What is Chronic Inflammation?

photoChronic inflammation, weakened immune system, anti-inflammation diet… these buzz words are all over the health news lately, and we’d like to use this week’s post to explain why it’s important to understand the relationship between inflammation, the immune system and how diet impacts the two and thus the quality of our health. Come and cook with us!

When we hear inflammation we automatically think it is bad. Typically, however, inflammation is actually a good thing as it constitutes a critical part of our body’s natural healing response; it’s the way our immune system reacts to deliver more blood, more nourishment and more defensive activity to an area that is injured or under attack. The initiator of all this activity is our immune system and when it is suppressed by things such as diet and stress, there is too little inflammation to fight contagious viruses, bacteria and parasites. At the same time, when the immune system is overstimulated by things such as diet, prescription medicine and toxins, there is too much inflammation, and the delicate balance among all the major systems – endocrine, central nervous, digestive and cardiovascular/respiratory – is disrupted and a chronic, low-level inflammatory response continues to linger in the body which can often turn into chronic inflammation.

The real issue with chronic inflammation is that researchers have uncovered a strong connection between it and a number of debilitating, age-related conditions such as type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, neurological diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s and dementia), auto-immune diseases (e.g., neurological disease), as well as obesity.

There are many factors that weaken our immune system and thereby contribute to chronic inflammation. In addition to genetics, lifestyle (such as physical activity, stress and lack of quality sleep) and environmental toxins, it is, more than anything, our diets, as 50% of our immune system surrounds the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to insulin-spiking foods (more on this in another post) it seems that the imbalanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3 foods exerts the strongest influence on our inflammatory status.  As you remember from our post on fats a few weeks back, we all could use more omega-3 fatty acids that have the ability to decrease inflammation. As a reminder, this good fat is found in cold-water fish such as wild salmon, anchovies, sardines and other fatty fish, as well as fresh ground flax and walnuts.

One individual who spends a lot of his efforts promoting a diet that combats chronic inflammation, also called an anti-inflammatory diet, is Dr. Weill. His Mediterranean-inspired diet is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, soy and other legumes, oily, cold-water fish and other lean proteins, as well as nuts, seeds and certain spices. We sure are no stickler to the rules, but it’s always good to be reminded of why we should eat a balanced diet of real food. Come and cook with us!

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