Beating Chronic Inflammation with Food
by Josh Zimmer, L.Ac., DOM
Chronic inflammation is a blunt reality of the modern health era—a wide-ranging, often puzzling condition that subjects millions to daily pain and disease. Any effort to overcome chronic inflammation’s drain on vitality and quality of life, along with stress management, needs to involve changes in diet.
Poor diet with a malfunctioning digestive system often lands people in this state of inflammation. Many of our favorite foods are often the worst for us. I’m talking about processed foods, fatty meats, wheat-based carbs, and salty or sweet snacks prepared with neurotoxic artificial sugars. Complicating matters even further, these foods are often addictive.
But the dietary solutions are easy to find—and also delicious. The hard part is accepting these foods’ importance and finding the discipline to change our damaging habits. I’ve written before on the unsung benefits of soups and stews. They’re cooked, eaten warm and provide a healthy balance of the foods we need including vegetables. The Asian diet, much like the Mediterranean diet, also allows for moderate amounts of whole grains, along with fresh fish, meat and poultry.
Just view your digestive tract—the stomach, small and large intestines and colon—as an engine that runs better warm than cold. Also, in a decade of observing and treating people for poor digestion, as well as a lifetime spent modifying my own diet, I can honestly assert that Chinese Yin-Yang theory offers an invaluable approach for repairing the digestive tract. By focusing on how much food we consume, at which times and at what temperatures, this multi-millennial breadth of knowledge is just as important as what we’re actually eating.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we call chronic inflammation “dampness” which is just what it sounds like—a thick, expansive force that seeps into its surroundings and slows our functions down. Imagine that inside the body. When a patient comes into my office complaining of general pain, fatigue and depression, they usually have dampness. Those are the symptoms that someone with chronic inflammatory conditions like Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis experiences on a daily—or even hourly—basis.
In reality though, you don’t need a full-blown chronic inflammatory condition to experience aspects of this issue. Constipation and diarrhea are also signs of digestive imbalance. So are afternoon fatigue, poor sleep, edema and foggy thinking—all common in today’s world. Dampness is rooted in poor digestion. It’s basically the residue of poor metabolism bred by a variety of wrong eating habits that includes the food we consume, the temperature at which its eaten, our mealtimes throughout the day, our state of mind when we’re eating and how much we consume overall.
At every step, the typical person gets it wrong. Modern research into the microbiome, the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria within our digestive tracts, is confirming the ancient obsession with strong diet and digestion. A poor diet, research shows, is such a broadside on our digestive cells that cells produce an inflammatory response as self-protection.
Unfortunately, the attack continues, and the inflammation becomes chronic. In a worst-case scenario, “Leaky Gut” occurs, in which fissures develop in the single-cell walls of our digestive tract and allow undigested food to enter the bloodstream, triggering full-body inflammation. Dr. Vincent Pedre, author of the widely-read Happy Gut, suffered for years before changing his own eating habits.
“I realized that I felt my best when eating lean, organic meats and lots of fresh vegetables. I experimented by getting rid of all processed foods from my diet, buying only organic and cooking most of my meals at home. Within two weeks, the improvement in my energy levels and general sense of well-being was striking!”
So here’s an anti-inflammatory diet road map. Incorporating as many of these time-honored ideas as possible is almost guaranteed to help you reduce inflammation. Eat cooked food. Raw food is cold in nature and, over time, slows down our metabolisms. Soups and stews avoid overcooking by gently incorporating all the ingredients. The same is true for stir-fries which cook hot but fast, preserving the nutrients.
Eat warm, not cold. We get almost everything out of a refrigerator, but direct consumption impedes digestion. Start avoiding the ice at every turn. Take just a few minutes to heat what comes out of this convenient, modern invention. For example, warm up the milk that goes into your morning cereal or the water that’s in your smoothie. If you’re following up every workout with an iced drink, you’re just negating all that hard work.
Eat an abundance vegetables but less salads which are raw and almost always served cold. Be honest with yourself and ask how many passionate salad eaters out there struggle to lose weight. Eat calmer and happier. We’re often so stressed that we ingest our meals too quickly. When possible, lower the volume and take your meals in more quiet surroundings.
Eat less. Nutritious dietary habits of Asia and the Mediterranean, for example, emphasize the enjoyment of food without overeating. Can you start by challenging yourself to consume less bread and smaller servings of pasta? Also, don’t eat so late in the evening. Our digestive systems, like our bodies and minds, need rest. Eat and move. Post-meal walks are ideal for jumpstarting the digestive system. At a minimum, commit to moving before crashing on the couch. Finally, take pleasure in feeling better by eating smarter.
Josh Zimmer is a nationally certified, state licensed Acupuncture Physician. He is a 2008 graduate of the East West College of Natural Medicine in Sarasota. Zimmer is the acupuncturist at Four Pillars, providing natural healing for pain relief and digestive issues. He also treats symptoms of cancer, stroke and neuropathy. Four Pillars is located at 8209 Natures Way, Suite 221, Lakewood Ranch. For more information, call 941-373-3955, email Info@FourPillasFlorida.com or visit FourPillarsFlorida.com
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