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Understanding Chronic Inflammation: Causes, Effects, and Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

What is Chronic Inflammation?

Our bodies are specifically designed to have natural defense mechanisms in place to protect us from toxic exposures, pollutants, and other stressors from getting into our skin and causing havoc on our organs and immune system. One of those necessary tactics/processes is inflammation – better known as swelling. Healing white blood cells and fluids are flooding the area, sending a signal for you to rest and recover. Problems begin to arise when there is no infection to fight, and yet an inflammatory reaction is still being triggered. Your immune system begins to attack the healthy cells in your joints, organs, and arteries. At that point, your immunity is doing more damage than good. This unnatural response can be prompted by stress. Stress can present in many different forms including:

  • Mental-emotional -- such as issues with a spouse/partner, work or boss related issues, time pressure or financial issues;

  • Physical -- such as over or under exercising, excessive strain to the body through overuse or repetition of activities and/or poor postural alignment and habits;

  • Stress -- anything that changes our bodies balance and regulation such as being in a cold room, waking up at an unusual time, not being around sunlight at the right times of day, having your blood sugar fluctuate poorly, being exposed to plastic compounds like BPA or toxic chemicals in our water, cleaning, and food products. There are a lot of things that can be deemed as “invisible stressors” that you’re not always consciously aware of and can easily trigger an inflammatory response in your body if not well managed. The best way to help manage stress is through implementing healthy habits, such as exercise, adequate quality sleep, and a nutritious eating plan.

We often ignore the initial warning signs and symptoms of stress to the body such as physical fatigue, mental fatigue, emotional fatigue, and lack of recovery from exercise. However, ignoring them over time can lead to your immune system damaging the very cells you rely on to keep you mobile and energized. If these changes remain unnoticed or unchanged, they can develop into heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, or even cancer. This repeated cycle of inflammation then leaves your immune system weakened and more susceptible to disease when exposed to an actual infection.

hand holding a magnifying glass looking at a waterfall

How Does Inflammation Affect Your Body?

Researchers have found that just about every type of chronic illness can be traced back to inflammation within the human body. Some examples of how it can affect you include:

  • Asthma and allergies that arise from inflammation within the linings of your airways

  • Damage of your intestinal lining that can lead to Celiac, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, Diverticulitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome etc.

  • Inflamed cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) that cut off blood flow to your kidneys, leading to hypertension and other ailments.

  • The same inflammatory cells inciting autoimmune reactions in the brain, making you susceptible to depression, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s Disease

  • Stress on your internal organs leading to rashes, eczema, acne, and even wrinkles

  • Inflammation slowing the ability to repair your bones, weakening them causing osteoporosis/penia and possible fractures.

  • Extra strain on your heart, arteries, and veins making your cardiovascular system work harder, raising your blood sugar levels and risk for heart disease and stroke.

The good news is: You can take matters into your own hands by changing your habits to reduce inflammation and better support your immune system. That way, the little fighters inside you can do the job they are supposed to do, rather than undermining your overall health. For example:

  • Get out and move more! Exercise not only burns calories to promote weight loss and decrease additional stresses on the joints, but it is also a great way to alleviate stress and prepare your body for a better night of sleep.

  • Giving up alcohol and smoking can also help, but managing your stress levels are key.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs can aid in the treatment of chronic inflammation, however they have also been linked with the generation and progression of cancer, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.

  • Or you can turn to a more natural way of caring for yourself by another key daily habit – eating.

Did you know that over 70 percent of your immune system functions out of your gut? Therefore, it makes sense to feed it good things that make it stronger and better able to support you. If your stomach lining becomes damaged, food can escape through holes and get into your bloodstream. This can lead to food sensitivities and “leaky gut”, which will limit your diet. These sensitivities can present as fatigue, migraines, skin blemishes, and achy joints, slowing you down and impeding your ability to live life to the fullest. Your best bet is to feed your body with the food and nutrients it needs, and steer clear from those that invite inflammation. This means giving up some of those staples of the SAD (Sad American Diet) including:

✓ Simple carbs such as white flour, rice, potatoes, and pasta

✓ Anything containing refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup

✓ Foods with trans fats, such as deep-fried or packaged foods

✓ Processed meats and farm-raised fish

✓ Highly processed oils, such as corn, canola, sunflower, and peanut

✓ Artificial sweeteners

✓ Monosodium Glutamate and other preservatives.

✓ Foods exposed to chemicals, such as pesticides

Try to build your meals around real whole foods – such as lean proteins, fresh vegetables, and high-fiber foods – to fuel yourself for better days ahead. Grass-fed meat, poultry, and wild game is always a better option than those raised in factory farms or overly processed with chemicals you don’t want in your body. Aim to eat foods that are high in omega-3 oils, such as fatty fish, tofu, walnuts, flax seeds, and soybeans. You also want to stock up on polyphenols, which is a fancy name for natural sources of organic compounds. These are found in vegetables, fruits, cereals, tea, coffee, and wine. However, you want to narrow down your exposure to those with the lowest sugar content.

There is growing evidence on how helpful fermented foods are in restoring balance in the gut and alleviating inflammation, thanks to their probiotics. They help to eliminate pathogens, produce beneficial components such as vitamin B12, creating a good environment for ‘good bugs’ to grow while boosting immunity and fostering a healthy intestinal harmony. Probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation associated with irritable bowel syndrome. You need a mix of vitamins, antioxidants, and micronutrients to build a strong immune system. By adding variety to your diet, you can discover new tastes while supplementing your gut, bones, and organs with elements that will amplify your efforts to create a healthier version of you. Also, the short-chain fatty acids created during the process of fermentation have anti-inflammatory properties.

Here is a list of the top 27 anti-inflammatory foods to include in your diet:

  1. Fatty Fish (such as salmon) - Omega-3 fatty acids have also been linked to healthy aging at every stage of life, especially during fetal development. They also help with cardiovascular function, development of retinal and neural cells, boosting immunity, and slowing rates of Alzheimer’s Disease.

  2. Oysters- They are low in calories and rich in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Oysters are rich in energizing B-12 vitamins, with eight medium-sized ones delivering about 230 percent of your daily B-12 requirement.

  3. Chia seeds - On top of fighting inflammation, chia seeds heal your stomach lining, prevent nervous system disorders, and curtail cardiovascular diseases.

  4. Kamut (also known as Khorasan Wheat)- Loaded with seven grams of hunger-busting fiber per cup, to boost your energy and protect your muscles. It also provides a good dose of minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and potassium. Replacing meat, especially processed ones, for plant-based foods reduces inflammation usually caused by animal protein’s saturated fats.

  5. Miso- Miso provides you with a great dose of essential minerals and vitamins E, K, folic acid and other B vitamins. Since it is fermented, it gives your gut healthy bacteria that support your overall mental and physical wellness. For generations, it has been used to combat fatigue, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, and inflammation.

  6. Sauerkraut- These fermented foods provide lots of vitamins and a few calories. Research suggests that “specific phytochemicals of sauerkraut have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and a chemopreventive action against certain types of cancer.”

  7. Pu-erh Tea- While giving pu-erh tea its distinct flavor, the fermentation and aging processes give the tea unique medicinal properties to improve heart health, reduce cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, enhance eyesight, stimulate circulation, and alleviate hangovers. Its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties fend off free radicals.

  8. Kelp- Eating seaweed regularly can reduce your risk of diabetes, inflammation, fat levels, and insulin sensitivity. It has also been linked to better thyroid health, stronger bones, and lower risk of many forms of cancer (2).

  9. Kefir- As a dairy product, it is rich in calcium and probiotic bacteria thanks to several bacteria and yeasts, which provide anti-bacterial, antimycotic, anti-neoplastic, and immunomodulatory properties.

  10. Broccoli- A powerhouse vegetable, packed with antioxidants like the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, as well as a variety of carotenoids, folate, and Vitamins C and K. Like all cruciferous vegetables it is rich in phytonutrients, that help combat free radical damage and neutralize toxins in the bod (2).

  11. Celery- These simple stalks are packed with 25 inflammation fighting properties, high in phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory components, and antioxidants, especially flavonoids, polyphenols and phenolic acids and flavanols, such as quercetin (28).

  12. Sweet Potato- It is a great source of complex carbs, fiber, beta-carotene, manganese, and vitamin B6 and C. (29). Virtually every vitamin in its orange flesh has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

  13. Garlic - It’s anti-cancer properties arise from its phytochemicals and allyl sulfur compounds and have been used medicinally for years.

  14. Beets- Beets (and their juices) lower rates of inflammation while protecting you from cancer and heart disease, thanks to their fiber and folate (3).

  15. Avocado - Contains a major phytochemical called glutathione, known as ‘the master antioxidant.’ When paired with beta-sitosterol, it is particularly gifted at protecting your body from damage by free radicals.

  16. Camu Camu- A study of male smokers provided each participant 70 milliliters of camu camu juice for a week and recorded significant decreases in the men’s inflammatory markers.

  17. Jackfruit - Jackfruit is full of phytonutrients, such as phenols and flavonoids. Its sweet, buttery flesh also carries antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties that have been studied for their effects of lowering the risk of cancers and diabetes (37). These phytonutrients team up with phenolic compounds to also protect you via treatments for rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases, and Parkinson’s disease.

  18. Papaya - For generations, it has been used as a natural treatment for pain arising from inflammation arising from burns,38 osteoarthritis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

  19. Pineapple - Pineapple is rich in vitamin C and an enzyme called bromelain, which stimulates the digestion of protein. It also calms inflammation in your stomach and boosts immunity (41).

  20. Blueberries - Great sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that glisten with antioxidants called anthocyanins that prevent many diseases, including cancers. Not only do they give berries their distinctive colors, but they also bolster immunity, reduce inflammation, and protect you from heart disease.

  21. Mung Beans - These beans have a high nutritional value and contain vital levels of magnesium, manganese, potassium, folate, essential B vitamins, and zinc. The little capsules of goodness also provide dietary fiber and protein (43).

  22. Turmeric - As a spice and medicinal herb, it has been used for healing for centuries. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-thrombotic, and cardiovascular protective benefits. It boosts the body’s natural antioxidant capacity to further fight free radicals before they do any damage (46).

  23. Tomatoes - Jam packed with Vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant carotenoid with high-powered anti-inflammatory properties. Lycopene is attributed with having the ability to neutralize compounds that stimulate several types of cancer. It is best absorbed with a source of fat, so best to add olive oil (48).

  24. Nuts - Tree nuts – including pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts – can stop cancer due to their polyphenols, compounds that can boost the immune system, and omega 3 fatty acids, which cut off cancer cells’ energy supplies. Nuts have also been shown to lower cholesterol levels and risks of heart disease, thanks to their polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. They also provide protein, antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and alpha-linolenic acid, an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid that helps minimize certain types of arthritis (49).

  25. Green Tea- It contains the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate which mitigates cell damage, hunts down free radicals, and calms inflammatory reactions in the body

  26. Olive Oil- Containing vital polyphenols and phenolic compounds that have shown positive effects on plasma lipoproteins, oxidative damage, inflammatory markers, and antimicrobial activity. It also has high doses of Vitamins E and K, plus oleocanthal, which has been shown to work similarly to ibuprofen, a common anti-inflammatory drug.

  27. Dark Chocolate - Dark chocolate and its powdered form cocoa have lots of flavanols, which are responsible for their anti-inflammatory effects. They maintain the endothelial cells that line your arteries so they stay healthy and lower your risk for heart disease (53). In one study, smokers experienced significant improvements in endothelial function within two hours of eating chocolate high in flavonols.

Aside from food, as mentioned above, getting the proper type, frequency, and intensity of exercise plays an immense role in chronic inflammation. More and more studies are showing great results in the use of whole-body vibration or vibration plates as beneficial in improving conditions related to chronic inflammation. It appears to improve many symptoms of Type II Diabetes Mellitus, wherein glucose and destructive inflammation shoots up. The intervention helps the body use glucose as an energy source, and at the same time, modify the microbiome to fight inflammation. A team of researchers in Augusta also found that whole body vibration can decrease the inflammatory response by increasing the number of macrophages, which are cells that work by inducing or warding off inflammation. Results showed use of whole-body vibration aided in restoring M2 levels to normal in diabetic mice. The study is the first one to document the relationship between the body’s innate immunity and the microbiome, by changing the macrophage mix with whole body vibration. The researchers note that it’s still not feasible to determine whether the macrophage or microbiome shift comes first, however, they believe that making glucose more available to macrophages promotes insulin resistance and inflammation, which can ultimately lead to diabetes.

The whole-body vibration system stimulates increased metabolism allowing for the breakdown of toxic adhesions in fascial connective tissue associated with chronic inflammation. It also helps to stimulate positive endorphin release to help drastically decrease pain levels and make changes at a cellular level for conditions such as lymphedema, fibromyalgia, GERD, restless leg syndrome, plantar fasciitis and more. Due to the device's ability to target nearly every deep stabilizing muscle in your body, only minimal time is needed to achieve a therapeutic response in decreasing pain and inflammation in the body. Learn more about guided sessions led by a trained physical therapist to ensure you get the most out of your whole-body vibration intervention at

At IVY Integrative, you can work with one practitioner or build your own team of holistic practitioners! Reach your optimum health in-person or online. Check out our Get Started page to learn how to work with us!

Your Physical Therapist,




49. healthy-eating/best-nuts-and-seeds-for-arthritis


This information is generalized and intended for educational purposes only. Due to potential individual contraindications, please see your primary care provider before implementing any strategies in these posts



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