by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
Over many years we have found that preventing or reversing inflammation is all about listening to your body. From that listening you can begin to learn first-hand what increases or reduces your body’s inflammatory response. You can cool your body’s inflammatory response and keep it healthier over time by taking one step at a time, at a pace that feels right for you. This is the approach we have found to be most effective and sustainable over the long term.
You have many options for reducing inflammation. Many of the suggestions we suggest can be implemented on your own. But if you have chronic inflammation, or moderate to severe symptoms of inflammation, we encourage you to work with an integrative healthcare or functional medicine provider to devise a plan that suits your unique needs.
The anti-inflammatory diet
You may want to investigate the comprehensive anti-inflammation diet outlined in my book, The Core Balance Diet. But here are three ways to deliberately counter inflammation in your diet today:
Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and wild seafood. Add generous portions of deeply-pigmented vegetables to every meal and snack for their fiber and natural anti-inflammatory compounds. Many herbs and foods such as turmeric, oregano, garlic, green tea, blueberries, and ginger contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that limit free-radical production in the body.
As for fish, while its health benefits were once beyond compare, many species today contain astronomically high levels of mercury, PCB’s, and other toxins. With that unfortunate reality, we suggest you significantly limit or avoid Atlantic varieties, and eat only wild Pacific or Alaskan salmon (unless organically farm-raised). Because toxins magnify as you go up the food chain, smaller species such as sardines, anchovies, and shellfish are still good choices.
Add essential fatty acids (EFA’s) to your diet. Because omega–3 fatty acids are in shortest supply in our modern diet, we recommend you take an omega–3 supplement daily to rebalance your diet. This is one of the simplest, safest, yet most effective steps you can take to quell chronic inflammation in your body. In our practice we have found fish oil EFA supplements to be most helpful, but if you are a vegetarian, algal sources can be used with good result. Just be sure your EFA supplement has been tested and proven free of mercury and other heavy metals — otherwise it might do you more harm than good.
We also encourage you to include a small handful of nuts and seeds in your diet daily, especially walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed, which are good sources of omega–3’s. Some practitioners also recommend adding an omega–6 supplement called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) if you have rheumatoid arthritis. For cooking purposes our oil of choice is grapeseed oil, and for dressings it’s olive oil, which is high in oleic acid, an omega–9 with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. You can even have the ratio of EFA’s in your blood measured with an EFA profile that evaluates omega–3 levels versus omega–6’s versus omega–9’s. Remember, when it comes to essential fats, it’s all about balance — read our articles about about fat and cholesterol, the benefits of omega-3’s, and the differences between omega-3’s, 6’s and 9’s for detailed info.
Eliminate certain foods and additives from your diet. I know how hard it can be to say no to the many foods that turn the body’s inflammatory dial up high. Number-one on the list of offenders would be trans fats — hydrogenated oils. Next would be the sugars, refined carbohydrates, and gluten-containing foods that women often crave when their systems are off-balance. These and many other additives and preservatives are well hidden in processed convenience foods, making them very difficult to avoid.
You will also need to steer clear of known allergens, and be aware of increasing food sensitivities as well. Gluten, eggs, dairy, soy and nuts are some of the most common dietary irritants. To help you identify sensitivities that could be causing you problems, follow an elimination diet, avoiding a substance for two weeks, then reintroducing it for a day or two. Yes, it can be tough at first to make changes like this, but the payoff is huge — it can make a tremendous difference in how you feel in a surprisingly short period of time. Tipping the balance — away from pro-inflammatory, toward anti-inflammatory — can take place almost overnight for some women.