Dousing the Fires of Inflammation

~ By Cate Reade, MS, RD ~

Everyone hates when a splinter pierces through a finger and the pain and swelling that follows. While this may be unpleasant, this is your body’s innate wisdom in action. When there is an irritation, injury or stress that could harm the body, your immune system dutifully responds by sending forces to the damaged area. The pain and inflammation alerts your brain of damage so you can respond by pulling out the splinter. What if we were so busy that we ignored the pain and left the splinter in to fester? More pain, swelling and inflammation would build up until it couldn’t be neglected. Inflammation is the body’s normal and effective response that facilitates healing. Chronic inflammation is a whole other story.

Research is mounting that inflammation is the root cause of most chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes (Type 2), obesity, dementia and cancer. While inflammation is easy to see and feel on the outside of our bodies, the same process is occurring inside our bodies when we are stressed out, eating inflammatory foods, missing restful sleep and living a sedentary lifestyle.

Stress is necessary for survival, by activating the fight or flight response. Can you imagine what would have happened if our ancestors didn’t fight or run from tigers?! Today, we aren’t running from tigers but we do experience chronic psychological and emotional stress which raises our levels of cortisol so we are prepared to run or fight. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream to run, enhances your brain’s use of glucose to think quickly and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues in case of injury.

Fortunately, we aren’t running from or fighting tigers on most days, but chronic stress causes cortisol to flow through our blood stream constantly which leads to inflammation. When overwhelmed, depressed or fatigued because of excess stress, practice deep breathing. Three to four deep belly breaths can reduce cortisol levels by about 40%! It is a simple way to combat the negative effects of chronic stress and relax the nervous system.

Next let’s take a look at the food we are eating. We want to focus on foods that don’t spike our blood sugars or irritate our gut lining. Research shows that a high-fiber, plant-based diet similar to the Mediterranean diet can have anti-inflammatory effects. Be sure to include lots of non-starchy, green, leafy vegetables; high-quality “clean” protein from beans, nuts, wild fish, pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy (if tolerated); fruits and healthy fats like avocados and extra-virgin olive oil. Small amounts of whole-grains like brown or wild rice and heirloom quinoa can add beneficial fiber to the diet.
Radically reduce or avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates since they are highly inflammatory, spike blood sugar levels, are suppress the immune system. Avoid wheat since a recent Harvard study showed that gluten irritates the lining of the intestines, leading to leaky gut and poor digestion, low energy and autoimmune conditions. If that’s not enough reason, today’s wheat is sprayed with the herbicide, glyphosate, just days before harvest to increase yields. Choose organic foods whenever possible since pesticides can overwhelm the body’s detoxification system, also leading to gut irritation and systemic inflammation.

Add life to your years and years to your life with exercise! Our bodies were built to move. Studies show that exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and can protect against chronic disease. A broad recommendation from the American Heart Association includes 30-minutes of moderate activity that raises your heart rate on most days of the week. However, you should do the amount and type of exercise that you enjoy and leaves you feeling energized and refreshed. We all have different abilities and health conditions that influence the type of activity, intensity, duration and frequency. Listen to your body and progressively challenge yourself. If exercise leaves you feeling tired and sore with muscles and joints aching, modify your exercise routine!

Regular exercise can help you sleep better. Sleep is when the body repairs and heals itself, clearing out metabolic garbage produced during the day, especially in your brain! Not getting enough sleep, about 7-9 hours a night, increases inflammation and chronic disease risk. Sleep long enough so you experience plenty of energy throughout the day and don’t need caffeine to stay awake. If you’re yawning and nodding off during the day, take a nap instead of reaching for coffee.

Battling the flames of inflammation can be challenging but by eating well, stressing less, moving your feet and getting restful sleep, you can turn a bonfire into embers.

Cate Reade

Cate Reade

Cate Reade, MS, RD, is an ACE-certified Senior Fitness Specialist, and a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Physical Fitness from NYU. She has been teaching, writing and prescribing healthy eating and exercise programs for over 25 years. She is delighted to be helping seniors regain strength and mobility as the CEO of Resistance Dynamics and inventor of the MoveMor™ Lower Body Trainer. Contact Cate at or visit