Inflammation isn’t just an essential bodily response that forces you into resting your aching joints and muscles on the sofa when you want to be working hard in the gym. Unfortunately, it’s also a biological reaction that can, when mismanaged, lead to a number of serious conditions, all a whole lot worse than bed-rest boredom.
Of course, some forms of inflammation are healthy functions essential to recovery. “Reactions such as muscle soreness after training, allergic responses and swelling after injury – all known as acute inflammation – occur when the body needs to remove damaged tissue and bring new tissue to an affected site,” says Andy Vincent, Personal Trainer at Third Space Soho. In other words, it’s all good stuff (although it may not feel like it at the time).
However, it’s chronic and systemic inflammation that isn’t quite as beneficial. “This is the result of pro-inflammatory immune-related cells that, over time, build up. When the body isn’t managing this inflammation, it becomes poor at communicating the messages needed to shut the inflammation down at a cellular level,” says Andy. “If this occurs over a long period of time the body can become chronically inflamed and lead to serious conditions such as diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Andy’s all too aware of how serious inflammation can be to our health. Luckily, here he offers his 12 steps to better management of this potentially life-threatening issue.
1. Balance Essential Fatty Acids – It’s not hard to see how, in the Western world, we consume too many Omega 6 fats. These fatty acids are present in cooking oils, fast foods and corn-fed animal produce, and tend to promote inflammation. Omega 3, on the other hand, actually reduces it. It’s crucial to cut back on, and seek out alternatives to, those Omega 6 offenders and find a far better balance.
2. Find More Fish – Wild salmon, sardines and herring are also fantastic sources of Omega 3. They’re lower in mercury compared to other fish counter options too, but if you’re still in fear of consuming it, eat a serving of Brazil nuts every day, or add them to your morning shake. The selenium in them binds to the mercury and makes it non-toxic.
3. Look For The ‘Grass-Fed’ Label – Of all the meat lining the chiller aisle, pasture-raised, grass-fed livestock has the superior fatty acid profile you’re after. Not only this, but they contain fewer endocrine disruptors – nasty chemicals that cause cancerous tumors and birth defects.
4. Cut Back On Refined Carbs – Refined sugars raise insulin, which can result in increased inflammation. The only time you want to be consuming them? Post-workout, when your body quickly absorbs them to replace muscle glycogen lost during training.
5. Drop Some Weight – Fat cells produce IL-6 (Interleukin 6), TNFα (Tumor Necrosis Factor-a), and other inflammatory cytokines. The fatter you are, the more you produce, and the more inflamed you’ll get.
6. Supplement With Curcuma – More than 200 studies have shown the anti-inflammatory benefits of curcuma. There is a huge number of options on the market, but to maximize absorption curcuma must be bound with a lipid to survive gut transit. I recommend you use Turmeric+.
7. Dodge The Trans-Fats – Industrial trans-fats/hydrogenated fats, primarily found in anything that has ‘partially hydrogenated oils’ written on the label, have been shown to greatly increase inflammation, especially in people who are overweight.
8. Limit Your Alcohol Intake – Booze suppresses the immune system, and regular drinking and binging inhibits our body’s ability to deal with systemic inflammation.
9. Kick The Extra Cappuccino – Caffeine in coffee elicits a stress response that increases your cortisol and insulin levels. As we already know from refined sugars, insulin increases inflammation. One less coffee a day will do you, and your wallet, more good than you know.
10. Load Up On Fruit And Veg – Simply, this will improve the antioxidant status of your body. As the name suggests, antioxidants reduces oxidation, which in turn reduces inflammation. The same will happen if you cook with spices like ginger, oregano and turmeric.
11. Pop The Sups – Unfortunately, we’re getting a lot less Omega 3 and antioxidants from our fruits and vegetables than we were a decade ago. To address the loss in vitamins, and help strike the right ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, consider supplementing with Omega 3 EPA and DHA, zinc, magnesium, selenium and antioxidant support, as well as vitamins D, A, B3, B6, C and E.
12. Avoid NSAIDs – Even though they sound like they’re doing you some good, Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs just shut all inflammation down, including essential inflammation. You don’t want that. Use natural anti-inflammatory drugs instead, like curcumin and boswellia, when the need arises.
Andy is an Elite trainer at Third Space Soho and specialises in nutrition and hormone balance as well biomechanics and strength. Andy has over 16 years of experience as a PT and focuses on getting clients moving well, training smart, eating right and seeing results.