Reduce inflammation in the body and be healthier and leaner—guaranteed! You may not know that inflammation in the body is a problem for more than just your muscles and connective tissue, but chronic inflammation is a major health issue and has even called the “secret killer!” It is connected to obesity, fat gain, accelerated aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, cancer, and stomach problems. Inflammation can shorten your life and will cause you pain on a persistent daily basis.
As an athlete or trainee, you undoubtedly have experience with inflammation from training and injuries and you know it’s something you want to diminish for healing. And you’re right, you don’t want it, but in the case of injuries or sickness such as a sore throat, inflammation is a natural, necessary response of the immune system. This kind of inflammation is a part of healing, but it’s the chronic raging inflammation that you need to reduce.
Part of the problem with inflammation and health is the overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs including ibuprofen, aspirin, and prednisone to manage it. The good news is that you can reduce inflammation without these chemical aids! Here is a list of thirteen strategies for reducing inflammation, getting healthier, and possibly saving your life.
1) Ice and Muscle Inflammation
First, let’s talk about how to decrease tissue inflammation after weight training or injury. This is not the chronic inflammation that will kill. This inflammation is the natural response to intense training, especially exercises that cause muscle damage such as eccentric-enhanced lifting or plyometrics. Acute or immediate muscle damage is produced by mechanical stress and disturbances of calcium homeostasis, increase in cytokines and other inflammatory molecules, and free radical production. The inflammation will naturally go away within 24 to 72 hours after training.
One strategy for an accelerated recovery is to use cold water therapy after your workout to help clear inflammatory biological markers such as creatine kinase and the cytokines. A recent study found that using a cold water bath at 50°F for 15 minutes helps restore maximal strength after high-intensity training because it helped lower inflammation and facilitate muscle repair. Ice or cold water therapy should also be used following injury to decrease the inflammatory response for faster healing and repair.
2) Abolish Trans-Fatty Acids for Better Heart Health
Trans-fatty acids and hydrogenated fats have been shown to significantly increase cardiovascular inflammation and cholesterol levels. For example, a 2010 study found that consuming a diet with elevated levels of partially hydrogenated soybean oil significantly increased cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein (a primary marker of cardiovascular inflammation).
The really bad thing about trans-fatty acids in your diet are that they cause chronic, lasting inflammation, partly because they interfere with your body’s ability to process the good omega-3 fatty acids that help lower inflammation.
3) Take Fish Oil and Up Your Omega-3s
Omega-3s fatty acids are found in fish oils, and are known to play a potent role in decreasing inflammation. They have strong anti-inflammatory effects and also support the immune system. Low levels of omega-3s or a skewed ratio of omega-6s fatty acids to omega-3s (read more about this in #4) are directly linked to inflammatory disease risk including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and psychiatric disorders.
Alpha Linoleic Acid (ALA) is the good fatty acid that is found in omega-3s and is especially effective at lowering inflammation. ALA has a “cardioprotective” effect and decreasing inflammation it helps prevent cardiac death due to arrhythmias. Take note that in addition to fish oils that have a lot of ALAs, walnuts are good too.
4) Rebalance Your Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio
You want this ratio to be just about equal but most Western diets have a ratio between 15:1 to 50:1. Omega-6s do have protective benefits, but a distorted ratio is probably the primary reason we’ve seen an increase in inflammatory-related disorders in past half century.
Human cells can’t convert omega-6s to omega-3s because they lack the converting enzyme, and Western diets typically have a large quantity of omega-6s that add up and contribute to inflammatory disorders such as heart disease and cancer through cell proliferation. Higher levels of omega-3s and a more equal ratio has been shown to be a potent therapeutic remedy for inflammatory diseases because omega-3s decrease C-reactive proteins and cytokines.
One study of cardiovascular disease patients found a 70 percent decrease in death after increasing omega-3 intake and rebalancing the -6 to -3 ratio. A second study found a significant decrease in asthma-related inflammatory markers after adding flax oil to the subjects diets (flax oil is high in ALAs and omega-3s). There were similar positive effects on the incidence of depression when omega-6 and -3s were rebalanced, likely because omega-3s diminish inflammation that inhibits neurotransmitter function in the brain.
5) Resistance Training Lowers Oxidative Inflammation
Resistance training effectively lowers inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, prevents atherosclerosis, and can decrease risk of diabetes. A recent study compared the effect of a hypertrophy-type protocol (six exercises, three sets of twelve at 70 percent 1RM) and a strength-program (six exercises, three sets of six reps at 85 percent 1RM) on two oxidative inflammation markers. Both protocols provided protective effects against oxidative stress and lowered inflammation, regardless of intensity, indicating that a wave-like program can be used when training without risk of increasing chronic inflammation.
6) Magnesium: Get Your Level Up to Lower Inflammation
Magnesium deficiency results in an increase in C-reactive protein concentration—the same marker that trans-fatty acids elevate. Adequate magnesium levels have been shown to be linked to cardiovascular health and lower levels of oxidative stress.
A recent study of patients with chronic kidney disease found that those with higher magnesium levels had significantly better cell health, lower C-reactive proteins, and better body composition. Researchers concluded that the adequate magnesium content was directly related to decreased inflammation and prevention of death. If you’re not convinced to attend to your magnesium levels, read my article, Magnesium: The Anti-Stress Mineral.
7) Eat Red, Blue, and Purple Berries: Antioxidants and Anti-Aging
Eat more berries to get the right antioxidants and decrease inflammation. Antioxidants minimize inflammation because they abolish free radicals and inhibit the production of enzymes that cause irritation and pain in conditions such as arthritis and gout. They also lower oxidative stress, which is a contributor to heart disease and aging.
Raspberries are one of the best fruits to add to your diet because they contain a large amount of a rare type of antioxidant called ellagitannins (raspberries have more than any other known food on earth). By getting rid of inflammation, ellagitannins help fight cancer, heal damaged tissue and wounds, prevent heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Good Stuff!
8) Take Melatonin: Stay Young and Strong
Supplement with melatonin and decrease inflammation, recover faster from training or injury, and prevent cancer. Melatonin is a potent therapeutic hormone that helps you sleep, aids muscle regeneration, and decreases oxidative stress by getting rid of inflammation. Take note that lack of sleep triggers inflammation, and getting your beauty rest can help protect against it and the many negative effects of exhaustion. Additionally, because of its antioxidant potential, melatonin slows the aging process.
Research shows melatonin is one of the best supplements for muscular and tissue healing following injury. A study from Germany found that taking melatonin daily after blunt trauma injury significantly increased muscular contraction force. Markers of muscle resynthesis were upregulated both one and four days after injury, while inflammation was decreased.
Data from Spain shows that melatonin decreases oxidative stress by lowering inflammation, the result being lower blood pressure levels in hypertensive patients. Melatonin also has healing and preventative effects on the elderly, meaning that it plays a role in slowing the aging process. Of special interest is evidence that it restores muscle physiology, particularly in the colon, meaning it helps prevent colon cancer.
For information about when to take melatonin, read What Dreams May Come. I go over the time-release delivery system of my melatonin supplements and provide tips for adding it to your diet
9) Take Resveratrol to Stay Young and Prevent Cancer
Resveratrol has powerful anti-aging properties because it decreases chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. It can fight colon, liver, breast, and skin cancer by getting rid of inflammation, and there’s evidence it lowers heart disease risk.
Interestingly, research also shows it can improve recovery after training by getting rid of acute inflammation, a mechanism that functions differently from chronic levels in the body. This is why strength training (as mentioned in #5) can lower chronic inflammation even though it elicits some temporary muscular soreness, which is naturally cleared within 72 hours after training.
Resveratrol is famous for being a compound in red wine, but you should take a resveratrol supplement in addition to wine because the concentrations found in wine vary and are tiny compared to the amount (at least 250 mg a day) needed for lowering inflammation and anti-aging.
10) Take Vitamin D for Asthma Prevention
Supplement with vitamin D to lower inflammation and improve lung function if you have asthma. A University of Colorado-Denver study found that higher vitamin D levels are associated with better lung function because this mineral decreases the inflammatory lung response that causes asthma and breathing disorders.
Take note that there is a link between eating a diet high in trans-fatty acids, fatter body composition, low vitamin D levels, and asthma symptoms—all because of chronic inflammation. Abolishing trans-fats and upping your D levels will help you have a leaner physique and keep you healthier by getting rid of inflammation.
11) Go Gluten-Free: Lower Intestinal Inflammation
Gluten, naturally occurring in wheat, barley, and rye is a highly inflammatory food that agitates the intestine. If you are allergic to gluten, you’ll likely have symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and suffer random weight loss, and gluten has been shown to increase symptoms in type 1 diabetics.
Even if you’re not allergic to gluten, getting gluten out of your diet is a good move and will lower inflammation. I’m a fan of the Paleo diet by Dr. Loren Cordain because it has no wheat, dairy, or trans-fatty acids, meaning it can be considered “anti-inflammatory.”
12) Add Gotu Kola to Your Nutrition Plan
Gotu Kola, an excellent, lesser-known herb that has a variety of healing effects, decreases the inflammatory reaction in the body and it also promotes wound and tissue healing. It has been shown to lower a variety of oxidative stress markers in rats. Gotu Kola also has a calming effect and can help your brain function better. Click here to order a high-quality gotu kola
13) Zinc: Eradicate Inflammation and Be More Anabolic
Take zinc and lower systemic inflammation and protect your heart. The U.S. population has chronically low zinc levels, and this mineral is critical for overall health and avoiding inflammation. Adequate zinc levels are essential for minimizing the bodies inflammatory process, and zinc is related to testosterone level.
Two research studies identified a link between higher zinc levels and normal testosterone in men. Zinc deficiency equaled low testosterone and a greater incidence of male menopause. Also zinc has been shown to elevate the conversion rate of androstenedione to testosterone, meaning that with adequate zinc and high-intensity exercise, the body will produce testosterone at a higher rate and create a more anabolic environment.
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