Chronic inflammation exists in epidemic proportions, due to many factors of modern living: dietary sources (food sensitivities, refined foods, food substitutes, improperly prepared grains and legumes), stress (emotional, mental, physical), environmental contaminants (pesticides, herbicides, plasticizers), and burned out bodies unable to combat the cumulative stress. According to 2004 Center for Disease Control data, each year more than 70 million prescriptions are written for NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and billions of non-prescription pills are purchased.
Here are 10 steps you can take in your own life to reduce inflammation without drugs:
- Practice pleasure, in its simplest form. I wanted to start with something easy and fun for everyone. Laughter and playfulness trigger the feel-good hormones that help balance out the stress-inducing hormones. Stop and smell a rose. Walk barefoot outside. Roll in the grass with your kids. Play music, sing. Try out a new interest. Just remember to have fun while doing so.
- Look for hidden food sensitivities which can cause low levels of chronic inflammation that are subtler than overt allergies. If you have joint aches, brain fog, chronic skin conditions (eczema, acne, itching), gastrointestinal symptoms, emotional lability, you could well have undetected food sensitivities. Dairy and gluten are the top 2 causes given their prevalence in our diets. Find a health care practitioner to help you work with investigating these further. You may be surprised at how much better you can feel by eliminating trigger foods.
- Avoid or reduce industrial seed oils and vegetable oils: canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, grape seed, safflower, cottonseed. These oils are highly processed and high in pro-inflammatory omega-6s. When subjected to high heat (in the manufacturing process, as well as in cooking), they are very prone to oxidation. Most packaged or processed foods are made with such oils, and most restaurants cook with them. The best way to avoid them is to cook and eat as much as possible from home sweet home. Good alternative oils: olive, coconut, avocado, ghee. Also good to use, but more sparingly: nut/seed oils like walnut, sesame, peanut.
- Eat more oily fish, greens, and nuts. In contrast to #3, these foods are high in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, wild salmon are great sources, and high in antioxidants as well. Eat 2-3 servings a week. Increase greens like purslane, broccoli, kale, and cabbage, and nuts like walnuts.
- Reduce your sugar and grain intake. As a general rule, Americans have a tremendously high sugar and total grain intake, which creates spikes and sustained elevations in insulin. Insulin releases inflammatory chemicals, and also correlates with fat deposition around the abdomen. This visceral fat also releases inflammatory chemicals. The next time you eat a meal, pass on the bread and hold the potato chips.
- Shop “on the edge.” Most stores are designed such that fresh vegetables and fruits, eggs, fresh meats, and other whole foods are placed on the outer perimeter shelves. This is designed so you have to go through snack and pre-packaged food aisles in order to get to these food basics. By shopping on the edge, you’ll avoid snack foods which are loaded with artificial food substitutes and omega-6 oils.
- Exercise regularly. We’ve heard this time and again, but our bodies were optimized evolutionarily for physical use. Our minds, too. Walking 30 minutes 4-5 times a week can do wonders for inflammation. If you have underlying joint issues, consider yoga or non-weight bearing forms of exercise like swimming or bicycling.
- Seek out moments of active silence and sacred spaces. Noise pollution can create a lot of unperceived stress for people, creating physiologic states similar to those of fear or anxiety. Take a walk in the woods. Sit quietly on a beach and just listen. Spend time gardening. For those with an inclination towards meditation or prayer, try to commit to this daily. Create sacred spaces in your home with regards to cell phones and internet. If stores and restaurants have off-limit zones, your home can, too.
- Don’t underestimate the power of human touch. Experience an element or 2 of human touch every day– be it in the form of cuddling with a child, holding hands, intimacy with your beloved, or a massage. All sorts of anti-inflammatory hormones are released, but you don’t need a doctor to tell you that…
- End your day with a relaxing bath. Add 1 cup Epsom salts to your bath, and the magnesium can further boost your body’s ability to combat inflammation (use caution if you have underlying kidney problems).