How to rein in your risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and heart disease in one fell swoop
For many years, doctors suspected that chronic, low-grade inflammation was an underlying factor in many deadly diseases—like cancer, dementia, diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few.
And then, study after study began backing up those suspicions.
Today, there’s little doubt that reducing chronic inflammation can significantly lower your risk of chronic diseases. But at the same time, you still need a healthy immune system to naturally combat infections and injuries.
So, it’s important to know the difference between the “good,” disease-fighting inflammation, and the “bad,” disease-promoting inflammation. And how to help ensure you have the “right” type of inflammation in your immune system, body and brain for optimum health.
Because when you’re familiar with your body’s inflammatory responses, you can keep chronic inflammation in check with a few simple steps.
How “normal,” balanced inflammation works
There are two main types of inflammation—acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is your immune system’s immediate natural response to any invader, such as a viral or bacterial infection, or to an injury.
The acute inflammatory response begins with your body sending more blood into the area of infection or injury. This increased blood flow brings in more oxygen, nutrients, white blood cells, fluids, and electrolytes to bathe and heal the area. The extra blood and fluids also create the swelling and heat we associate with inflammation.
Then, white blood cells attack the invading microbes, releasing chemicals. These chemicals kill the microbes, but they also turn your infected or damaged tissues into a little battlefield, resulting in more swelling, pain, and heat.
In addition, you’ll likely have general fatigue and malaise because your body is focused on fighting the infection or healing the injury.
(It’s also worth noting that taking an antibiotic doesn’t change this acute inflammatory process. Antibiotics slow bacterial reproduction, which allows the immune system cells to overtake the microbial cells. But they typically don’t attack bacterial cells outright.)
In the case of infection, or physical injury, there are also special blood cells and other cellular factors, like histamine, that flood into the damaged tissue during an acute inflammatory response.
First, a highly sophisticated “cascade” occurs to support damaged, bleeding tissues, by forming blood clots.
Normally, the body needs to keep blood flowing and avoid clotting to help prevent blocking organs like the heart (leading to a heart attack), the brain (potentially causing a stroke), or the lungs (causing a pulmonary embolism).
Then, once the bleeding from the injury stops, specialized white blood cells come in to clear out damaged cells and begin forming scar tissue.
This acute inflammatory response is uncomfortable, even painful, but it’s part of the natural healing process to restore your cells, tissues, and body back to a normal state of health. And it’s only intended to fight infection or injury over the short term.
However, when this inflammation continues, problems start to occur…
How “abnormal,” chronic inflammation works
Your body’s acute inflammatory response is supposed to stop when your immune system heals an injury or conquers infectious microbes. But certain factors can cause low-grade inflammation to continue for days, months, or even years.
These factors fool your immune system into being on constant alert, leading to the chronic inflammation that harms your cells and tissues and boosts your risks of chronic diseases.
Some infections, like hepatitis and Lyme disease, can put the body into a state of chronic inflammation. Stress, poor diet, obesity and metabolic syndrome, lack of moderate physical activity, poor sleep, environmental pollution, and allergies can contribute to causing the same effects.
Many of these factors add up over the years. So the older you are, the more exposure your immune system has had to them.
Of course, some of the factors behind chronic inflammation are out of your control. For instance, there’s only so much you can do about environmental pollution and allergies. But other factors are definitely within your control—and managing them effectively can make a big difference in alleviating chronic inflammation.
And interestingly, they’re all intertwined. So if you alleviate one chronic inflammation factor from your life, it helps reduce others.
Let’s take a look at a few simple measures you can take, starting today, to reduce—or even eradicate—the top risk factors for chronic inflammation.
Four simple steps you can start today to combat chronic inflammation
1.) Lower your stress. Chronic stress causes increases in hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can directly trigger chronic inflammation.
While it may be impossible to reduce all of the stress in your life, you can find ways to cope with it and keep it in check. Here are two highly effective solutions:
Mind-body techniques. Meditation, acupuncture, hypnosis, yoga, and other mind-body practices can reduce stress. In fact, in one recent study of 48 men, three months of yoga significantly lowered their levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a key marker of inflammation.1
Now, I understand that not every mind-body technique works well for everyone. That’s why I recommend my book, Your Emotional Type, to discover which stress-reduction strategy is best for you. You can find a copy under the “books” tab on my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.
Supplements. Plenty of research shows that vitamins B and D are natural and effective stress reducers. I recommend a high-quality B complex that contains at least 55 mg of B6 and 10,000 IU of vitamin D every day.
2.) Get moderate exercise. A recent study of 47 people found that just 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill stimulated and balanced the participants’ immune systems in healthy ways, and produced an anti-inflammatory cellular response.2
Other studies show that moderate exercise like walking, swimming, housework, or yard work can help suppress inflammation by lowering stress levels and helping manage a healthy weight. Bottom line? You only need about 140 minutes of sensible exercise per week to substantially lower your risk of chronic inflammation—this breaks down to 20 minutes each day—which is consistent with all the others studies I report on optimal amounts of exercise.
3.) Sleep in. Research shows that your sleep and immune function share the same regulator—your circadian system, or internal body clock. So when your sleep is disrupted, it directly affects your immune system…and that can contribute to chronic inflammation.
One paper that reviewed nearly 100 studies on sleep and inflammation found that getting less than six hours of sleep a day raises markers of inflammation like CRP3. And I’ve written about other research showing that seven to eight hours of sleep per night seems to be the “sweet spot” for optimum health.
4.) Eat right. You already know how much your diet influences your health, and that includes inflammation. A healthy, balanced, Mediterranean-style diet can go a long way toward stopping chronic inflammation. But there are also some particular foods to pay attention to, in order to keep your risk of inflammation at a minimum.
Foods to avoid in your diet:
Sugar and processed foods. I’ve written many times about studies showing that sugar and processed foods are directly linked to inflammation. They can also lead to an increase in abdominal fat, which secretes more of the biochemicals that are associated with chronic inflammation.
White bread and other refined carbohydrates. These foods are low in fiber and basically starve the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome, which disrupts the immune-gut-mind-body system. They also typically contain a long list of artificial ingredients that are pro-inflammatory and toxic to your health.
Fried foods. When vegetable oils (with the exception of olive oil) are heated to high temperatures in order to fry foods, they can create pro-inflammatory compounds. They’re also high in omega-6 fatty acids, which research links to inflammation, particularly when you don’t get enough healthy omega-3s for balance.
Commercial salad dressings. While a big salad full of fresh vegetables is a key inflammation fighter, slathering it in bottled salad dressings ruins the benefits. The top three commercial salad dressing ingredients are typically water, sugar, and soybean oil—which turn your healthy salad into a toxic “treat.” The good news is, it’s simple and nutritious to make your own fresh dressings with olive oil, lemon, herbs, mustard, and/or vinegar instead.
Foods to include in your regular daily diet:
Organic fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce contains vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, polyphenols, catechins, and other anti-inflammatory plant compounds. Just be sure to choose organic fruits and veggies to avoid pesticides and other chemicals—which can create more health problems beyond inflammation.
Healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats in avocados, olive oil, and nuts can decrease chronic inflammation.
Fish and fish oil. Fatty fish and seafood are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids—which have been shown to substantially reduce chronic inflammation. In fact, some studies suggest that high-quality fish oil supplements are the single most potent approach to reducing chronic inflammation. I recommend 5 to 6 grams of fish oil a day.
Prebiotic foods. There are more immune cells in our GI tract than in any other part of our bodies. And, of course, a healthy immune system produces a healthy inflammatory response. That’s why prebiotic foods, which support the “good” probiotic bacteria in the GI microbiome, are key anti-inflammatories. These foods include asparagus, onions, apples, sauerkraut, and full-fat yogurt without added sugars.
Whole grains. In moderation, these are a much better choice than refined grains. Plus, whole wheat, oats, and barley are prebiotic foods. And, digesting the fibers in whole grains yields a compound called butyrate, a beneficial fatty acid that helps fight inflammation.
Wine and beer. The hops in beer have anti-inflammatory properties. And the grapes in red wine contain many anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Plus, moderate daily consumption of wine and beer—one to two glasses—can help reduce the stress that contributes to chronic inflammation.
One more recommendation to stop chronic inflammation
Following these steps, and the rest of the recommendations in my Inflammation Fighting Protocol, can substantially reduce the chronic inflammation in your body and brain—and help keep many chronic diseases at bay. (To learn more about this comprehensive online learning tool, click here or call 1-866-747-9421 and ask for order code EOV3W400.)
To make sure your inflammation levels are really healthy, ask your doctor for a blood test.
Doctors run a lot of different tests on your blood, but they don’t routinely assess markers of chronic inflammation. Your doctor should be measuring your CRP, homocysteine, and vitamin B and D levels, to help ensure your inflammation is in check—and your health is optimum.
The anatomy of chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation can increase your risk factors for the following diseases:
- Celiac disease
- Chronic fatigue
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
- Gum disease
- Heart disease
- Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis
- Liver disease (nonalcoholic)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type II diabetes
1“Effect of yoga training on inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive protein in employees of small-scale industries.” J Educ Health Promot. 2017; 6: 76.
2“Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-adrenergic activation.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity Volume 61, March 2017, Pages 60-68.
3“Sleep Loss and Inflammation.” Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Oct; 24(5): 775–784.