By Cathy McNease, Herbalist
One of the biggest predictors of how well we age is the amount of inflammation present in our bodies. The major killer diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, as well as the discomforts of gastritis, arthritis, gingivitis, and the many other –itises, all begin with inflammation. When an organ is inflamed, disease follows. Over time that fire in the tissues or cells can become life threatening. Some of the best cures to reduce inflammation are found in colorful fruits and vegetables. The other vital component to fire reduction is to avoid unhealthy fats, denatured grains, refined sugars, and foods heavy laden in artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives.
In recent years the medical world has awakened to the huge connection between diet and health. One of the measurable factors that your doctor may use to determine disease risks is your level of CRP (C-Reactive Proteins) in the blood. It is now know that this is a more reliable pointer to the possibility of heart disease than merely looking at cholesterol levels. It will also show the amount of inflammation generally present in the body.
Dr Andrew Weil, a brilliant Harvard trained doctor, has created an “Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Pyramid” as a “blueprint for a lifetime of optimum nutrition” (go to drweil.com for the details). My article last month “Eating a Rainbow” outlines many of the beneficial fruits and vegetables that he suggests.
Now for the trouble makers that we all need to limit, or better yet, avoid:
UNHEALTHY FATS: The worst of these are the trans-fats, or hydrogenated oils. These are huge contributors to inflammation and a host of diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Saturated fats, which mostly originate from animals, are the other fire creator. Instead, use oils such as olive oil and sesame oil and include fresh nuts and seeds for their range of healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils. Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and oily fish like salmon and sardines, are all high in the healthy Omega 3 oils which reduce inflammation throughout the body and boost our immunity.
DENATURED GRAINS. Refined wheat berries are stripped of all their healthy bran, fiber and nutrients, and what is left is a white sticky substance that is formed into bread, cookies and cakes. When I was a kid in elementary school, we made glue for crafts from white flour and water. Sound familiar? In our bodies this gummy substance contributes to inflammation due to its lack of fiber to move it through. Strive to make at least half of your grain products whole and unrefined, such as whole wheat bread, rye bread, whole grain pasta, steel cut oats, and brown rice.
REFINED SUGARS. Let’s be honest…sugar is a drug! Most of us are hooked and it is a tough addiction to face down. I know this first hand having grown up on unlimited amounts; as a 60 year old, my inner sugar addict kid still associates sweets with pleasure and comfort. We all know the damage that sugar can do to the teeth over time, but the more serious problem is the amount of inflammation that it creates. Cancer cells thrive in a high sugar environment. The problem is not the unrefined sugar in carrots, beets and cherries, but rather the refined, high calorie-no nutrient, white crystalline substance that causes the trouble. It often takes some training to even recognize the mild sweet flavor in brown rice, chicken and squash.
ARTIFICAL CHEMICAL ADDITIVES. Our liver and kidneys are responsible for protecting us from dangerous chemicals, both endogenous and exogenous. When our diet is heavy laden in artificial chemicals and preservations, the liver and kidneys become overloaded with detoxification and the result is often inflammation. Start reading labels when you go shopping at the grocery store. If the label contains a long list of chemicals that you probably can’t pronounce, better to pass on it. The simpler the ingredient list, the better.
Where do you begin to reduce your inflammation? First, eat more fruits and vegetables. Next, reduce some of the most problematic foods listed above. Then, add some of the following beverage teas to help fight the fire, all of which are available in natural foods grocery stores:
PEPPERMINT LEAF clears inflammation generally, but specifically in the digestive system, liver, lungs, throat, head and eyes. Peppermint oil capsules reduce the burning pain of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
FRESH GINGER ROOT can promote digestion, activate circulation and reduce pain. Lightly simmer 2 or 3 thick slices for 5-10 minutes in a pint of water. Sweeten with honey.
CHRYSANTHEMUM FLOWERS clear fire that causes hypertension, insomnia, headaches and red painful eyes. These are used in Chinese medicine to prevent over heating in Spring and Summer.
CHAMOMILE FLOWERS and HOLY BASIL (TULSI) LEAVES reduce the inflammation that leads to agitated emotions and anxiety and help us to cultivate calmness. My favorite tea is a blend from Organic India called “Sweet Rose Tulsi Tea.” It makes a wonderful heat quenching ice tea, and the scent of roses takes me to a very peaceful rose garden where I delightfully chill out.
Cathy McNease is a nationally certified herbalist with a Diplomate in Chinese Herbology from the NCCAOM, a B.S. in Biology and Psychology from Western Michigan University and two Master Herbalist certificates from Emerson College of Herbology in Canada and East-West Course of Herbology in Santa Cruz.