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Chronic Inflammation - The Silent Killer

Inflammation is actually not bad for you, i.e., when it's acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is the body’s natural response to injuries and infections. It helps us to heal from injury and disease.

However, in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers were curious as to why so many Americans were experiencing heart disease, which is our number one killer. Scientists discovered another side to inflammation that is not healthy, and that is chronic or systemic inflammation. With chronic inflammation white blood cells and their chemical messengers remain on alert at a low level, causing quiet but persistent damage to cells. This causes them to not function properly and therefore, they can't protect us from disease. Chronic inflammation can even contribute to the development of a disease. Other than heart disease, chronic inflammation has been associated with cancer, neurological disorders (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis), bone and joint disorders (Osteoarthritis, Osteopenia, and Osteoporosis) pulmonary disorders (Asthma, COPD, Hay Fever and Bronchitis), metabolic disorders (Type 2 Diabetes, Renal Failure and Fatty Liver Disease), and auto-immune diseases (IBD, Colitis, Crohn's, Lupus, and Type 1 Diabetes). More than half of all deaths worldwide are attributed to inflammation-related disease.

Since then, science has looked at certain cultures around the world, such as Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; and the 7th Day Adventists here in American (called the “blue zones”) and found that although they eat very different foods, they have one thing in common – a plant-forward diet. Have you heard of the Mediterranean Diet or the Blue Zone Diet? Well, they are anti-inflammatory diets based on this research. Anyway, research has shown that people who follow a plant-forward diet tend to have lower rates of inflammation; and therefore, chronic disease, which means they live longer, healthier lives.

The reason for this is that plants are a key source of antioxidants, which help to prevent or delay the damage that inflammation can cause in our cells and tissues. They are also our only source of both soluble and insoluble fiber which are powerful inflammation reducers. People who eat high fiber diets, tend to have lower levels of inflammatory factors in their blood. Fiber also fights inflammation by supporting a healthier microbiome by feeding the good bacteria in our gut. Fiber aids weight loss, because it helps slow digestion and keeps us feeling full longer, making us eat less. Another way to prevent inflammation is with omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds. Omega-3s help interfere with the production of some of the substances released in the body’s inflammatory response.

What to do to avoid chronic inflammation? Choose fresh produce with the richest colors – blueberries, raspberries, grapes, avocados, squash, kale, eggplant, red peppers, etc. When shopping for grains, go for rolled oats, quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, barley, bulger, millet and wild rice. Eat fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and trout. Choose lean poultry and eat nuts and seeds. For fats, extra virgin olive oil is the best, but avocado oil, coconut oil and macadamia oil are also good choices. Use honey, pure maple syrup, or stevia for sweeteners. Anti-inflammatory herbs include: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and clove. Add any of these herbs to your diet daily.

Foods to avoid or minimize include red meat, especially processed meat; added sugars and other refined starches that create a high glycemic response; overly-processed foods, such as microwaved meals, chips and other convenience foods; trans and saturated fats; artificial sweeteners; and chemicals used on food to color, flavor or preserve it. I know this is hard for many of us, but start by slowly reducing and eliminating the inflammatory foods that you eat. You'll soon notice a difference in how you feel. I have a more thorough list of anti-inflammatory foods and which to avoid on my website. You can also download a weekly food chart for recording what you eat each day, and then highlighting the foods that are anti-inflammatory, so you get an idea of how well you're doing and we're you can improve. Go to

A few other factors to help reduce chronic inflammation include getting sound sleep each night, exercising, and reducing stress.


Williams, Carolyn PhD, RD, Meals That Heal, Tiller Press, New York, 2019

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