Is inflammation bad? The answer is – it depends.
You may remember having a cut, sprain, or a sore throat. The area feels painful and hot, and looks red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues.
Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. It can be a good thing. But, sometimes it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Before we talk about the power that certain dietary and lifestyle habits can have on inflammation, let’s sort out the two different types of inflammation.
Types of inflammation (acute vs. chronic)
There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute it’s usually at high levels in a small localized area in response to an infection or some kind of damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.
When your cells detect an infection or damage they send out warning signals to call over your immune system to help out. Your immune system sends over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading germs like bacteria, viruses, and pathogens to clean up damage so you can heal.
Symptoms of acute inflammation may need short-term treatment such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may need medical attention. In general, acute inflammation goes away after the damage is healed, often within days or even hours. Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down.
Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms aren’t localized to one particular area that needs it. Instead, they can appear gradually, and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:
- Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Allergies and asthma
- Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Hashimoto’s)
- Chronic pain (TMJ/TMD)
- Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- Heart disease and stroke
- Lung diseases (emphysema)
- Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
- Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
- Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)
How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.
Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.
Nutrition and lifestyle tips for reducing chronic inflammation
Lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.
“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. Here’s how.
Enjoy an anti-inflammatory diet to reduce inflammation
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
- Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
- Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
- High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
- Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
- Use coconut oil, butter, or Ghee (clarified butter) when cooking at high heat
- Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)
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Be physically active
- Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term
- Beach Body on Demand has an array of short programs to choose from that you can do in the comfort of your own home!
Get enough restful sleep
- Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
- Tips for better sleep: your bedroom is your sanctuary – make it a relaxing place, make your bedroom as dark as possible, avoid blue light from your phone and computer a couple hours prior to bedtime, go to sleep by 10:00 or 10:30pm while cortisol levels are naturally decreasing, do something relaxing prior to going to bed to help your body and mind to prepare, don’t eat a large meal prior to bed. If you find that you struggle to stay asleep throughout the night, try eating 2oz of protein like turkey or chicken before bed. This will help to keep blood sugar levels stabilized throughout the night.
Manage your stress
- Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
- New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)
Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.
These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day, then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.
If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods and who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals. I can help. Click this link to book a free chat to see how I can help you to achieve your health goals.
Want to learn how you can beat inflammation with simple and delicious foods? Need a plan and delicious recipes to get more antioxidants into your diet? Are you looking for ways to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your day? Book an appointment with me to see if my program/service can help you.
Harvard Health. (2018, November 7). Foods that fight inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Magazine. (2019 May-June). Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions? Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/inflammation-disease-diet
Harvard Health. (2020, April). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, May). Quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet. Retrieved from
Harvard Health. (2020, June). All about inflammation. Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic. (2017, November 21). C-reactive protein test. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-reactive-protein-test/about/pac-20385228
Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 25). Home remedies: How a healthy diet can help manage pain. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/home-remedies-how-a-healthy-diet-can-help-manage-pain/
Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 13). How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586
Medscape. (n.d.). Inflammation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/923743
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020, April 4). Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm
Neuroscience News. (2020, March 5). Social isolation could cause physical inflammation. Retrieved from https://neurosciencenews.com/social-isolation-inflammation-15864/
University of California Berkeley News. (2020, June 4). Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries. Retrieved from https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/06/04/fitful-nightly-sleep-linked-to-chronic-inflammation-hardened-arteries/
University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. (2018). The anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_ai_diet_patient.pdf
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Heidi Price is a Certified Functional Nutrition and Lifestyle Practitioner who has suffered from TMJ for over thirty years. She teaches people who suffer from TMJ, crooked teeth, and/or missing teeth how these conditions affect the whole body, and helps them to reclaim their lives.
After her many years of searching for the missing puzzle piece in her healing journey, she experienced tremendous relief from the pain and inflammation associated with TMJ through nutrition and lifestyle modifications in conjunction with neuromuscular dentistry. She quit her job and went back to school to earn her certification to create a life full of health, passion, and purpose to be able to help others like her to reduce or eliminate the downstream effects on their body as a result of TMJ, cooked teeth, and/or missing teeth.
She is the founder of Balanced Health Through Nutrition LLC and is dedicated to educating her clients and working with them to create a customized nutrition and lifestyle design with the utmost empathy and compassion for their unique challenges.