When it comes to inflammation, most of us think about what happens when we injure ourselves – we get pain, redness and swelling. We treat the injury with a cold pack and go and see a doctor, but what if the inflammation is somewhere we can’t see? – What causes it, and, more importantly, how do we treat it?
Firstly, inflammation is a natural process that is part of the body’s way of healing itself. When you’re suffering from a cold or you sprain your ankle, your immune system activates by containing the area so the infection or injury doesn’t spread.
Inflammation can be triggered by a toxin, a chemical or an infection – even a protein, such as gluten which is found in foods, can cause inflammation in people who are sensitive to it. When the particular trigger is activated, the body increases blood flow to the affected area and increases permeability of our blood vessels so our immune system can enter the damaged tissue and begin its healing work.
Our pain receptors are also activated, letting us know the area is injured. Our immune system then destroys any invading pathogens and removes debris. When the immune system has finished its job, the inflammation reduces as the site begins to heal.
The most common cause of short-term inflammation is an infection, whether that is bacterial, fungal or viral. A sore throat or cold is an example of the inflammation that often accompanies a virus. Allergic reactions can also cause inflammation, as can autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and thyroid autoimmune diseases.
Most inflammation is short term, but occasionally inflammation can become chronic, or an infection can develop which may require antibiotics. If you’re worried, see a doctor or your medical service for advice.
Your doctor may want to run some tests for inflammation including:
* ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate) – one indicator of the presence of disease
* CRP (C-Reactive Protein) – levels of CRP (a chemical) are elevated when inflammation is occurring in the body. CRP increases within hours of inflammation starting and falls within two to three days of recovery
* FBC (Full Blood Test) – The full blood count (FBC) test looks for abnormalities in the blood, such as unusually high or low numbers of blood cells. Blood cells include red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Inflammation will usually resolve itself in the short term, but sometimes anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed. These include steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as Prednisone, and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Some common NSAIDs are aspirin, ibuprofen and Diclofenac (Voltaren).
If your inflammation is chronic or moderate to severe you should work with your doctor or Aboriginal Medical Service but there are some basic foods that can help with mild inflammation.
Choose to eat well
It doesn’t matter what the physical problem is, a good diet will always be helpful. But there are particular foods which can help counter inflammation.
* Eat plenty of vegetables, fruit, protein sources and wild seafood. Whole fruits, vegetables and berries are all rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Eat green and brightly coloured vegetables and whole fruits, such as broccoli, chard, strawberries, blueberries, spinach, carrots and squash.
You should eat at least five (and preferably more) servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
* Consider possible anti-inflammatory protein sources. These include lean poultry, fish and seafood (fatty fish offers protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids). Soy and soy foods, such as tofu and tempeh, along with other legumes and nuts and seeds, can be used as plant-based protein sources. The best nuts are walnuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts.
* Aim to eat only healthy oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water oily fish, flaxseeds, canola oil and pumpkin seeds. Consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Other healthy oils include rice bran oil, grape seed oil and walnut oil.
What not to eat
You won’t do your health any favours by eating any of these, so avoid junk food, high-fat meals, sugar, and highly processed foods. These types of foods may also increase the potential for inflammation in your body.
For more information on NSAIDs, including risks and side effects, search for ‘anti-inflammatory medication’ at www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au