Inflammation is like a fire within us. It flares up, creates heat in the affected area, redness, also causes swelling and pain. But it's a good fire because it activates the immune system, drives white blood cells into damaged tissue to remove pathogens, repairs tissue again, and restores balance. This is the physiological process of inflammation which then, once the threat has passed within a few days or weeks, goes out, the fire is extinguished and the inflammation disappears. However, some conditions such as advancing age, unbalanced nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, some wrong habits such as smoking or excess alcohol lead to never letting the fire of inflammation go out. The body loses the ability to manage this very important defense process and inflammation feeds and remains alive even for years, perhaps at a low level, therefore without giving symptoms, but always present.
Chronic inflammation, the damage it can do
Over time, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on the body, paving the way for conditions like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and even type 2 diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, tumors and neurodegeneration (Scotece et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022 - Oronsky et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022). Not only that, a recent study has also shown that chronic inflammation worsens the quality of sleep, increasing the risk of nocturnal awakenings and poorly regenerating sleep (Farrell et al, Nutrients, 2023). And what about bones… an unbalanced pro-inflammatory diet has been shown to increase bone fragility and the risk of fractures in menopausal women (Shieh et al, J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2023). Finally, a pro-inflammatory diet also increases, in women, the risk of mastitis, an inflammation of the breast tissue (Afeiche et al, Nutrients, 2022).
The lifestyle that counteracts inflammation
There are modifiable factors that help prevent and counteract chronic inflammation. First of all, it is important to follow an active lifestyle and ensure good restful sleep, aiming to sleep 7-8 hours a night, keeping the room dark and cool, avoiding large evening meals and drinks containing caffeine before going to sleep. Continuous and high-level stress increases inflammation. We cannot remove problems, a source of stress, from life but we can try to resort, for example, to yoga and meditation, which help free the mind from too many thoughts that do not show us solutions. It is important not to smoke and to limit alcohol consumption and exposure to toxic and polluting agents as much as possible. Last but not least, it is essential to follow a varied and balanced diet, including foods containing anti-inflammatory substances.
There is an index, called the dietary inflammatory index, which measures how much a food can be pro- or anti-inflammatory based on the processes it activates in the body once it is ingested. This index was assigned following an analysis of 1943 articles collected between 1950 and 2010 by a team of scholars from the University of South Carolina (Szypowska et al, Antioxidants, 2023). The higher the score assigned to the food, the greater its pro-inflammatory potential will be. This index is not meant to be a diet to follow but rather a way to make people more aware of what they are eating and how it can interact with their health. In fact, it has been observed that higher scores, which signify a strongly pro-inflammatory diet, are associated with a more than 35% increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (Szypowska et al, Antioxidants, 2023). Based on this index, anti-inflammatory foods par excellence are fruit and vegetables, especially berries, cherries, grapes, pomegranates, but also nuts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, then whole grains, soy products, seaweed, fish such as salmon, anchovies and sardines, black tea and green tea, ginger, turmeric, garlic, onion, thyme, oregano, saffron, rosemary, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. While pro-inflammatory foods are red and processed meat, refined cereals, sugars and some oils used in cooking, such as corn and soybean oil (Shivappa et al, University of South Carolina, 2014).
Drinks with an anti-inflammatory action
Some drinks with a proven anti-inflammatory action deserve a separate mention. Noni juice, scientific name Morinda citrifolia, has been shown to effectively counteract chronic inflammation and to inhibit the progression of diseases caused by inflammation, such as inflammatory bowel disease (de Sousa et al, Mediators Inflamm, 2017). As mentioned, green tea has a high anti-inflammatory power, especially in the matcha variety, which is a green tea powder that is dissolved in water and drunk without being filtered. Matcha tea is able to reduce circulating pro-inflammatory substances by acting with a particularly effective action when it comes to counteracting neuroinflammation, as well as dementia (Sokary et al, Curr Res Food Sci, 2023). Among the herbal teas, we can mention the one obtained by infusing nettle leaves, which is characterized by an interesting anti-inflammatory power, useful for counteracting conditions deriving from chronic inflammation such as arthritis, gout and muscle pain (Bhusal et al , Heliyon, 2022).