Medical experts have known for years that many serious medical conditions tie back to chronic inflammation. That includes the most significant and dangerous conditions in modern life, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes and autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic inflammation also makes you more vulnerable to acute viruses, such as the common cold, flu and the new COVID-19 that has taken over the globe.
Isn’t it time that you actually do something to bring your body back into balance? You don’t need medication to do that! Here are the most important lifestyle changes you can make to help you feel great for years to come…
It’s all about the food. Nutrient-filled foods help your body work at its best while “junk” foods make your body angry and inflamed, just as bad fuel gums up the engine of your car. Start by increasing your intake of colorful produce, seafood and nuts, which contain antioxidants and other nutrients that keep inflammation in check. Even a handful of blueberries on your morning cereal and three to four servings of salmon or tuna each week can have a dramatic effect. The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on colorful fresh vegetables and fruit, healthy oils and nuts, is an ideal model for reducing inflammation.
On the other hand, get rid of refined carbs including sugar and white flour. Having sweets, fruit juices and soft drinks, with their high levels of sugar (even natural sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup, are like throwing gas on a fire when it comes to creating inflammation in your body. Also nix trans fats such as those found in Crisco, margarine and processed foods, all of which can contribute to inflammation.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are great choices for reducing inflammation, but if you’re having meat, opt for grass-fed beef, which is higher in omega-3s, instead of inflammation-fueling grain-fed beef. Warning: Preparation methods are also important. Fast-food fried fish has lost most of its omega-3s. Some good news? Certain dairy products, such as yogurt, are associated with decreased inflammation.
Watch the alcohol. A landmark Lancet study found that both nondrinkers and heavy drinkers had higher levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker associated with cardiovascular disease, than people who drank moderately. (Moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.) Red wine offers the most potential benefits. Although people who have one or two drinks a day live longer than teetotalers, there are numerous other ways to get these benefits without the alcohol. So have it if you can enjoy it in moderation.
Increase your omega-3 intake. Most people don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids, the anti-inflammatory polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to help prevent or treat cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cancer and more. Your body cannot produce its own omega-3 fatty acids, so it all must come from your diet. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and mackerel all are good choices—or consider taking a daily fish oil supplement. Tip: When you’re choosing a fish oil supplement, look for one that is all omega-3. Most fish oils contain other oils that you don’t need. One I like:* Vectomega from Terry Naturally. Algae-sourced omega-3s can be effective if one is vegetarian.
Take some curcumin. A chemical found in the golden-hued curry spice turmeric, curcumin is a noted anti-inflammatory. However, unless you eat curry a few times a day, you likely won’t get enough of the compound, and it is notoriously hard for your body to absorb and reap the benefits of curcumin if it’s not taken in combination with a fat. Curcumin supplements that add back some of the turmeric oil are much easier for your body to use and digest. One I like: CuraMed from Terry Naturally.
Nutritionally optimize your own immune function. The key nutrients for your immune system are zinc (15 mg a day), vitamin A (2,500 international units/IU a day), vitamin D (1,000 IU a day) and vitamin C (200 mg to 500 mg a day). But don’t subscribe to a “more is better” approach. For example, doses of vitamin A over 8,000 IU a day can trigger birth defects. Note: Use the retinol version of vitamin A (the type found in fish oil) for optimal results. Two multivitamin supplements I like: ViraPro from Terry Naturally, and the Energy Revitalization System vitamin powder from Enzymatic Therapy—both offer optimal amounts of zinc, selenium and vitamins A, C, D and E.
Reduce your body’s chemical load. Chemicals in your environment can trigger your immune system and cause inflammation. When you have the option, choose natural household products that can do the job—or at least reduce your use of chemicals. Examples: If you need to use insecticide to deal with a bug problem in your home, try to spray it just on the outside of your home or buy a natural one. Choose natural cleaners instead of chemical-laden ones. Skip the air freshener, dryer sheets and scented candles.
Get out in the sunshine. The vitamin D your body produces from a little time in the sun also has been shown to help boost immunity. Pair it with a little moderate exercise—such as a walk or a bike ride in the park—and you’ll get even more benefits.
Get good sleep. We all know we should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but how many of us actually do? People who consistently get too little sleep have increased inflammation activity in their bodies. This is no surprise—even in short-term studies, researchers found higher levels of inflammation markers such as white blood cells. Try to get the amount of sleep that leaves you feeling your best.
Tune out the stressors. Stress plays an important role in developing chronic inflammation. When you feel safe, your immune system is at ease, and that eases inflammation. But if your body is feeling threatened constantly, your immune system goes into overdrive. Try to tune out things that make you feel fearful—such as the news, for instance—and focus on the things that make you feel happy and safe. Helpful: Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises all can help you feel less stressed.
*Dr. Teitelbaum receives consulting fees for some of the supplements mentioned in this article and donates the money to charity.