Inflammation, in its ideal form, is the body’s response to infection and injury. When it works properly, it’s a solution addressing pain and invading organisms. But when inflammation is systemic (throughout our body), low-level and persistent, we are neither healed nor protected. Long-term inflammation can be a factor in many illnesses including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, allergies, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation is more common today because our bodies are out of balance. Our bodies produce chemicals called prostaglandins, using nutrients from the food we eat as a raw material. The major nutrients that our bodies use to create prostaglandins are fatty acids from our foods. These are the omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids produce an anti-inflammatory response in our bodies. Omega-6 fatty acids produce an inflammatory response.
Our bodies need an equal amount of each of these fatty acids to maintain a balanced inflammatory status. However, today’s “standard American diet” provides us with up to 20 times as much omega-6 fatty acid as omega-3 fatty acid.
What are the main sources of the inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids?
Sweets, starches (especially grains), and highly processed foods are the main culprits. We consume more cereal grains (and the oils produced from them) than ever before. In addition, the animals we eat are also consuming increasing quantities of these grains (primarily corn). Even fish are being corn-fed in farms that raise seafood to meet our growing demands!
How can I balance these inflammatory factors? Here are some simple suggestions to add anti-inflammatory choices into your daily routine:
- Exercise regularly
- Minimize stress
- Get a full night’s sleep
- Eat whole foods, especially organic
- Consider taking a high quality fish oil
- Cook with aromatic spices – garlic, ginger, cayenne, turmeric are anti-inflammatory
- Add avocado, kale, spinach, anchovies, wild Atlantic or sockeye salmon, Brazil nuts, and other anti-inflammatory foods
Mindful choices that add in more omega-3 fatty acids or develop relaxing behavior is the place to start! Making anti-inflammatory choices doesn’t have to feel like deprivation. Remember, everything is a balance.