Do you experience inflammation in your joints or muscles and don't really know why?
In the best case scenarios, inflammation is actually designed to help protect your body from germs, injuries or foreign substances that might cause damage.
Unfortunately, the human body can be fickle, and something that didn't upset it one day can cause a flare-up of epic proportions the next. Aside from trauma, there are many things that can contribute to chronic or intermittent inflammation. If you experience swelling, pain and fatigue without an obvious cause, keep reading for six of the most common (and perhaps unexpected) causes of inflammation.
1. Sweet Begets the Sour
The average American eats about 66 pounds of sugar per year per person. No, that's not a typo -- that's about the same as the family's Labrador retriever weighs.
While you may not think too much about the foods you eat containing refined sugars, this sweetly deceptive substance will get you hooked (it releases those feel-good endorphins) and keep you looking for ways to consume more.
Aside from causing pretty serious issues like tooth decay and diabetes, sugar also triggers inflammation throughout the body. This happens when the body pumps out insulin quickly in response to an increase in sugar in the bloodstream. Those tiny Paul Reveres of the immune system known as cytokines call for a full-frontal attack, mistakenly encouraging the body to produce an immune response.
And if joint pain is your problem, sugar is at the top of the list for the worst foods for arthritis.
2. Would You Like a Side of Pain with Those Fries?
You've heard the news about how bad processed foods are for you. Namely, those that are fried.
Processed foods contain all sorts of chemicals (that's a discussion for another time) that can contribute to inflammation, but it's the seemingly innocent vegetable oils they're cooked in that are the real culprit. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly effective in preventing inflammation, but their cranky cousins, Omega-6s, have been linked to inflammation. Oils such as sunflower, peanut, corn and soy contain large amounts of these inflammatory components.
3. Same Old Injury, Brand New Day
Injuries that didn't heal properly can cause inflammation -- not just at the site but throughout the whole body.
How, you might be wondering?
Well, when your body senses something amiss (the old injury) it sends in the troops (cytokines, again) to "take care of that niggling little issue." The only problem is, the body can become hyperactive and the cytokines, being brave but not particularly bright, may misinterpret what's going on and overreact, bringing on a larger-than-necessary immune response that causes a full-on flare-up.
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4. Got Pain? Get Rid of the Gluten
There's a lot of hype about gluten-free diets and almost as much hype about the perils those that adhere to these diets face. Regardless, gluten can be a major contributor to the whole inflammation process.
More and more people are being found to have genuine, bonafide, not-in-their-heads gluten sensitivities. It's possible this has always been an issue that's just more prevalent now due to advanced testing methods.
Regardless of this increase, if you notice you have achy joints or a general feeling of fatigue after eating gluten-rich foods, you may be experiencing gluten-induced inflammation. Gluten is a protein that is essentially broken down into sugars by the body -- sugars that the immune system might mistake for an invading party, prompting all those immune cells to attack.
5. Hit the Sack to Assuage the Swelling
Do you toss and turn all night, only to wake the next morning feeling like you've been hit by a bus?
This isn't a coincidence. Poor sleep and lack of sleep have both been linked with inflammation. C-reactive proteins, especially, become elevated in people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, putting them at risk of inflammation in tissues and joints but also heart disease and stroke.
If you're having trouble sleeping, you may be setting yourself up for both a difficult day ahead and a full-body retaliation in the form of inflammation.
6. Burn, Baby, Burn
That savory singe on your steak may be causing you a good deal of pain and you just don't realize it. Blackened or flame-charred foods such as meat (and even veggies) have been associated with increased levels of inflammation due to their higher content of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-Products).
AGEs essentially latch onto cells and tissues throughout your body. When the immune system's scouts encounter these, they don't really know how to react so -- you guessed it -- they stage an immune system attack. Because these nasty little AGEs are latched on, the body's immune responses also attack the tissues, causing even more inflammation. If you eat a lot of barbecued or blackened food and experience pain, you might want to consider curbing your consumption and replacing these foods with baked, poached or lightly sauteéd versions.
If you suffer from swelling, pain and inflammation, you don't have to suffer -- you have options. Certain foods (aside from those outlined above) can cause inflammatory responses; by the same token, there are foods that you can easily add into your diet that can help combat the symptoms you're experiencing.