore muscles? Pop a painkiller or ice it if you feel the need, both of which will help reduce the inflammation, but the most important thing is to accept inflammation as an intermittent but essential element of becoming fitter, stronger and healthier. Any effective training session will induce inflammation – it’s the one kind of inflammation you actually work hard to get – so just value it!