Do you find yourself angry and irritable more often than you’d like? Does your mood swing out of control at certain times of day? While larger issues could be at play, the cause of your increase in agitation and aggression could be your diet. Let’s take a look at the foods that are most likely responsible for an increase in aggression:
Studies have shown that consumption of trans fats interrupts fat metabolism in the brain, leading to aggressive behaviors. To be specific, trans fats interfere with omega-3 fatty acid metabolism. Since the standard American diet already lacks in omega-3s (in favor of omega-6s), this throws the body way out of whack, which manifests as anger and anxiety. Additionally, trans fats cause inflammation in the body, which isn’t going to do anything to improve your mood. Ditch the Crisco and opt for whole foods instead.
Liquid stimulation! Coffee is one of the most stimulating foods you can put into your body, which can be both beneficial and detrimental. When you drink too much coffee (an amount which is different for everyone since we all tolerate coffee differently), it can induce an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. This is because caffeine blocks calming adenosine receptors, which allows other, more active and energetic neurotransmitters to take hold and flood you with energy. Unfortunately, because of this, too much coffee can turn small annoyances into high agitation and crankiness. That being said, too little coffee when you’re addicted can lead to withdrawal crankiness as well. Try to nix your addiction to coffee and enjoy caffeine as a treat every other day to keep your moods more stabilized.
Too few carbs
We all know that dieting can make you more cranky and aggressive than usual. Ridding yourself of an addiction to certain foods can be a good thing, but if you aren’t giving your body the nutrients it needs, you’re not going to feel great. Consuming too few carbohydrates, as is common in some Paleo dieters, may cause your mood to steadily deteriorate. Some of us, especially some women, may not thrive on ultra low-carb diets. Pay attention to your energy levels. If you’re low-carb and you feel sluggish, cranky and tired all the time, you probably aren’t eating enough carbohydrates. Your bad mood is your body just trying to tell you what it needs.
Too much sugar
Have you ever eaten a giant cookie and felt absolutely horrible afterwards? Have you, as is natural when you are feeling horrible, become steadily crankier with those around you? Yeah, that’s because you’ve consumed way too much sugar. This is especially apparent in children. Ever notice the post-sugar crash tantrum? Spikes in insulin levels directly affect our moods. Regulating your blood sugar by avoiding excess sugar and eating foods rich in protein, fat and fiber can help to regulate aggressive moods.
For some people, an unfortunate side effect of artificial sweeteners is anger and aggression. While the mechanism that causes this isn’t exactly clear, agitation is clearly associated with artificial sweetener consumption in some. If you’re going to eat something sweet, opt for natural sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup, instead of filling your body with artificial replacements.
While the aforementioned foods can be anger-inducing, certain foods can have a calming effect on your outlook and behavior. Mango and lemon both contain a compound called linalool, which promotes lower levels of stress and anxiety when inhaled. Many teas are also extremely calming, especially those lacking caffeine, like chamomile. And, of course we cannot forget—drumroll—dark chocolate. One bite of good chocolate makes you realize that the universe isn’t so bad after all.
Overall, keeping a consistently healthy, wholesome, moderate diet will help to keep your moods balanced. Pay attention to what you eat. If you feel consistently off when you eat a certain food, try not eating it for a while. Your diet should make you feel good, not grumpy.
We often think of the heart and brain as being completely separate from each other. After all, your heart and brain are located in different regions of your body, and cardiology and neurology are separate disciplines. Yet these organs are intimately connected, and when your emotions adversely affect your brain, your heart is affected as well.
The negative impact of emotions when your heart is already vulnerable
There are two kinds of stress that impact your brain. Helpful stress (also known as eustress) can assist you with getting things done by helping you focus your attention. Unhelpful stress (distress), on the other hand, can be so severe that it can lead to fatigue and heart disease.
If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), your heart may be deprived of oxygen. This deprivation, called myocardial ischemia, can occur in as many as 30% to 50% of all patients with CAD. It can be further exacerbated by emotional stress. In fact, if you have any type of heart disease, any strong emotion such as anger may also cause severe and fatal irregular heart rhythms. Expressions like “died from fright” and “worried to death” are not just hyperbole — they are physiologic possibilities. Furthermore, when patients with newly diagnosed heart disease become depressed, that depression increases the risk that a harmful heart-related event will occur within that year.
The negative impact of emotions when you have no heart disease
Of course, stress can have a big effect on your heart even if you don’t have heart disease. Here’s just one example: In 1997, cardiologist Lauri Toivonen and colleagues conducted a study of EKG changes in healthy physicians before and during the first 30 seconds of an emergency call. They saw changes that indicated oxygen deprivation and abnormal heart rhythms.
More recent studies have also observed these changes in the setting of with stress, anxiety, and depression — all of which are, of course, brain-based conditions. Even in people with no prior heart disease, major depression doubles the risk of dying from heart-related causes.
Cardiac psychology: Tending to your emotions for your heart’s sake
It is important to control your worry and stress, not just because you will worry less and feel better, but because less worry means less stress for your heart. This applies to the entire range of stressors, from a small episode of acute panic to a larger context such as living through a natural disaster. For all the reasons outlined above, a new emotion-based approach to heart health, called cardiac psychology, is receiving increasing interest.
You really can change your brain and get a healthier heart in the process. Here are some ways to get started:
- Seek professional help. Don’t ignore stress, anxiety, depression, excessive worry, or bouts of anger that overwhelm your life. Seek professional help. If you meet criteria for a diagnosis, treatment can help reduce symptoms, thereby protecting your brain and your heart.
- Available treatments in cardiac psychology. Aside from more traditional psychiatric treatment and exercise, psycho-educational programs, educational training, stress management, biofeedback, counseling sessions, and relaxation techniques should all be considered before or after a heart-related event. Newer treatments such as acceptance and commitment therapy and expressive writing can also be helpful.
- Exercise. Physical exercise can help you have a healthier heart and brain — in the right doses. For example, many recent studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercise can help you be more mentally nimble by helping you think faster and more flexibly. Even frail older adults have improved their thinking and overall psychological well-being from exercising for one hour, three times a week. And people in rehabilitation after being diagnosed with heart failure report clearer thinking when their fitness levels improve.As clinical research scientist Michelle Ploughman commented, “exercise is brain food.” Various types of aerobic exercise, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have all been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and to improve self-esteem. This is thought to be due to an increase in blood circulation in the brain, and the fact that exercise can improve the brain’s ability to react to stress.
A starting point for better brain — and heart — health
If you struggle with stress, anger, anxiety, worry, depression, or problems with self-esteem, talk to your primary care physician — or a cardiologist, if you have one. A consultation with a psychiatrist may be very helpful. Together, you can explore which of these potential therapies might best protect your psychological state, your brain, and your heart.
Erin Newman August 11, 2015
The more we learn about disease, the more we start to realize that there is no separation of body from mind. Treating just the symptoms of a disease does us no good if we are not also changing our mental outlook. For instance, depressed patients with any type of disease, recover more slowly and have worse health outcomes than optimistic patients.
Scientists have also now seen enough cases of “broken heart syndrome,” often brought on by the death of a spouse, that we now have a medical term for it: stress-induced cardiomyopathy. All of this should give us cause for hope, though. It means that we can take charge of our own health, and that we can learn ways to prevent disease in our lives.
It is our mental and physical health, and not our genes, that carries the most weight in determining our health outcomes. To quote Craig Venter, a pioneer in genomic research,
“Everybody talks about the genes that they received from their mother and father, for this trait or the other. But in reality, those genes have very little impact on life outcomes. Our biology is way too complicated for that and deals with hundreds of thousands of independent factors. Genes are absolutely not our fate. They can give us useful information about the increased risk of a disease, but in most cases they will not determine the actual cause of the disease, or the actual incidence of somebody getting it. Most biology will come from the complex interaction of all the proteins and cells working with environmental factors, not driven directly by the genetic code.”
And as one recent study affirms, 90 to 95 percent of cancer is preventable with lifestyle changes, and one of the largest (and as yet least understood) is our mental disposition.
Releasing Anger: The key to prevention?
One study of over 160 women with breast cancer found a significant association between health and the suppression of emotions, most commonly anger. Another study concluded that suppression of anger may have a direct impact on mortality, including deaths from cancer. And yet another study determined that “Emotion-focused coping strategies were significantly associated with survival.”
All of which just means that if we want to live long and healthy lives, we’ve got to learn to express our anger and other emotions.
Ways to tell that you may be suppressing anger or other emotions:
• People tell you that you are always smiling and happy.
• You often feel as if you can’t say no.
• You feel overwhelmed and tense.
• You no longer know what makes you happy, only what makes others happy.
• You worry often about the past or future
• Overeating, drinking, medicating, shopping, or other addictive behaviors
Women, especially, have been taught at an early age that it’s not okay to display anger. “Just who do you think you are, missy?” we might have heard, or later, we might have gotten the distinct message that we don’t want to be seen as a witch with a capital “B.” We may then mask this emotion with a happy face, or by eating, drinking, medications, or other ways to numb the emotion.
What’s behind the anger?
Often, we may not even know that we are angry about something. We might not hear the words that run through our minds about an incident or a person who’s angered us. And, while we may not want to admit it, or may not even recognize it on a conscious level, our anger is usually a mask for other, even less comfortable emotions. Sadness, shame, guilt or regret are often at the heart of our anger at another. These emotions may be even harder to recognize and discover, but when we get down to this level of emotions, then we can really clear them out and make way for love and joy.
Ways of handling anger:
Expressing or handling our anger doesn’t mean venting to others –either at the person that we are angry with or another. We must express the anger in a safe and loving way that allows us to acknowledge the anger and then work through it.
Journaling: Daily journaling is one of the most powerful ways to get in touch with your subconscious mind (which is where many of these suppressed thoughts and emotions may be lurking). This is not a “here’s what I did today” type of journal, but instead a “ this is what’s bothering me” type of journal. Clearly express everything on your mind, including just how you really and truly feel towards a person, whether that be your spouse, your child, a friend, or a parent. Many people worry that others might read their journal; if this is you, burn or shred the paper after writing. (Believe me, you won’t ever want to go back and read it!) I find (and many recommend) that journaling works best in the morning, when your mind hasn’t had time to fill itself up with thoughts of the day yet.
Loving our anger: Part of suppressing emotions is the idea that we should not be feeling a certain way at all, or that we would like for that feeling or thought to go away and leave us alone. If we can instead acknowledge that the feeling or thought is part of us, and allow it to be seen, then it will no longer have as much power to hurt us. Best yet, once we acknowledge the feeling or emotion, we can then direct love to that place in our bodies where we most feel the emotion. (This also seems to work best in the mornings, too, in a space that you can be quiet and still. But if that doesn’t work, then lunch breaks or evenings can be a good time, also.)
If these methods sound too tough or unrealistic, or just something that you can’t fit into your life, then it may help to speak to a professional who can help you to discover your inner emotions. We owe it to ourselves and to the people who love us to live the most emotionally rich and healthy lives as possible!
08/10/2015 Brianna Wiest
Every generation has a “monoculture” of sorts, a governing pattern or system of beliefs that people unconsciously accept as “truth.” It’s easy to identify the monoculture of Germany in the 1930s, or America in 1776. It’s clear what people at those times, in those places, accepted to be “good” and “true” even when in reality, that was certainly not always the case.
The objectivity required to see the effects of present monoculture is very difficult to maintain (once you have so deeply accepted an idea as ‘truth’ it doesn’t register as ‘cultural’ or ‘subjective’ anymore) … but it’s crucial. So much of our inner turmoil is simply the result of conducting a life we don’t inherently agree with, because we have accepted an inner narrative of “normal” and “ideal” without ever realizing.
The fundamentals of any given monoculture tend to surround how to live your best life, how to live a better life, and what’s most worth living for (nation, religion, self, etc.) and there are a number of ways in which our current system has us shooting ourselves in the feet as we try to step forward. Simply, there are a few fundamentals on happiness, decision making, instinct following and peace finding that we don’t seem to understand.
So here, eight of the daily behaviors and unconscious habits that are keeping you from the life you really want.
1. You believe that creating your best possible life is a matter of deciding what you want and then going after it, but in reality, you are psychologically incapable of being able to predict what will make you happy.
Your brain can only perceive what it’s known, so when you choose what you want for the future, you’re actually just re-creating a solution or an ideal of the past. Ironically, when said ideas don’t come to fruition (things never look the way we think they will) you suffer, because you think you’ve failed, when really, you’re most likely experiencing something better than you could have chosen for yourself at the time. (Moral of the story: Living in the moment isn’t a lofty ideal reserved for the zen and enlightened, it’s the only way to live a life that isn’t infiltrated with illusions… it’s the only thing your brain can actually comprehend.)
2. You extrapolate the present moment because you believe that success is somewhere you “arrive,” so you are constantly trying to take a snapshot of your life and see if you can be happy yet.
You accidentally convince yourself that any given moment is your life, when in reality, it is a moment in your life. Because we’re wired to believe that success is somewhere we get to – when goals are accomplished and things are completed – we’re constantly measuring our present moments by how “finished” they are, how good the story sounds, how someone else would judge the summary. (If at any point you find yourself thinking: “is this all there is?” you’re forgetting that everything is transitory. There is nowhere to “arrive” at. The only thing you’re rushing toward is death. Accomplishing goals is not success. How much you learn and enjoy and expand in the process of doing them is.)
3. You assume that when it comes to following your “gut instincts,” happiness is “good,” and fear and pain is “bad.”
When you consider doing something that you truly love and are invested in, you are going to feel an influx of fear and pain, mostly because it will involve being vulnerable. When it comes to making decisions, you have to know that bad feelings are not deterrents. They are indicators that you want to do something, but it scares you (which are the things most worth doing, if you ask me). Not wanting to do something would make you feel indifferent about it. Fear = interest.
4. You needlessly create problems and crises in your life because you’re afraid of actually living it.
The pattern of unnecessarily creating crisis in your life is actually an avoidance technique. It distracts you from actually having to be vulnerable or held accountable or whatever it is you’re afraid of. You’re never upset for the reason you think you are: at the core of your desire to create a problem is simply the fear of being who you are, and living the life you want.
5. You think that to change your beliefs, you have to adopt a new line of thinking, rather than seek experiences that make that thinking self-evident.
A belief is what you know to be true because experience has made it evident to you. If you want to change your life, change your beliefs. If you want to change your beliefs, go out and have experiences that make them real to you. Not the opposite way around.
6. You think “problems” are road blocks to achieving what you want, when in reality, they are pathways.
If you haven’t heard it before, Marcus Aurelius sums this up well: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Ryan Holiday explains it even more gracefully: “The obstacle is the way.” Simply, running into a “problem” forces you to take action to resolve it. That action leads you down the path you had ultimately intended to go anyway, as the only “problems” in your life ultimately come down to how you resist who you are and how your life naturally unfolds.
7. You think your past defines you, and worse, you think that it is an unchangeable reality, when really, your perception of it changes as you do.
Because experience is always multi-dimensional, there are a variety of memories, experiences, feelings, “gists” you can choose to recall… and what you choose is indicative of your present state of mind. So many people get caught up in allowing the past to define them, or haunt them, simply because they have not evolved to the place of seeing how the past did not prevent them from achieving the life they want… it facilitated it (see: the obstacle is the way). This doesn’t mean to disregard or gloss over painful or traumatic events, but simply to be able to recall them with acceptance and to be able to place them in the storyline of your personal evolution.
8. You try to change other people, situations and things (or you just complain/get upset about them) when anger = self-recognition.
Most negative emotional reactions are you identifying a disassociated aspect of yourself. Your “shadow selves” are the parts of you that, at some point, you were conditioned to believe were “not okay,” so you suppressed them and have done everything in your power not to acknowledge them. You don’t actually dislike these parts of yourself, though, you absolutely love them. So when you see somebody else displaying one of these traits, it absolutely infuriates you, not because you inherently dislike it, but because you have to fight your desire to fully integrate it into your whole consciousness. The things you love about others are the things you love about yourself. The things you hate about others are the things you cannot see in yourself.
Michael Miller, MD, has seen firsthand how the power of positive emotions can help our hearts get and stay healthy.
By Michael Miller, MD with Catherine Knepper from Heal Your Heart
Also in Reader’s Digest Magazine March 2015
One of my favorite moments as a physician occurs when, with a very somber look, I inform patients that there’s one thing they absolutely must do in order to make a successful recovery after a cardiac event: Go home and laugh until they cry.
You see, we now know that there’s far more to maintaining heart health and reversing heart disease than diet, exercise, and cholesterol levels. The latest research indicates that stress, and an inability to deal with it, is a direct contributor to heart disease. For example, a study involving nearly 250,000 people found that anxiety was associated with a 26 percent increase in coronary heart disease over an 11-year period.
Anger and hostility rank at the top of the list of heart-harmful emotions. Harvard Medical School researchers recently found that 40 percent of patients who suffered a heart attack reported significant anger within the previous year, and roughly 8 percent of that group reported that they felt rage within two hours of heart attack symptoms.
But while studies reveal a great deal about the harm that negative emotions deliver to the heart, they also clearly demonstrate the amazing healing power of positive emotions. In my 25 years as a cardiologist performing clinical trials and treating patients, I’ve seen firsthand how we can harness optimism, confidence, laughter, social connections, and relaxation to help our hearts get and stay healthy.
Deep belly laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which activate receptors in our blood vessels’ linings that signal the production of nitric oxide. This powerful chemical causes blood vessel dilation, increases blood flow, reduces vascular inflammation and buildup of cholesterol plaque, and decreases platelet stickiness, which lowers the risk of blood clots.
In an early study, my team saw that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to use humor in an uncomfortable situation, such as having a waiter spill a drink on them, than people with healthy hearts. In another study, when we asked people to watch a clip from Saving Private Ryan or There’s Something About Mary, we found that participants’ blood vessels were narrowing by up to 50 percent during the stress-inducing clip, while vessel dilation in people who watched a funny clip increased 22 percent. After just 15 minutes of laughing, volunteers got the same vascular benefit as they would from spending 15 to 30 minutes at the gym or taking a daily statin.
Cue the Music
Medical science is now proving what people have known for hundreds of years: that music is deeply healing. In one study, researchers found that listening to music 25 minutes daily for four weeks resulted in a 12 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 5 mm Hg decrease in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). Results like these are equivalent to the benefit of taking a strong blood pressure medication.
The calming effect of music is so powerful that listening to relaxing music before cardiac surgery was more effective at reducing stress than a sedative medication. And a group who listened to music after surgery fared better than patients who received the sedative. One theory is that music acts directly on the body’s autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for heart rate and blood pressure.
During childhood visits to the doctor, I remember feeling that everything would be fine when my pediatrician would place his hand on my upper shoulder as he listened to my lungs. Early in my training, I did the same thing to my patients. Several studies support the idea that interpersonal touch has important heart-health benefits. In one study, women who received frequent hugs from their partner showed reduced heart rates and blood pressure as well as higher levels of the powerful neurotransmitter oxytocin, which leads to blood vessel dilation.
By Carolanne Wright Contributing Writer for Wake Up World 6th February 2015
Stress is such a common occurrence in our daily lives that we have come to the point where we barely question its presence. And yet, when we ignore these heightened states of pressure, our physical, mental and emotional health suffers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Taking a cue from those who are cool under fire, we can transform our daily experience into one that is productive, relaxed and actually enjoyable.
Danger signs of stress
According to the Mayo Clinic, chronic stress leads to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, as well as:
– Over or under eating
– Lack of focus
– Loss of libido
– Social withdrawal
Since stress also suppresses the immune system, we are more prone to colds and influenza along with cancer. Risk of stroke increases too. Thankfully, we can break this damaging cycle with a few lifestyle adjustments.
Find your center
Michelle Carlstrom, senior director of the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins University, observes that centering practices like meditation, prayer or focusing on the breath “help a person push pause, reflect and try to stay in that moment to reduce racing thoughts and reduce interruptions. . . . I believe any strategy that aims to do that absolutely reduces stress.” Even just a few minutes of centering each day can encourage an unruffled orientation.
Research has shown that using techniques which inspire positive mental states, such as appreciation and gratitude, reduce health destroying cortisol by 23 percent while increasing health promoting DHEA.
A study published in the journal Integrated Psychological and Behavioral Science found “DHEA was significantly and positively related to the affective state warmheartedness, whereas cortisol was significantly and positively related to stress effects … The results suggest that techniques designed to eliminate negative thought loops can have important positive effects on stress, emotions and key physiological systems.”
People who are calm get the recommended amount of sleep each night, between 7-8 hours. Many also take naps, recognizing the habit reduces cortisol and boosts productivity as well as creativity. Just make sure a midday snooze is kept under 30 minutes.
When stress hits, those who manage it well tend to spend time with family and friends. Socializing helps reduce tension and anxiety, while buffering negative effects. Calstrom recommends blowing off steam with close friends, workmates or family when life becomes too tense.
“It’s important to realize that everyone is functioning at a really fast pace but carrying a lot of stressors,” notes Carlstrom. “Pause, count to 10, and say ‘Is this something I need to tackle? How significant is this going to be in three months?’ Ask yourself questions to frame it and get perspective. Find out if this stress is real or if it’s perceived.”
Use vacation time
Besides increasing overall productivity and job satisfaction, taking a break and going on vacation can keep stress levels under control. Holiday trips have been shown to lower blood pressure, improve immunity and even extend lifespan.
By taking an email sabbatical, we can dramatically lower our level of stress. A study at the University of Irvine in California discovered a break from email significantly lowered worker’s stress and increased focus. Backing away from the computer also allows for more enjoyment of stress relieving, pleasurable activities.
AUGUST 27, 2014
1. Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.
2. Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized.
3. Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.
4. If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
5. A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.
6. Love is a better teacher than duty.
7. If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
8. No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
9. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
10. Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
11. It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
12. Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.
13. Force always attracts men of low morality.
14. Everything should be as simple as it is, but not simpler.
15. A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
16. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
17. A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.
18. It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.
19. Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.
20. Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
21. Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
22. Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
23. Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.
24. Information is not knowledge.
25. Never lose a holy curiosity.
BY DR. JOEL KAHN JULY 8, 2013
Regular readers of MindBodyGreen are aware that a process in our bodies called inflammation is involved in many aspects of human health and disease. For example, you may have read that a breakfast of Egg McMuffins, sleep apnea, obesity and ultra-exercise are inflammatory, while turmeric, meditation and the Mediterranean diet are anti-inflammatory, and so on. Lost in the search for vitality and longevity is an understanding of what inflammation is and what can be done to tame it. In many ways, inflammation is a Goldilocks process – you don’t want too much or too little, but just the right amount.
When I explain inflammation to patients, I point out that the middle of the word is “flame,” and that it comes from the Latin “I ignite.” Inflammation is a complex process of cells and chemicals in our bodies standing ready to fight infections and other threats, and is a life saver when it’s a controlled reaction to a threat. For example, you may experience inflammation when you’re working on your deck and get a wood splinter. Maybe a mosquito lands on your back and enjoys some of your blood (hopefully full of fresh green juice!). Maybe you sprained your ankle when your perfect yoga hand stand came crashing down.
Over 2,000 years ago, the signs of acute inflammation were described as including pain, warmth, redness and swelling. This “first responder” wave of healing occurs because cells in the area are surveying their environment all the time with detectors on their surface that act much like radar watching for invaders. These detectors are called pattern recognition receptors (PRR). If a PRR detects something that has a “foreign” structure – a pathogen-associated molecular pattern, or PAMP – it will ring the fire alarm internally in the cell and surrounding blood vessels.
Chemicals begin to pour out that cause blood vessels to dilate (redness, warmth and swelling); others increase the sensitivity to pain, and the next thing you know, your ankle or finger is a hot, red, sore mess. These chemicals attract white blood cells that begin to clean up the area by engulfing foreign proteins. Enough white blood cells clumped together is called pus. After a period of increased blood flow, helping to dilute the irritant and bringing fighters to the scene, other factors that promote clotting are released and work to balance and decrease the blood flow. This is what happens when you scrape your knee and it weeps for a while but then scabs over.
Some of the star chemicals involved in this process deserve a shout-out. Histamine is waiting to be released when an injury occurs, and causes arteries to expand and leak fluid (think of an antihistamine pill drying up your nose). Interleukins, such as IL-8, come from macrophages (“big eaters” in Greek, ready to swallow substances sensed as foreign) and bring their best friends: white blood cells. The white cells arrive to fight for your recovery because chemical attractants – sort of a white blood cell perfume – are released. Tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) also is released from macrophage cells, and may produce fever and loss of appetite. Nitric oxide is a gas released by the inner lining of blood cells and can be dumped out to increase blood flow when an injury occurs.
While inflammation is a protector of our health when it’s an acute response, chronic inflammation is a different story. A diverse group of medical illness are believed to be caused in part by chronic activation of the same chemical and cellular processes described above. These include asthma, acne, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even atherosclerosis of heart arteries. In fact, in 1856 Rudolf Virchow proposed that arterial disease was an inflammation of blood vessels and now, over 150 years later, people who fear heart disease are routinely checked for this process.
So how does a natural, acute response become a chronic condition? Some of the reasons include injury to the gut (leaky gut syndrome) from processed foods, trans fats, sugars, alcohol, gluten and dairy allergies, toxins, ultra-exercise, obesity, inadequate sleep, and excessive stress and anger.
What can you do to keep your balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory reactions in the “Goldilocks” position? There are foods that you can add daily to your meals that cool down inflammation, such as ginger, turmeric, basil and rosemary. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and small amounts of olive oil, can do the same. Avoiding processed foods, dairy, wheat and sugar are also good strategies. Nutritional supplements, such as vitamin D3, omega-3 fish oil, probiotics, turmeric capsules, and boswellia can be helpful. Avoiding toxins such as pesticides and GMO foods by selecting organic products, taking care to choose skin and personal use products that do not contain irritant chemicals, and drinking purified water are solid recommendations. Getting adequate sleep, controlling your weight, and getting regular doses of moderate exercise will help keep you in balance.
Remember, you can use these relatively simple lifestyle choices to keep the flame of inflammation at a low level and not get burned.