Inflammation is a process by which your body’s white blood cells and the things they make protect you from infection from outside invaders, such as bacteria and viruses.
But in some diseases, like arthritis, your body’s defense system — your immune system — triggers inflammation when there are no invaders to fight off. In these autoimmune diseases, your immune system acts as if regular tissues are infected or somehow unusual, causing damage.
Inflammation can be either short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Acute inflammation goes away within hours or days. Chronic inflammation can last months or years, even after the first trigger is gone. Conditions linked to chronic inflammation include:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Inflammation and Arthritis
Some types of arthritis are the result of inflammation, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Gouty arthritis
Other painful conditions of the joints and musculoskeletal system that may not be related to inflammation include osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, muscular low back pain, and muscular neck pain.
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
Symptoms of inflammation include:
- A swollen joint that may be warm to the touch
- Joint pain
- Joint stiffness
- A joint that doesn’t work as well as it should
Often, you’ll have only a few of these symptoms.
Inflammation may also cause flu-like symptoms including:
Fatigue/loss of energy
Loss of appetite
What Causes Inflammation, and What Are Its Effects?
When inflammation happens, chemicals from your body’s white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from invaders. This raises the blood flow to the area of injury or infection. It can cause redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, resulting in swelling. This protective process may trigger nerves and cause pain.
Higher numbers of white blood cells and the things they make inside your joints cause irritation, swelling of the joint lining, and loss of cartilage (cushions at the end of bones) over time.
Some ways to ease long-term inflammation include:
Limit how much alcohol you drink.
Keep a healthy weight.
Get regular physical activity.
The Role of Your Diet
If you want to reduce inflammation, eat fewer inflammatory foods and more anti-inflammatory foods.
Base your diet on whole, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants — and avoid processed products.
Antioxidants work by reducing levels of free radicals. These reactive molecules are created as a natural part of your metabolism but can lead to inflammation when they’re not held in check.
Your anti-inflammatory diet should provide a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat at each meal. Make sure you also meet your body’s needs for vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water.
One diet considered anti-inflammatory is the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers.
A low-carb diet also reduces inflammation, particularly for people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome.
In addition, vegetarian diets are linked to reduced inflammation.
The things you eat and drink can also play a role in inflammation. For an anti-inflammatory diet, include foods like:
Tomatoes, Avocado and Olives, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Green Tea
Olive oil and coconut oil
Leafy green vegetables (spinach, collards, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.)
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.)
Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies)
Fruits (deeply colored berries, oranges, grapes and cherries)
These things can trigger inflammation, so avoid them as much as you can:
Refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, added sugar, Desserts: Cookies, candy, cake, and ice cream)
Fried foods (French fries)
Sugary drinks (soda and fruit juices)
Red and processed meats (beef, hot dogs, bologna, sausages, etc.)
Processed seed and vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, margarine, shortening, and lard, foods with hydrogenated ingredients.
Choose a balanced diet that cuts out processed products and boosts your intake of whole, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.
Avoid or minimize sugary foods and beverages, processed meat, excessive alcohol, and foods high in refined carbs and unhealthy fats.
Chronic inflammation is unhealthy and can lead to disease. In many cases, your diet and lifestyle drives inflammation or makes it worse.
American College of Rheumatology: “Arthritis in Children.”
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskelatal and Skin Diseases: “Arthritis.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Understanding Inflammation,” “Foods that fight inflammation.”