What is Inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s systematic response to protect itself against infection and repair damage. Inflammation can be triggered by several different factors including pathogens, damaged cells, and toxic compounds. Some inflammatory responses are easier to control than others, but the priority is keeping inflammation balanced and manageable, especially for an athlete where the body is constantly exposed to stressors. Your immune system becomes activated when your body recognizes anything foreign—such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. Inflammation is largely the body’s defense mechanism against things that should not be in the body. But as with any complicated defense system, any misstep can lead to friendly fire.
You want to live a healthy lifestyle that keeps your inflammation level low most of the time– but acute spikes are necessary for gauging where our bodies are physically and how we can approach recovery through our natural system. In short, inflammation is an expression of your body trying to flush and get rid of foreign stressors that could potentially be harmful. With any of the BeineWellness branding, there is no “one size fits all” rule book so as far as inflammation goes, this looks different for each athlete. In addition, these are simply suggestions that are proven to reduce inflammation but finding your own action plan is key to feeling YOUR best.
If we take care of our gut by eating a diversity of whole foods, especially fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, we can potentially delay systemic inflammation. One of the most powerful tools to combat inflammation is found through nutrient-dense foods that can be found in just about any grocery store. The components of foods and beverages found in anti-inflammatory foods have long-lasting effects that could help rid inflammation in your body and reduce the risk of chronic inflammation.
Fatty Fish: Omega-3 fats decrease the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in the body and stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory compounds called eicosanoids.
Green Leafy Veggies: Vegetables are also widely known as foods that reduce inflammation. Both fruits and vegetables present lots of antioxidants that help keep damaging molecules called free radicals at bay, and that translates to less inflammation. Plus, leafy veggies in particular are full of vitamin E, especially dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli. This is important because vitamin E plays a role in protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
Whole Grains: Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, and a high-fiber diet is associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers in the body. Several studies have found that people who eat diets high in fiber have lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in their blood. CRP is a marker of inflammation commonly linked to diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Quinoa, barley, oats, and buckwheat are all great examples of whole grains.
Fruit/ Berries: Fruits such as blueberries, apples, and cherries are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols which contain protective compounds that are found in plants. Eating at least one-and-a-half to two cups of diverse fruits every day can boost antioxidant activity. One strategy is to eat with the seasons, choosing grapes and stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots, and plums) in the summer, apples, and pears in the fall, pomegranates in the winter, and citrus in the spring. For more in-depth detail on in-season produce, check out a previous blog on the benefits of seasonal produce! While all fruits can lower inflammation, berries especially have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties due to the high levels of anthocyanin, a powerful phytonutrient.
Non-Nutritional Methods to Reduce Inflammation
Along with a well-balanced diet, there are other ways to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can be caused by many factors, not just the foods we consume but also by how we live day to day. It is important to incorporate other healthy lifestyle factors that positively affect the body’s immune response; this includes stress reduction, exercise, and adequate sleep.
Sleep: Mediators of inflammation are altered by sleep loss. A regular bedtime helps keep your body’s defenses primed. Sleep is also the time when your body recovers and “resets” so optimizing the time your body has to flush and reset is critical for athletes.
Hydration: Hydration is vital for flushing toxins out of your body, which can help fight inflammation. Adequate water intake can help keep your joints well lubricated and prevent inflammatory flares.
Stress: Finally, do everything you can to keep stress to a minimum. Find space throughout the day to debrief and decompress. Mindfulness can be uniquely your own and doesn’t have to take more than 5 minutes. Whether it’s a breathing exercise, yoga, a walk in the sun, a breath of fresh air, journaling, doodling, getting creative, or even just powering through a nap. Giving your body space to recover and rest is one thing, but your mind is just as deserving of a break and time to rest.
As always, take what you need and what feels right in your body. This is simply a guide to help serve your unique lifestyle and how you choose to approach wellness. For any questions use the comment section or check out some of our free online resources right here on the website or on Instagram @ericabeine.