a post about Health | June 2, 2015
Many of our home care clients are well acquainted with inflammation. The swelling of a sprained ankle, a sore throat or a bee sting are all examples of acute inflammation, which develops suddenly in response to injury or illness. Acute inflammation is a function of your immune system, designed to protect an injury and to promote healing. Once healing is complete, inflammation will go away. There’s another side to inflammation, though, which is harmful if untreated. If inflammation doesn’t go away when it should, it can become chronic, causing damage to your physical and mental health.
Chronic Inflammation can present itself as aching legs, stiff knees, sinus headaches or a stuffy nose. Your gums may bleed, your hemorrhoids may act up, or you may suffer digestive upsets, such as gas, bloating, acid reflux or heartburn. You may be unable to close your hand without pain. Chronic inflammation can also wreak havoc with your mental health, causing bouts of depression and increased anxiety. You may experience any one of these symptoms of inflammation, or several at once.
The symptoms of chronic inflammation may be merely irritating, or may limit mobility and functioning. The real danger of untreated chronic inflammation, however, is that it’s linked to serious health problems such as cancer and heart disease, as well as asthma, tuberculosis, stroke, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s. It’s important, therefore, not to ignore signs that inflammation is out of control.
There are many reasons inflammation becomes chronic. Aging, menopause, stress, illness, poor diet and inactivity are all factors that can compromise your immune system, leading to an inflammation response that gets stuck. Some factors, like aging, are out of your hands, but others are within your control.
A poor diet, lack of physical activity, and unrelieved stress are inflammation triggers that can be managed and improved. These three areas connect in a mutually reinforcing loop. If any one of these is damaging your health, it’s likely the other two will soon follow suit. This is a dangerous chain when inflammation is stacking up against you, but it can be turned to your advantage when reducing inflammation. The reinforcing loop works in both directions, so tackling just one of these areas can help the other two fall into place.
Consider stress. Stress in itself is not a bad thing. It can motivate you to work harder, achieve more, and stay on your toes. It is chronic, unrelieved stress that causes harm. Chronic stress directly correlates with chronic inflammation, so it pays to find a way to reduce it.
Life is fast paced, and stress is pervasive. Often, stressful circumstances are out of your control, but how you respond to them should not be. It’s useful to have well practiced strategies to help you blow off steam. There are countless approaches. Talking over problems with a friend, taking a brisk walk, soaking in a bath, pulling up weeds, or listening to music are all the kinds of coping behaviors that have been shown to lower stress levels. Though it can be difficult to turn off stressful thoughts and feelings at first, practice makes it easier.
Taking a break from a stressful situation allows your immune system to stand down from high alert. Your body and mind can relax. Even a small period of calm helps to minimize the damaging effects of stress, creating a break in that reinforcing loop. Responding to stress this way also means that you’re less likely to resort to drinking or overeating to handle problems.
Improve Your Diet
Food plays a powerful role in shaping health. Some foods are incredibly beneficial, while others trigger systemic inflammation. While it’s unnecessary to examine everything you put in your mouth, it’s smart to take a realistic look at your eating habits as a way to start making healthier choices.
Do eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, particularly those with deep, vibrant color. Reach for carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, collards, parsley, and bell peppers. Many types of fruit, such as apples, peaches, cantaloupe and pears provide anti-inflammatory support. Berries are a particularly good choice, and blueberries especially so. Make tart cherries a regular part of your diet. Cherries are one of your most powerful allies in fighting inflammation. They’re equally beneficial whether eaten raw, cooked, or dried.
Flavor your food liberally with garlic and onion, both potent inflammation busters. Keep ginger, an anti-inflammatory superfood, right at hand for frequent use. Numerous studies have shown that ginger is particularly effective in reducing inflammation of the knee, among other body parts. Ginger enhances both sweet and savory flavors, so add it to whatever you bake, whether cookies, cakes, or bread. Season with ginger when cooking beef, pork, chicken or seafood. Ginger root can also be eaten raw. Slice it thinly, peel and chew slowly for an immediate, warm, peppery rush that soothes your throat and clears your ears and sinuses. Turmeric, another anti-inflammatory heavyweight and a cousin of ginger, can be used in chilies, stews, soups, barbecues and curries.
Cut down on red and processed meat. Factory farmed animals are kept tightly confined, poorly fed, and highly stressed. Not surprisingly, they often suffer inflammation which passes through their meat to you. Instead, choose grass fed, humane certified meat and poultry. Eat more cold water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring. Supplement with fish oil capsules if you prefer. Cut back on dairy and increase consumption of whole grains. It is fine to drink alcohol in moderation. A glass of wine or beer has a relaxing and healthful effect, but overdoing it triggers more inflammation. Substitute green tea for that extra glass of wine. Hot or cold, and sweetened with raw unfiltered honey, it provides potent anti-inflammatory relief.
Eliminate partially hydrogenated oil from your diet. It’s an unhealthy fat which is associated with numerous health problems, including inflammation. Partially hydrogenated oil is added to many foods, from margarine to potato chips, and including many frozen, commercially baked, snack and fast foods. You can find favorite foods which don’t contain it, but you have to read the labels. If you see partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient list, choose another brand that doesn’t have it. Look for healthy fats like extra virgin olive or canola oil instead.
In addition, take a good look at your sugar consumption. Most people use too much, even if they never touch a sugar bowl. Sugar is a common ingredient in many foods, from cereal to fruit juice, as well as foods you might not suspect, like ketchup and soup. The biggest culprit in sugar loading is soda. The easiest way to reduce sugar intake is to cut back on soft drinks for an immediate improvement in your diet. In many instances your home care team can help with healthy dietary recipes or cooking to help keep you on track!
Finally, try to stay active. You may be reluctant to exercise when your knees or legs ache, but lack of movement is one of the worst things for your body and mind. You don’t have to join a gym or jog in the park to exercise. Just get moving. Use the stairs. Park and walk. Take a stroll. A simple 10 minute walk at a moderate pace gets your heart pumping and puts all your muscles in motion. Make it 20 minutes and the benefits keep adding up. Exercise provides immediate and long term benefits to your heart, lungs, muscles and mood. It burns calories and directly helps to relieve stress. Increasing your activity level helps reduce your inflammation levels. Developing a habit of being more active can reap significant benefits to your physical, emotional,and mental health.
So take control of your health by fighting inflammation on several fronts. You don’t need to overhaul all your habits to feel better. Instead make adjustments to what you eat, how you cope with stress, and how much you move around. Make these adjustments your new habits. Small changes can add up to deliver a knockout blow to inflammation. You’ll enjoy improved mood and health, and a better functioning immune system.
The Charleston home care experts at Already HomeCare offer a wide array of services that will make life easier and more enjoyable for your loved ones, and treating seniors with respect and empathy is one of our primary goals. Contact us today in Charleston SC at 843-371-1419 or Columbia SC at 803-334-3477.