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8 ways to reduce chronic inflammation

Chronic, low-grade inflammation in the body has been linked to serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and more. The good news is you can reduce chronic inflammation in your body, lowering your risk of these diseases. Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Piedmont, explains the causes of chronic inflammation and the best ways to reduce it.

What is chronic inflammation?

First, it’s helpful to know the difference between acute and chronic inflammation. Inflammation isn’t necessarily bad—it helps the body heal when you have an injury, like a cut, a burn, or an infection. But when low-grade inflammation from certain lifestyle factors and health conditions lasts for months or even years, it can cause health issues.

“Chronic inflammation is your body’s response to some type of cell damage,” Tolbert says. “When you have cell damage, your body releases chemicals that trigger an immune system response to repair the damage.”

What causes chronic inflammation?

Tolbert says chronic inflammation can be caused by:

  • Eating a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, fried foods, alcohol, trans fats, red meat and processed meat

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Stress

  • Lack of sleep

  • Overexercising

  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

  • Overuse of antibiotics, antacids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (including ibuprofen, naproxen sodium and aspirin)

Chronic inflammation symptoms

Chronic inflammation symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Body or joint pain

  • Anxiety, depression or other mood disorders

  • Frequent infections

  • Frequent acid reflux (heartburn), constipation or diarrhea

  • Weight loss or weight gain

Research shows a link between chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases like:

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Cancer

  • Alzheimer’s disease

  • Autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis  

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis

How to reduce chronic inflammation

You can reduce chronic inflammation by making lifestyle changes, Tolbert says.

  1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Anti-inflammatory foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols or antioxidants to help combat inflammation. These include leafy greens (like spinach, kale and arugula), cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), fatty fish (such as mackerel, tuna and salmon), nuts and seeds (like chia seeds, flaxseed and almonds), fruits (such as apples, berries, oranges and mangoes), olive oil, curcumin (found in turmeric), green tea and black tea.  

  2. Quit smoking. If you smoke, vape or use tobacco products, talk to your primary care provider about the best way to quit.

  3. Limit or avoid alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are inflammatory, so if you want to fight inflammation, limit or avoid them.

  4. Avoid inflammatory foods. Tolbert recommends decreasing your intake of sugar (often found in desserts, candy, baked goods, soda, fruit juice and even ketchup and pasta sauce), refined carbohydrates (like white pasta, bread and rice), fried foods, red and processed meat (like beef, pork, lamb, bacon, sausage and salami), dairy and processed foods (like chips, crackers and freezer meals).  

  5. Practice stress management techniques. Stress can have an inflammatory effect on the body, so make time for de-stressing activities like meditation, journaling, yoga, walks in nature, reading, spending time with loved ones, gardening or another hobby. Take time away from your phone, computer and other devices to rest, think and process your feelings.

  6. Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your primary care provider if you’re at a healthy weight for your age, height and other factors. If you are overweight or obese, ask your provider about the safest, healthiest ways to achieve weight loss.

  7. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise will help you decrease stress, maintain a healthy weight, improve your digestion and maintain healthy bones and muscle mass. Each week, aim for at least two strength training workouts and 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity, like walking, biking, swimming, hiking, tennis, dancing or aerobics.

  8. Practice good sleep hygiene. Do your best to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day; sleep seven to nine hours each night; sleep in a cool, dark room; avoid digital devices an hour before bed; invest in a comfortable mattress, pillow and sheets; use a white noise machine to block out distractions; and see your primary care provider if you frequently feel fatigued.

If you’re concerned about chronic inflammation, talk to your primary care provider or meet with a registered dietitian.

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