Inflammation, Autoimmunity, and Food

What is inflammation? When it’s working right, inflammation is the body’s response to injury and unwanted invaders like viruses and bacteria. The extra fluid that rushes to an injury contains healing cells, dilutes toxins, prevents you from moving an injured joint so you don’t make the injury worse, and helps to repair damaged cells. This article from Prevention can tell you a bit more about why inflammation can be a good thing.

Sometimes inflammation occurs in the absence of a viable threat from injury or disease, however. This is when inflammation is not working right. Autoimmune diseases are disorders of the immune system when your body attacks otherwise healthy cells. Here are a few examples of autoimmune diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis is when the body attacks and causes inflammation in your joints; Vasculitis is a group of diseases that attack blood vessels; Guillain-Barre syndrome is when the body attacks nerves controlling muscles; and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is when the body attacks the cells that produce thyroid hormone. Many autoimmune diseases are treated at the source, that is, an attempt to lessen the autoimmune response is made in order to manage the disease. Usually this means suppressing the immune system in some way, which can lead to other problems and cause you to be more susceptible to infections. Here’s a starting point for learning more about autoimmune diseases from WebMD.

With my autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the autoimmune response is largely ignored by general medicine, and only the imbalance of thyroid hormone is treated. The trouble I have with this is that there are “normal” levels of the various hormones involved with the thyroid, but “normal” does not always mean you feel normal. With this disease, and with hypo- or hyperthyroidism in general, many doctors will not prescribe treatment until the thyroid dysfunction causes “abnormal” hormone levels. 90% of hypothyroidism is caused by autoimmune disease (nearly all from Hashimoto’s), but (I’ll say it again) the cause of the hormone imbalance is generally left untreated. This leads many of us to figure out how to reduce our symptoms on our own.

So, since we know inflammation is bad in this case, why not try to reduce overall inflammation through our diets and exercise? There are a lot of people out there who assert that all people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis should avoid gluten altogether, whether there is a digestive intolerance to foods containing gluten or not. There are also a lot of people out there who say avoiding gluten or not has no effect whatsoever on their symptoms. Others say they need to stick to the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, which is highly restrictive. Obviously there is some connection between diet and reduction of symptoms caused by autoimmunity, so I’m all for making changes that will fit into my lifestyle in order to feel better. There are also people who say in order to reduce inflammation, you have to reduce stress, so they recommend exercise such as yoga and pilates. Others say high intensity interval training is more effective in reducing overall inflammation. That tells me to make sure I get a variety of exercise in on a regular basis, including high intensity and low intensity workouts that include cardio, strength training, and stretching.

Here are some foods (in no particular order) you should be sure to eat if you want to reduce inflammation and try to ward off symptoms of too much inflammation in your body:

  1. Blueberries
  2. Leafy Greens
  3. Pineapple
  4. Bok Choy
  5. Walnuts
  6. Beets
  7. Broccoli
  8. Bone Broth
  9. Celery
  10. Coconut Oil
  11. Ginger
  12. Turmeric
  13. Flaxseed

Here are some foods (in no particular order) to avoid that can increase inflammation:

  1. Excess processed sugar
  2. Dairy
  3. Trans fats
  4. Alcohol
  5. Wheat

Regarding exercise, one program in particular jumps to my mind when thinking of workout programs that might help fight inflammation based on all the information I’ve been reading. That workout is PiYo. PiYo combines Pilates and yoga with elements of dance and martial arts. There’s plenty of strength training, stretching, and cardio. Maybe best of all, there is no jumping with PiYo! I think this will be my next program once I finish up Country Heat in about a week. It’s a 60 day program, which will take me into spring, which means warmer weather and clothes I don’t quite fit into right now. PiYo is included in the new All-Access Beachbody On Demand Annual Pass (special pricing only through the end of February!). If you want to join me in trying out this program, head to Challenge Group Info and I’ll contact you within 24 hours, or head to this link to get your All-Access Challenge Pack!

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