I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the key to strengthening immunity is to reduce inflammation. In addition to all of the immune practices you are doing these days, including hand washing and social distancing, how you care for yourself on a daily basis makes all the difference.
Your health habits – good or bad- inform your immune system’s function. Are you eating well, moving your body and sleeping soundly? If so, your immune system will naturally be more effective and resilient when exposed to a virus. Or, are you eating for convivence, sitting a lot and stressing? This situation creates more inflammation, which impacts immunity.
It’s certainly not about being perfect, but rather building lifestyle habits that support your health for the long term. And, it might be easier than you think.
Before we cover how to reduce inflammation and how to boost your immune system, you might be wondering what is inflammation and what it has to do with your diet.
In this article, you will learn more about:
Let’s get started!
Inflammation is a natural, normal process of your immune system itself. Contrary to what you may have heard, some level of inflammation is good. Think back to a time when you were hurt or injured, maybe you sprained your ankle or cut your hand. Inflammation swooped in to save the day by bringing blood flow and immune cells to the area, in order to heal and repair. You likely experienced pain, swelling and redness. This is acute inflammation and your body doing exactly what it needs to do.
Chronic inflammation is another story. Chronic inflammation occurs when the process I just described doesn’t shut off as it should. Low levels of inflammation flood the body and often go undetected. This underlying inflammation is linked to diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease and other chronic conditions. Inflammation is also a driver of polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, which I recently wrote about in Part 1: A Look at PCOS and Part 2: Diet and Lifestyle Protocol. Luckily, there are several markers of inflammation that I frequently look at in patients to assess this component of their root cause.
One of the biggest influencers of inflammation, especially the chronic kind, is poor lifestyle choices including diet, movement and the accumulation of other daily habits. However, there are also other sources of inflammation, often hidden, that you may not have considered. These include:
Let’s talk about stress and inflammation a little more as stress is a piece that many of us need to work on as far as our health, and one that often takes a back seat to diet, supplements and other changes that we tend to prioritize. To learn more about the body’s stress response and what goes wrong with the HPA-axis (and what to do about it), please read my recent blog Adrenal Support During a Pandemic.
If you are feeling extra stress right now, I want you to know that it is only natural given the circumstances of life today. I am here to support you in putting the pieces in place to support your body during this time. By using my telemedicine platform, we reduce the stress of being in public and the anxiety that comes with wearing a mask or just simply not knowing if you are in a safe place as we wait for more testing and guidelines.
In addition to the increased stress we are all feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic, overall increased inflammation contributes to weakened immunity. We know that those with inflammatory pre-existing conditions including diabetes, heart disease and obesity are having a more severe COVID-19 symptoms and are dying at higher rates. After exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the novel corona virus, as the COVID-19 infection sets in, inflammation in the body escalates. It only makes sense to reduce the baseline inflammation level, and luckily we have a lot of lifestyle tools that work to do just that.
The Standard American Diet, appropriately called the SAD diet is largely reliant on foods that cause inflammation. The SAD diet is high in processed foods low in nutrient-dense whole foods.
So, does processed food cause inflammation? The short answer is yes. Here’s why.
First, processed food loses a lot of nutrition through the processing itself, so what is left is often calorie rich, very palatable foods low in the vitamins, minerals and amino acids that the body needs for all functions, including keeping inflammation in check. Processed foods tend to also be low in antioxidants that help to protect cells from the damage that inflammation causes.
Second, processed foods tend to be high in sugar, including added sugars, and low in fiber. This contributes to high blood sugar and the development of insulin resistance over time. Sugar is not only incredibly inflammatory, but it also depresses immune function.
Thirdly, processed foods often contain highly processed and inflammatory fats. The ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats are important for balancing inflammation. In the SAD diet, we tend to not get enough omega-3s from cold water fish, walnuts and flax seeds and way too many omega-6 fats largely from the vegetable oils (think corn, soy, safflower) found in processed foods. The result is a system more skewed toward inflammation.
There is a large body of research showing that Mediterranean style diets, based on an abundance of fresh produce, fish, legumes and that contain little or no processed foods are much less inflammatory that a SAD diet.
Since the link between inflammation and immune system function is quite strong, reducing inflammation becomes a key to immune defense against viruses as well as disease prevention.
Here are my top tips for cooling inflammation:
Read more about nutrition basics here.
As you add in these nutrient-dense whole foods and begin cooking more, you’ll naturally displace the more packaged, processed options in your daily routine. It may take some time for your palate and habits to adjust, but you are sure to feel the difference. Ready to get started in the kitchen? Visit my collection of easy, whole food recipes.
Your functional medicine provider helps you to assess for other underlying stressors contributing to inflammation and that may be impacting your immune function, including testing for levels of toxins in the body, inflammatory markers and hidden infections. Here are The Fork Functional Medicine, appointments are currently available virtually and lab testing can be completed at home or by visiting a local blood draw center. Additionally, we offer a Comprehensive Health Assessment that evaluates specific markers, including inflammation and immune health, and leverages that information towards a lifetime wellness strategy.
By developing a personalized protocol, complete with diet, lifestyle and supplement suggestions, you’ll be on the fast track for effectively reducing inflammation and improving your response should you be affected by COVID-19. In a tech savvy busy world your healthcare visits should be seamless too, please reach out for an appointment so I can help you to build and sustain the foundation of health.
If there ever was a time to begin your healing journey, it is now. Simply begin with understating the connections between your lifestyle and your health and taking a single step toward your health goals.
Biotics Research Biomega-1000
Nordic Naturals Algae Omegas
Galland L. (2010). Diet and inflammation. Nutrition in clinical practice : official publication of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 25(6), 634–640. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21139128/
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