Inflammation: Preventing Chronic Pain & Disease

Inflammation, our bodies’ response to infections and injury, is a self-limiting reaction essential to our ability to heal and maintain health.  However, when this reaction fails to self-limit, inflammation becomes chronic, contributing to many common diseases and is a common factor in the leading causes of death. (1)(2)  If that wasn’t enough, inflammation is also linked to a wide range autoimmune diseases and mental health issues.(3)

So what can we do?  

The easy answer that seems to be in every study I’ve read is to eat more fish!  And grass-fed meats, avocados, and chia seeds — while skipping on sugars, processed foods and other “foods” that spike our insulin levels.  The explains why fairly well:

Diets that promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, and trans-fats. Refined starches and sugars can alter blood glucose and insulin levels, and postprandial hyperglycemia can increase production of free radicals as well as proinflammatory cytokines.(15, 25)In order to avoid inflammation, and therefore many diseases, eating a diet with high ratios of omega-3 to omega 6 fatty acids and natural antioxidants is important.

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, avocado, and grass-fed beef curb the production of AA-derived eicosanoids, which spike insulin.(27)

A study done in China found that lower n-6 to n-3 ratios (ie eating less omega 6) are associated with lower proinflammatory cytokine production and demonstrate significant inverse relationships between annual fish consumption and depression.(9) The more fish eaten, the lower the prevalence of serious clinical depression. Stress and depression were associated with less fruit and more snack consumption.

You may want to try low-mercury fish like anchovies, tilapia, and trout to avoid harmful metals, or go with my favorite, krill oil.

Eating more fish is just one small part of the equation though.  Most people are deficient in Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin that has been linked to improving sleep, hormone function, and mental resilience(4).

Stress and anxiety also play a large role in how the body absorbs nutrients.  As if the fact that stress often leads to unhealthy food choices wasn’t bad enough, now we have worry that the poor food choices we’re making aren’t being digested properly.(1)

Designing your game plan

The first step to decreasing your inflammation is to get enough sleep.  Sleeping is a crucial aspect to maintaining proper health.  How easier is it to eat right, stress less, stay active, think clearly, and be an all around cool person to be around after a full night’s sleep?

The next is to increase your nutrients before you start cutting calories.  Some of you may have noticed that you don’t have the energy or motivation to be healthy after a week of sticking to a strict calorie plan.  That’s because you need to indulge in nutrients.  If you can’t eat fish or organic meats everyday, try taking a fish oil supplement.  Taking a Vitamin D supplement with your fish oil increases it’s absorption (for more on Vitamin D click here).

Increasing healthy foods slowly through the formation of small habits, then start replacing the sugar and simple carbs with healthier choices over time.  Allow your mind and body to adjust and crave healthy choices over time.

Practice self acceptance and relaxation techniques such as meditation or deep breathing.  This will help you sleep better, eat better, and feel better.

Give yourself time to make better choices.  Armed with the knowledge of how our bodies respond to certain foods is the first step in creating change.

On a personal note, I was in a horrible car accident almost 10 years ago and had suffered from chronic inflammation for most of those 10 years.  Doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturist couldn’t figure out why I could run around like an athletic 24 year old for 3-5 months and then become so pain stricken with a “flare up” that I could barely walk for 6-9 months.  What I’ve found through careful testing is that there is a web of causes.  Managing my stress, diet, and movement (ie not sitting at a desk for more than an hour at a time) are a huge part of living pain free.  When there are multiple causes to a problem, those causes can take a long time of trial and error to identify.  Getting through that mess of confusion and hopelessness of chronic pain makes it all worth it. It’s not easy to be patient or stress-free when you’re in pain.  I know!  But I’ve found that when you need them, you’ll find immense support from understanding physicians, life-changing books/articles/websites and good friends to help you along the way.


1. Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):365-9. Epub 2010 Apr 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 20410248; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2868080.

2. Calder PC, Albers R, Antoine JM, Blum S, Bourdet-Sicard R, Ferns GA, Folkerts G, Friedmann PS, Frost GS, Guarner F, Løvik M, Macfarlane S, Meyer PD, M’Rabet L, Serafini M, van Eden W, van Loo J, Vas Dias W, Vidry S, Winklhofer-Roob BM, Zhao J.Inflammatory disease processes and interactions with nutrition. Br J Nutr. 2009 May;101 Suppl 1:S1-45. Review. PubMed PMID: 19586558.

3. Zhang J. Yin and yang interplay of IFN-gamma in inflammation and autoimmune disease. J Clin Invest. 2007 Apr;117(4):871-3. PubMed PMID: 17404615; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1838954.

4. Prentice, A. Vitamin D deficiency: a global perspective. Nutr Rev. 2008 Oct; 66 (10 Suppl 2): S153-64.