I don’t know about anyone else, but DoorDash may have become my best friend during the pandemic. For a variety of reasons. As someone who is immune-compromised, I have tried to reduce my exposure. And that meant rethinking my daily and weekly habits. But I never really thought about inflammation to be honest.
I went from going to the grocery store a few times per week to about once every 9-10 days. I organized my meal plans. Thought about meals that were healthy and types of fruits and vegetables that were economical. The kind that wouldn’t spoil in a few days.
But as the pandemic has worn on, I have found myself less willing to cook. Granted, I am cooking for one. And it is too easy to get Uber Eats or DoorDash to deliver dinner, rather than cook something for me. I do like cooking and eating well. And I hated the dent in my budget that it created.
People who got Covid-19 the worst, and required hospitalization, had a few things in common. They smoked cigarettes, had pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, or other inflammatory diseases. And some studies suggested that patients who had a vitamin-D deficiency or were also low in B-12 were more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus—and experiencing life-threatening side effects.
Now new studies are suggesting that Covid-19 may always be part of our lives. The vaccines will help lower fatality rates, but what can we do to balance our diets to strengthen our immune system?
Understanding the Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Weak Immune Systems
The pandemic caught the whole world by surprise. But one of the things that the Covid-19 emergency has taught us is how little we focus on our health. It might be a #firstworldproblem. We trust that if we do get sick, we can access quality medical care. Sure, it’s going to cost us money (how we love those giant deductibles!), but we have faith that, for the most part, we’ll be okay.
Chronic inflammation is the “bad guy” no one knows about. Did you know that chronic inflammation is the leading cause of many diseases? From cancer to diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, and colitis. Inflammation that is unresolved also elevates the risk of cardiovascular (heart) damage.
One clinical study from 2019 shared some startling revelations. In “Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the lifespan,” the estimation was that 50% of all global deaths could be attributed to chronic inflammation. When we read that inflammation is the single worst threat to health and longevity, now you know why. And also why it’s a big deal to find out if it’s a problem for you. Sooner rather than later.
Normal Inflammation is Healthy and Helpful to Your Immune System
A little bit of inflammation now and then won’t kill anyone. Did you know that inflammation is one of your body’s first lines of defense? It is true! You see, when your immune system detects an invader (like a bacterial or viral threat), it sends a message to the brain. Essentially it is like “unleash the hounds!” or a battle cry.
What happens next is your body triggers a variety of different inflammatory symptoms throughout your body. There are four basic or classic signs of inflammation that we know well:
But there are other signs of inflammation that are not so obvious. Inflammation is also known as a ‘silent killer’ symptom. That’s because you might have it for years and not even know it.
The Chemical Reactions Take Place at the Cellular Level
When bodily tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or other sources of damage, the cells release chemicals. Think of it as an advanced messaging system to create a ‘red alert’ in the body. Something bad is happening, and the immune system (which is the defender of your health) has to know about it fast. So it can start a chain sequence of chemical reactions that will help your body fight off the invader.
Each cell releases different chemicals, including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These different chemicals cause blood vessels to release fluids that cause swelling in the surrounding tissue.
How Do You Find Out if You Have a Problem?
You may not feel any different than normal. And then be surprised to learn after testing that you have moderate to severe inflammation. Some people can feel it show up in other symptoms, like gastrointestinal pain or acidity. Frequent headaches and dry skin could also be signs.
But with chronic inflammation, the stop-and-go signaling can be broken. Or burned out after being triggered too often. Which means you may not always experience swelling. And it’s one of the reasons why you may not know you have a problem with inflammation as well.
You may have chronic inflammation if you:
Have an untreated injury or infection.
Were diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that makes your body attack healthy tissues.
May have absorbed industrial chemicals or are exposed to them frequently at work, or at home etc.
Many researchers worldwide have speculated that food preservatives may be one of the leading causes of inflammation. The chemical coatings, flavorings, and colors that make our food last longer. That retains the flavor when convenience meals are frozen and then reheated.
A food with ‘no preservatives’ is hard to find unless you go to a health food store. And even then, you had better eat it quickly because it will mold. Because it hasn’t been treated with a host of chemicals to give a food product a veritable ‘half-life.’
What Does Inflammation Have to Do With Healthy Eating? Everything!
It is no surprise that the foods we all know are bad for us are also the leading cause of inflammation. The first food or substance on the inflammation hit-list is, of course, sugar. And the ingredient is found in just about every dessert and convenience food; high fructose corn syrup or (HFCS). Check the labels! That stuff is in everything!
Animal trials with high fructose diets revealed very high metastatic cancer rates—specifically, breast cancer in rats. Then there was a worrisome survey of people who drank regular (and diet) soda, milk, and water.
There may be other diet soda stuff that’s not so great for your health, but only the full-sugar soda drinkers had an increase in uric acid. Yep, and uric acid is a precursor that causes inflammation. And sugar for diabetics also causes insulin resistance.
There are five more foods or substances that also contribute to chronic inflammation, according to Healthline:
Artificial trans fats
Vegetable and seed oils
Want the good news? Cannabis is NOT an inflammatory substance. Cannabinoids combined with terpenes are potent anti-inflammatory agents. They don’t cause but decrease inflammation. Now you know why full-spectrum CBD supplements are so popular.
Self-Care Suggestions to Switch to a Better Diet
What we can all do is refresh our perceptions about fast food and convenience foods in general. Do they taste good? Absolutely. Are they providing the kind of nutritional value you deserve? Nope. So, while eliminating convenience foods from our diets is almost impossible, making healthy homemade meals would be a great start.
One of the best parts about eating healthier to reduce inflammation? You will probably start to feel some changes. In addition to cannabis, these fruits and vegetables work hard to keep inflammation in check. So choose them more often at the grocery store:
Eat a salad every day (and don’t load it with sugary toppings or dressing)
Reduce dairy and gluten if you suspect you have an intolerance
Get rid of foods that have a lot of dye in them and food coloring
Balance your intake of natural probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, or kombucha. Real miso and kimchi are also strong probiotics.
Remember people talking about the cytokine storm with regards to the Covid-19 virus? Well, that’s inflammation too. And chronic stress can trigger a massive or ongoing inflammatory response that can weaken your immune system. And the pandemic is the best time to build the strongest immune defense you can.
Ask your physician about the symptoms of chronic inflammation, and get tested. Making changes now and early detection can help significantly reduce your risk of health complications. Eat right. Sleep well and stress less! Easier said than done. But that combination can be the best gift of self-care.