By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Now more than ever self-care counts, especially if we talk about strategies to reduce inflammation and cardiovascular risk factors. In this short article, learn how the basics can have a huge positive impact on your health.
How does lifestyle reduce disease risk?
Did you know that basic lifestyle changes such as nutrition, regular exercise, stress reduction, and smoking cessation have been shown to dramatically reduce risk of the top three chronic health conditions. These numbers are impressive:
- Reduce cancer risk by 40-60% (1,2)
- Reduce heart attack risk by more than 80% (lifestyle changes are incredibly powerful here!)(3)
- 60% reduced incidence of diabetes in ‘high risk individuals’ (4)
There are several parts to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle: nutrition, movement, sleep, gut health, and stress management. Let’s go through each one of them.
Reducing inflammation with nutrition:
The most studied nutrition guidelines to lower inflammation, especially related to cardiovascular disease are based on the Mediterranean diet. That this means is food rich in vegetables and fruits, olive oil, oily fish and legumes especially.
Foods to emphasize:
- Lots of vegetables – aiming for a variety each week: leafy greens, colourful vegetables, onions, garlic
- 2-3 fruit servings daily
- Choosing low-inflammation proteins like fish, beans and lentils especially
- A generous amount of olive oil daily, a handful of tree nuts each day, and some avocados and seeds.
- Lots of water, aiming for 2-3 litres each day
- Using anti-inflammatory herbs and spices – ginger, garlic, turmeric, rosemary, thyme, lemon and more.
Foods to minimize:
- Sugar and sweets
- Fried foods and vegetable oils
- Foods made with white flour
- Most processed foods
- Limited red meat, pork and dairy products
Depending on your health susceptibilities, an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan may have some other components too. Other nutritional models for inflammation include gluten-free and dairy-free, low-lectin or autoimmune paleo which may be recommended with digestive issues, joint pains, allergies and autoimmunity.
Daily movement is a key part of an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan, and here the key is moderation. Too little, and also too much exercise increase inflammation in the body, and prevent repair. Moderation looks different for everyone, depending on their fitness level, but in general includes at least 45 minutes or walking daily, in addition to 30-45 minutes of exercise with an increased heart-rate at least 3 times per week.
Remember that our bodies repair when we rest, which means that both quantity and quality of sleep count. Most people need at least 7 hours of sleep consistently, and sometimes more, especially if your sleep is disrupted.
The most damaging sleep issue for inflammation and especially cardiovascular health is sleep apnea. If you snore heavily, wake-up with gasping in the night, or feel consistently unrefreshed in the morning, a sleep study is highly recommended to assess.
More and more research is coming out about the importance of gastrointestinal health, especially the balance of the gut microbiome. In addition to causing direct digestive symptoms and problems with nutrition absorption, it has been linked to obesity (5,6), cardiovascular risk (7,8), mood disorders (9), hormone regulation (10,11), brain health & cognition (12, 13, 14), and more. There are many strategies to restore balance to the gut microbiome, through nutrition, probiotics, addressing medications that affect gut flora balance, and treatment for intestinal permeability. The impact of improving gastrointestinal health and balance can truly be profound.
The way I think of stress is that it turns up the volume on whatever health issue is going on. If you have a susceptibility to high blood pressure, it will get higher, or if you have irritable bowel syndrome, it will be more symptomatic. It will impact where ever your health vulnerability is. Managing stress is likely more difficult right now but perhaps focusing on the fact that you likely have more time hours in the day without commuting, and outdoor activities, that you could fill in with an extra focus on rest and relaxation. A stress-relieving practice can be meditation, yoga, warm baths, breathing exercises, social connection, or creative projects. Make time every day for something that brings down your stress threshold to help counterbalance the stressful events that surround you.
During these times of staying home and physical distancing, it is essential to remember the importance of social connection. Use technology for good! Get creative with dinner parties, host a Netflix party, bring your family together online, or even workout with a friend (you can share your screen on most video platforms).
I hope this short article has shown you some of the ways you can lower inflammation to reduce health risk. If you would like to learn more about an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and how this applies to your health, you can book in for an appointment anytime.
- Son Mingyan, Giovannucci E. Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated With Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States. JAMA Oncol:2016; 2(9): 1154-1161. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.0843
- Anand P, Kunnumakara AB, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes. Pharm Res. 2008 Sep; 25(9): 2097-2116. doi: 10.1007/s11095-008-9661-9
- Akesson A, Larsson SC, Discacciati A, Wolk A. Low-Risk Diet and Lifestyle Habits in the Primary Prevention of Myocardial Infarction in Men: A Population-Based Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2014 Sep; 64(13).
- Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin. N Engl J Med 2002; 346:393-403. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa012512.
- Tilg H, Kaser A. Gut microbiome, obesity, and metabolic dysfunction. J Clin Invest. 2011; 121(6): 2126-2132.
- Turnbaugh PJ, Gordon JI. The core gut microbiome, energy balance and obesity. The Journal of Physiology. 2009; 587: 4153-4158.
- Tang WHW, Hazen SL. The contributory role of gut microbiota in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Invest. 2014; 124(10): 4204-4211.
- Tang WHW, Kitai T, Hazen SL. Gut microbiota in Cardiovascular Health and Disease. Circulatory Research. 2017; 120: 1183-1196.
- Foster JA, McVey Neufelt KA. Gut-brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosicences. 2013; 36(15): 305-312.
- Sandrine S, Aldriswish M, Slruways M, Freestone P. Microbial endocrinology: host-bacteria communication within the gut microbiome. J Endorcinol. 2015; 225: R21-R34.
- Evans JM, Morris LS, Marchesi JR. The gut microbiome: the role of a virtual organ in the endocrinology of the host. J Endrocrinol. 2013; 218: R37-R47.
- Galland L. The gut microbiome and the brain. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2014; 17(12): 1261-1272.
- Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome: pathways to modern disease. Entropy. 2013; 15(4): 1416-1463.
- Hill JM, Bhattacharjee S, Pogue AI, Lukiw WJ. The gastrointestinal tract microbial and potential link to Alzheimer’s disease. Front Neurol. 2014; 5:43.
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