What is Inflammation?
Last week we talked a little about the optimal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats (2:1) and how the standard American diet is on the order of 20:1. Too many O-6’s set up an environment for chronic inflammation…but is all inflammation bad?
Of course not.
Inflammation is a necessary reaction that occurs in response to some stressor. Whether that stress is from physical injury or from muscle training, inflammation is a necessary part of the repair process. Think of inflammation
akin to a splinter. The area around the splinter becomes red, warm,and may even exude pus. This is the response of white blood cells trying to expel the splinter and fight off bacteria it may have introduced. The pus is actually dead white blood cells and bacteria (little factoid of the day).
White blood cells release compounds called cytokines, which are responsible for recruiting more white blood cells to the area; it’s like calling for backup. Cytokines cause the local blood vessels to dilate, become permeable (to allow white blood cells to travel through), and causes blood vessel constriction elsewhere to prevent the spread of bacteria through the blood. In the short- term, the effects of these mechanisms help heal the site of injury…the problem arises when these mechanisms are abnormally prolonged.
As we said prior, inflammation occurs in response to some sort of stress. What we didn’t mention is this stress can occur in the gut from unhealthy food, in the mind from stressors of daily life, throughout the whole body from lack of sleep, in the lungs from environmental toxins, cigarettes, and exhaust, the list goes on. Modern life presents us with more chronic stress that ever before in our human evolution. In response to these stressors, our immune system responds in much the same way as described above. We get blood vessel constriction and dilation (hello high blood pressure), we may experience increases in temperature (i.e. fevers), white blood cells die and are exuded (i.e. chronic acne), etc. If this inflammation occurs near the joints, we experience pain, the wearing of cartilage, and even possible bone degeneration. In the gut, we experience IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, diarrhea, and cramping. Our minds are targets too; we get brain fog, lethargy, forgetful, and depressed.
So how do we reduce the propensity to chronic inflammation?
Eating a healthy diet, rich in fruits and veggies.
Eliminate sources of processed and fast foods, simple sugars, soft-drinks, and gluten-containing grains (we’ll discuss this in future posts)
Implement relaxing exercises like yoga and meditation.
Shoot for at least 8 hours of sleep!
Drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces of water daily.
Increasing the omega-3:6 fatty acid ratio. O-3’s help reduce states of chronic inflammation.
*Avoid overtraining. This is a big one for CrossFit athletes. Working out intensely too frequently does not allow the body to properly recover. It remains, to some extent, in a state of chronic inflammation trying to repair strained muscles. Implementing a few good rest days per week is an essential part of recovery and abating excess stress.