You are probably familiar with inflammation as the red bump from a mosquito bite or the swelling of a sprained ankle. This is an example of good inflammation. However, inflammation can become chronic which has several bad consequences. For women who are menopausal, the effects of inflammation can be especially important.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is part of our immune system response to an injury or foreign substance. Healing would not occur without it. If you are injured or have a foreign substance in the body, your body uses inflammation to start the repair process. This is what causes fever, swollen glands, or the warmth and swelling of the skin in an injured or infected area.
There are two types of inflammation acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is usually the response to an injury or a bacteria. Chronic inflammation happens when the immune system does not turn off after it is needed or is constantly being triggered.
What are the effects of inflammation?
While you need acute inflammation to heal your body, chronic inflammation can contribute to many conditions. Chronic inflammation can cause pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal issues. Inflammation has been linked to disorders such as arthritis (directly a cause of rheumatoid arthritis, linked to osteoarthritis), heart disease, irritable bowel disease, and cancer. It also can make it harder to lose weight and contributes to increased belly fat.
Many of these are things that women experience during menopause, and inflammation contributes. It is likely not the only reason you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, but it can make them worse.
What contributes to inflammation?
Acute inflammation is easy to understand. Chronic inflammation can be caused by several factors. It can be caused by an acute inflammation that does not heal. Autoimmune conditions can contribute to inflammation. Inflammation can also be caused by a continuous presence of a harmful substance or condition. Things that can contribute to inflammation are:
- Certain foods.
- Conditions that cause wear and tear of joints like osteoarthritis
- Autoimmune conditions
- Lower estrogen levels. Estrogen helps to reduce inflammation, so as your estrogen levels drop while going through menopause, you are more likely to develop inflammation.
What foods contribute to inflammation?
If you have chronic inflammation, then there are some foods you may want to consider eliminating:
- other refined carbohydrates
- processed meats
- fried food like french fries
- fats like butter, lard or margarine
Which foods help to keep inflammation under control?
Some of the foods which we consider the healthiest help to keep inflammation at bay. These include
- leafy green vegetables like kale or spinach
- fruits like blueberries, strawberries or cherries
- fatty fish
- olive oil
- turmeric, especially if combined with ginger and some fat. Enjoy it in a tea or in a curry. Check out this article by Lyfe Botanicals for other uses of turmeric.
How is arthritis related to inflammation?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. You can reduce symptoms by reducing foods that contribute to inflammation. While osteoarthritis is not caused by inflammation, there is more of a link than previously thought. The wear and tear of the joints can cause chronic inflammation and chronic joint inflammation can make the symptoms of osteoarthritis worse. In any case, it may help to stick to an anti inflammatory diet for both types of arthritis.
What about stress?
Chronic stress causes an increase in cortisol levels. When cortisol is always present, it causes the immune cells to become less sensitive to cortisol which can result in chronic inflammation. People have been shown to be more susceptible to the common cold when under stress. This is an example of how stress induced inflammation leads to disease.
Supplements to reduce inflammation
Some supplements seem to be helpful in reducing inflammation. Omega 3 or fish oil supplements are useful. Curcumin (the active component of turmeric) has been shown to reduce inflammation, but it isn’t well absorbed on its own. It is better absorbed with ginger (which is also shown to reduce inflammation) and with some fat. That is why a curry with turmeric and ginger is a good idea. Be aware that the supplements that reduce inflammation can also be blood thinners so should not be taken if you are on blood thinners of any kind (including aspirin) without talking to your physician.
So what should you do?
If you want to reduce inflammation then adopting a diet high in anti inflammatory foods and low in inflammatory foods is a good idea. Also try to lower your stress levels. Inflammation contributes to belly fat. The 5 Day Sugar Free Challenge is a great place to start – reduce your sugar intake in just 5 easy days.