Fighting inflammation

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Every generation looks for a fountain of youth or magic pill to ward off aging and stay young and vital. Seniors don’t have to go on a complex quest to find the secret — it just takes a little more effort than swallowing a pill or an elixir.

The secret is fighting inflammation, a vitality thief. Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing — cut a finger and the swelling and redness are signs the immune system is at work fighting infection and repairing tissue. The threat to happy and healthy living is chronic inflammation — when the body must constantly react to invaders — such as too much sugar and even too much stress — and stays on high alert.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to conditions as far reaching as Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, allergies, obesity, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and cancer. Inflammation can drive the aging process by harming telomeres — the endcaps on strands of DNA.

Here are 10 simple lifestyle tweaks that help fight inflammation:

eat inflammation-fighting foods

Certain foods can help dial down inflammation. Pile the plate with green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and deeply pigmented produce ranging from blueberries to carrots to bell peppers. These fruits and vegetables are packed with natural antioxidants and polyphenols — thousands of individual anti-inflammatory compounds. Plus, they are filling.

Eat a variety of fiber-rich whole grains such as amaranth, bulgur and quinoa. Fiber has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the blood that’s been linked to diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

A few more anti-inflammatory heroes include wild salmon and mackerel rich in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, black, green and white teas and avocados, flaxseed and olives.

Avoid inflammation trigger foods

The reason many foods have been slapped with the bad for you label is precisely because they trigger inflammation.

Key culprits include:

• Foods and beverages with processed sugars, from soda to sweet treats to sweetened cereals and even jarred tomato sauce

• Refined carbohydrates — white flour, white rice, etc. and everything made with them, from bread to pasta

• Trans fats — read labels closely because even foods marked no trans fat are allowed to contain trace amounts

• Processed meats such as bologna, salami, hot dogs and sausages

• French fries, potato chips and other fried snack foods

• Margarine, shortening and trans-fat stabilized lard — the kind that doesn’t require refrigeration and is used in commercial products

• Conventional (nonorganic or nongrass-fed) organ meats, such as liver, often contain antibiotics, fertilizers and other unwanted residues

Rebalance your healthy-fats ratio

Omega-3s and omega-6s are both naturally unsaturated fats the body can’t make on its own. There are three main types of omega-3 fats: Alpha- linolenic acid (ALA) and the more widely known EPA and DHA. ALA is found in foods such as walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseed while EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.

Omega-6s, including linoleic acid and arachidonic acid, are primarily in vegetable oils such as corn oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, peanut oil and soy oil. They’re not inherently unhealthy. The problem is that we eat them in an unhealthy proportion to omega-3s. The American diet tends to be high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, causing inflammation.

Scale back on omega-6-heavy oils, increase intake of plant foods such as flaxseed and walnuts, and eat fatty fish at least twice a week. Ask your health-care professional whether you’d benefit from a blood test to see if you’re deficient in omega-3 fats and need a supplement.

Find your sleep sweet spot

For some people, finding the time to get enough sleep is the problem. As we get older, it can be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. In fact, insomnia affects nearly half of people age 60 and older.

Poor sleep can increase stress hormones causing inflammation. One study published in Biological Psychiatry found sleep disturbances — such as not sleeping well or struggling with insomnia — increases inflammatory markers such as CRP and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Sleeping more than eight hours per night can cause a similar rise in CRP and IL-6 levels.

Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep. Keep in mind that many sleep troubles can improve by practicing good sleep habits, such as going to bed and waking up at the same times every day — weekends included.

Clock 20 minutes of activity every day

Regular exercise can help suppress inflammation. One study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found as few as 20 minutes of daily moderate exercise does the trick.

Study participants who walked briskly on a treadmill for 20 minutes experienced a 5 percent decline in reactive immune cells linked to inflammation.

What’s more, exercise burns fat. Less fat, produces fewer inflammation-promoting proteins called cytokines. Every bit of exercise counts.

Put the “breaks” on stress.

You may have already drawn a line between stress and those headaches you get at work, but you might be surprised at how potent stress is — it can put tends to be high in omega-6 fats and low in omega-3 fats, causing inflammation.

Scale back on omega-6-heavy oils, increase intake of plant foods such as flaxseed and walnuts, and eat fatty fish at least twice a week. Ask your health-care professional whether you’d benefit from a blood test to see if you’re deficient in omega-3 fats and need a supplement.

Find your sleep sweet spot

For some people, finding the time to get enough sleep is the problem. As we get older, it can be hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. In fact, insomnia affects nearly half of people age 60 and older.

Poor sleep can increase stress hormones causing inflammation. One study published in Biological Psychiatry found sleep disturbances — such as not sleeping well or struggling with insomnia — increases inflammatory markers such as CRP and interleukin-6 (IL-6). Sleeping more than eight hours per night can cause a similar rise in CRP and IL-6 levels.

Strive for seven to eight hours of sleep. Keep in mind that many sleep troubles can improve by practicing good sleep habits, such as going to bed and waking up at the same times every day — weekends included.

20 minutes of activity

Regular exercise can help suppress inflammation. One study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found as few as 20 minutes of daily moderate exercise does the trick.

Study participants who walked briskly on a treadmill for 20 minutes experienced a 5 percent decline in reactive immune cells linked to inflammation.

What’s more, exercise burns fat. Less fat, produces fewer inflammation-promoting proteins called cytokines. Every bit of exercise counts.

Put the “breaks” on stress.

People may have already drawn a line conecting stress and those headaches they get at work, but some might be surprised at how potent stress is — it can put the body’s inflammatory response into hyperdrive. We can all do a bit better when it comes to stress management.

Yoga breathing can reduce stress-related inflammation in the body, according to a study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Another study found that mindfulness meditation significantly reduces stress-induced inflammation.

It is not necessary to meditate for hours. Start with just five or 10 minutes and see if that makes a difference.

Put out that cigarette NOW

Add inflammation to the long list of reasons to quit smoking for good. Smoking revs up the immune system and makes inflammation worse.

Trading nicotine sticks for e-cigs, does not put one in the clear. Vaping triggers unique immune responses in the lungs. These are not beneficial, according to a University of North Carolina School of Medicine study.

Alcohol is not necessarily a vice but moderation is key. No more than an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, according to the American Heart Association. Anything beyond this could potentially cause changes in the intestinal lining, allowing bacteria to pass through into the bloodstream. The result is inflammation.

beneficial gut bacteria

Good gut health is needed for far more than just digesting food. With 70-80 percent of the immune system residing in the digestive tract, caring for the gut — and the friendly bacteria that reside there — will help quell inflammation. Add gut-health boosters, such as prebiotics and probiotics to the daily diet.

Spice up your life

Spices and herbs can help put out the fire of inflammation and slow the aging process.

For those who don’t already know turmeric, it’s time to get acquainted. The main compound in turmeric, curcumin — often called curecumin because it’s so powerful — gives turmeric its bright yellow color as well as anti-inflammatory benefits. Turmeric is thought to inhibit eicosanoids, signaling important molecules in the body’s inflammatory response. Curcumin supplements have also been found to reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP).

When you cook, combining turmeric with black pepper can increase the amount of curcumin the body absorbs and uses by as much as 2,000 percent.

Other herbs and spices with anti-inflammatory effects include cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger and rosemary.

Watch your weight

Carrying extra weight, puts the body under metabolic stress. Fat cells can initiate an inflammatory reaction. Reverse this process by losing just 5-10 percent of total weight.

For those at a healthy weight, reducing the number of calories consumed by 25 percent can also help cut inflammation, according to researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

The study found people of normal weight who cut their daily intake of calories — while consuming adequate amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals —reduced levels of markers of chronic inflammation.

It’s important to get enough protein, healthful fats, fiber and vitamins and minerals. Work with a doctor or a nutritionist to ensure cutting calories doesn’t lead to malnutrition.