However, chronic inflammation occurs when this process becomes a systemic and ongoing condition. It is linked to several chronic conditions (e.g. diabetes, ischaemic heart disease, osteoarthritis etc).
Exercise is also a stressor on the body. Of course, a positive type of stressor but it’s well known that a heavy training load does increase inflammation within the body by increasing the production of reactive oxidant species (ROS) and other pro-inflammatory molecules. If not taken care of, your recovery will be suboptimal and you will increase your risk of injury.
Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are a special type of unsaturated fat that has strong anti-inflammatory effects within the body. The best food source is oily fish (salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring). Some nuts and seeds (particularly walnuts and chia) contain a different form of omega 3, known as ALA. Your body has to work a lot harder to use this type of omega 3.
The recommended therapeutic dosage of omega 3 is 2400mg combined EPA/DHA per day (as a reference point, a standard 1000mg fish oil capsule provides 300mg EPA/DHA).
Mono-unsaturated fatty acids are also great. Boost your intake by cooking meals with olive oil (instead of vegetable or seed oils) and use avocado as a margarine replacement.
It should go without saying that many of us need to ramp up our fruit and veg intake. The key here is to aim for a rainbow on your plate (as many different colours as possible) as there is a different anti-oxidant phytochemical associated with each different colour. For example:
- Anthocyanins in purple produce (blueberries, eggplant)
- Lycopene in red produce (tomato, watermelon)
- Carotinoids in orange produce (carrots, mango)
There is a direct link between gut health and the health of the rest of your body. Your gut flora is able to directly communicate with your immune system so when it is unbalanced, you end up ramping up the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. So while your knee or back may be sore, it’s actually your gut bacteria that may not be so happy.
High fibre foods include fruits, vegetables (keep the peel on!), nuts/seeds and wholegrains. Examples of fermented foods include natural yoghurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink) and sauerkraut/fermented vegetables. Aim to include at least 1-2 servings of fermented foods in your meals each day.
Ginger, cinnamon, turmeric etc - they add flavour but are also one of the easiest ways to ramp up your intake of anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds. Curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) has been particularly well researched for its anti-inflammatory properties. To increase its bioavailability (how well it is absorbed by the body), add black pepper to the same dish and make sure you are consuming it with a meal that includes some healthy fats (it is a fat soluble compound).
What Should you Avoid?
If you’re looking to reduce inflammation, I’d recommend steering clear of the following as much as possible:
- Refined carbohydrates and foods with high amounts of added sugars (e.g. white bread, cakes, pastries, pies crisps, lollies etc)
- Overly processed foods – these are often high in trans fats with additives that your body just doesn’t know how to deal with (e.g. sugary breakfast cereals, microwavable ready meals, 2 minute noodles etc)
- Processed meats (e.g. salami, sausages etc)
- Charred meats – charring meats increases the production of pro-inflammatory Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs); aim to using cooking methods such as poaching, steam or lightly sautéing instead
- Excessive alcohol consumption