“Inflammation” is a word that’s mentioned quite a bit but not many people know what it means, let alone how to prevent it and treat it should they have it.
Put simply, inflammation acts as the body’s first responder – it is the response of the body’s immune system to stress, Desiree Nielsen, registered dietitian and author of Un-Junk Your Diet, explains.
According to Nielsen, there are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
In most cases, however, when inflammation is mentioned, the chronic type is usually being referenced.
“Chronic inflammation represents a loss of the balance between tolerance and action in the immune system – because for your immune system to operate properly, it needs to know when it really needs to act, and when it needs to hang back when it’s not a big deal,” Nielsen says. “Usually it’s the immune system that’s very confused by some aspect of modern living. So chronic stress is a very under-rated source of chronic inflammation in the body, and it has a very real physical impact on us.”
Chronic inflammation has been linked to ailments like diabetes, obesity and heart disease, among others, Nielsen points out.
It can be triggered by lifestyle, infection or environment, but perhaps the biggest trigger, Nielsen says, is diet.
“Maintenance of stable blood sugars and avoiding that blood sugar roller coaster will help with inflammation,” Nielsen says. “Making very high glycemic choices and ones that spike blood sugars and keep a high level of blood sugar circulating in the blood tends to promote chronic inflammation.”
Turmeric is a golden-coloured spice that is native to Southeast Asia but can be bought here in Canada. It is also part of the ginger family, and it is also what gives curry its colour.
“This is one of the best researched, but also a befuddling anti-inflammatory,” Nielsen says. “The reason why is because the main component is called curcumin. In lab studies, it has shown remarkable anti-inflammatory capacity… and the consumption is associated with lower levels of cancer prevention and Alzheimer’s disease.”
But when humans eat turmeric, Nielsen explains that the spice is not very “bio-available,” meaning humans don’t actually digest and absorb the spice into our circulation very well, so humans have to consume a lot of it.
“But we’re also learning now that perhaps, part of how it works is through the gut,” Nielsen says. “So by not being digested or absorbed might be happening because it has a bit of a prebiotic effect on our gut bacteria – so feeding beneficial bacteria. But the compounds may also be interacting with the gut level immune system as opposed to having a huge amount of activity when in the blood.”