Most people have heard that inflammation is a negative thing. You probably know that an anti-inflammatory diet is conducive to greater health and longevity. Many of our organic farm volunteers and guests visit Gingerhill to help tame their inflammatory conditions. But do you really understand what inflammation is and, more importantly, how it impacts your body?
We cannot confront that which we do not understand. It is therefore important to know exactly what inflammation is and how to tame it. This week we discuss the definition of inflammation and how to treat it. We also touch upon why the organic farm volunteer life can help you reverse inflammatory conditions.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is, in short, the body’s natural healing response to cell damage, irritants, and pathogenic organisms. Inflammation may, in the case of injury, present as redness or swelling. It can also present as a rash or a fever if you have a virus or infection. The form that inflammation assumes is contingent upon the cause of the inflammatory response. In general, these types of reactions are considered acute inflammatory responses.
Though these reactions are often uncomfortable, they aren’t necessarily unhealthy. In fact, normal levels of inflammation actually indicate that your immune system is functioning properly, as inflammation is intended to facilitate the healing process.
In a healthy human body, the lymphatic system responds to viruses and injuries by releasing white blood cells. If you are injured, it also increases blood flow to the affected area, which facilitates the healing process. As healing progresses, the response subsides and the inflammatory reaction ceases. Inflammation only becomes problematic when it fails to subside.
Inflammation can be a major health hazard if it becomes chronic, which happens when we expose our bodies to an unusual amount of stress or toxicity. These stressors often include smoking, drinking, excessive exercise, emotional trauma, and sleeping irregularly, although general, chronic stress is enough to ignite inflammation in most people. A lot of our organic farm volunteers and guests come to Gingerhill seeking respite and healing from these various stressors.
When we experience chronic inflammation, our bodies are constantly under the impression that we are suffering from injury or illness. As a result, our immune systems go into permanent overdrive. White blood cells begin to attack healthy cells, threatening almost every single bodily system; that’s why chronic inflammation leads to autoimmune complications and a laundry list of chronic diseases. Further, since our bodies are in “sick mode,” we begin to experience fatigue and sadness—evolutionary responses intended to coax us to rest so our bodies can effectively tackle the perceived threat.
The Results of Inflammation
We now understand that chronic inflammation is actually at the root of most health problems. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, depression, arthritis, IBS, autoimmune disorders, and endocrine problems are all byproducts of chronic inflammation.
Your doctor can test your levels of C-reactive protein to determine whether or not you are suffering from chronic inflammation. However, there are also several indicators you can examine on your own to determine if your immune system is over-stimulated. If you have high blood pressure or a lot of abdominal fat, your body will increase cytokine production, placing you in chronic state of inflammation. Skin irritation, allergies, and a puffy face are symptomatic of chronic immune response, as are fatigue, weight gain, and depression.
Many chronically inflamed individuals suffer from “leaky gut,” a condition in which excessive inflammation increases the permeability of the intestinal wall. Toxins begin to enter the blood stream through the digestive tract more easily, only fueling another inflammatory response that will worsen the condition. Symptoms of leaky gut include gas, bloating, constipation, IBS, frequent illness, and fatigue, just to name a few. Whether chronic inflammation causes leaky gut or leaky gut causes chronic inflammation, it is clear that the onset of one is likely to lead to the other, creating a snowball effect that will wreak havoc on your immune system and digestive tract.
How To Treat Inflammation: Lifestyle
Chronic inflammation is pervasive and plaguing, but the good news is that it is also reversible. A few manageable adjustments to your daily routine could go a long way in reducing your levels of C-reactive proteins, as it has for our organic farm volunteers and guests.
The primary means of addressing inflammation include taming stress, which can compromise immune function, and reducing your toxic load. The former might include regular (but not overly-taxing) exercise, ample sleep, meditation, and other activities that you personally find enjoyable or relaxing. The latter requires several small changes like eating organic, nixing alcohol, using natural cleaning products, filtering your water, and limiting your exposure to polluted air and soil.
How to Treat Inflammation: Diet
The first and most essential step you must take in seeking to follow an anti-inflammatory diet is to cut out all pro-inflammatory foods. These include sugar, gluten, grains, processed food, refined vegetable oils, dairy, artificial sweeteners, saturated fats, fried or fast food, grain-fed meat, and unnatural food additives.
Beating inflammation requires that you increase your consumption of antioxidants and omega 3’s. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation, preventing cellular damage and the production of harmful free radicals, and Omega 3’s are naturally anti-inflammatory fats. Consuming fish, flax seeds or oil, sardines, herring, hempseeds, walnuts, avocado oil, olive oil, and walnut oil are all excellent ways to obtain your omega 3’s. You can boost your anti-oxidant intake by working to include a colorful array of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Inflammation and Farm Living
Spending time outdoors, moving, and practicing meditative activities are all integral facets of farm life. The lifestyle we embrace at Gingerhill thus helps to tame stress, in turn protecting our staff and organic farm volunteers against inflammation.
We also grow a wide array of anti-inflammatory foods at Gingerhill, including:
- Leafy green vegetables like kale, chard, lettuce, and spinach that are dense with antioxidants and nutrients. Leafy greens also contain chlorophyll, a compound that works gently but effectively to clear toxic substances from the body.
- Beets, which contain high levels of the powerful antioxidant betalain. They are also a concentrated source of the detoxifying minerals potassium and magnesium.
- Bok Choy, or Chinese cabbage, which contains over 70 antioxidant phenolic compounds.
- Turmeric, which contains the antioxidant curcumin. Scientific studies demonstrate that curcumin is more effective than Aspirin and Ibuprofen in treating pain.
- Pineapple, a fruit rich in immune-regulating bromelain.
- Broccoli, which contains multiple compounds that reduce oxidative stress.
- Celery, which can help to reverse inflammatory conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
Between the farm-to-table meals, agricultural work, and meditative practices, the Gingerhill lifestyle has proven extremely beneficial for our organic farm volunteers and guests in taming their inflammation.