Winter Blues Inflammation

Inflammation refers to our immune system’s response to any kind of irritant or foreign body, including infections, injuries, and toxins. It is basically our body’s attempt to heal itself by fighting against foreign bodies. Various white blood cells of our body react when the body is invaded by bacteria, viruses, or any outside forces that are harmful to our body. A common sign of inflammation that most of us are aware of is a wound swelling up, turning red, and hurting. The inflammation is not only seen when bacteria has infected the wound, but immediately when our body is trying to fight against the foreign harmful bodies. Sometimes, our immune system can be triggered even when there are no invaders to protect from. Inflammation is a major symptom in clinical conditions like arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout arthritis, acute bronchitis, sore throat from cold, infected ingrown toenail, etc.

The common symptoms of inflammation are:
• Redness: Due to the additional number of erythrocytes passing through the injury site.
• Swelling/edema: Observed when there is increased fluid flow from permeable dilated vessels into the surrounding tissues, cell intrusion into the damaged area, and also extended inflammation responses of connective tissue.
• Heat (applicable to body’s extremities): Occurs when there is increased flow of blood via dilated vessels into cooler extremities.
• Pain: Occurs when swelling leads to stretching of sensory nerves; the mediators released either during the initial damage or from the inflammatory response also cause pain in the injury site.
• Loss of function: Can be due to swelling and pain, replacement of functional cells with scar tissue. It may include minor mobility loss in the joints and muscle stiffness.

Other symptoms include fatigue/loss of energy, changes in skin color, skin ulcers or blisters, itchiness, etc.

Have you noticed your symptoms flaring up during winter?
Many individuals might have faced this issue. Studies show that the decrease in air pressure/ barometric pressure during the winter leads to worsening of the symptoms. The term, barometric pressure, means the weight of air molecules pressing down on our body. During winter, this decline on barometric pressure causes muscles and its surrounding tissues to expand, hence increasing the inflammation.

Apart from barometric pressure, genes also contribute to our seasonal flare of inflammatory symptoms. Studies show that the ARNTL gene (aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator-like protein 1) is responsible for suppression of inflammation process in mice. This gene is more active in summer, as compared to winter, which means more inflammation, and therefore, the pain in winter.

Food to eat, avoid during inflammation
Food and inflammation are linked together, where some increase or cause inflammation, while others help reduce inflammation and gives relief to the body. It is really important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, with balanced diet and proper hydration, and remain active and warm during the winter to reduce inflammation and the related symptoms. Your diet can reduce the pain and stiffness caused by your arthritis. Oxidants like hydrogen peroxide and superoxide radicals produced during food metabolism can activate the NF-κB pathway, hence promoting inflammation. Therefore, the consumption of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits help in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Some evidence shows that antioxidants may even reverse the proinflammatory responses to meals containing high levels of saturated fat. Some of the foods that help in proper blood circulation, hence promoting the reduction of inflammation, are:
• Whole grains: They have intact fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients that are lost in refined grains.
• Pomegranate: It is quite rich in potent vasodilators like polyphenol antioxidants and nitrates.
• Onions: They contain flavonoid antioxidants that are good for your heart and helps the arteries and veins widen during increased blood flow.
• Citrus fruits: Oranges, grapefruit, lemons, limes, tomatoes, etc. are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids. Flavonoid-rich fruits, like various berries, decrease inflammation and reduce stiffness in the arteries, thus improving blood flow. Almost all the fruits are rich in antioxidants that reduce free radicals.
• Cayenne pepper contains a phytochemical called capsaicin that promotes blood flow and stimulates release of vasodilators like nitric oxide that allows blood to flow easily through the veins. Vasodilators relax the muscles in the walls of the blood vessels and promote circulation this way.
• Fatty fish, nuts and seeds: They are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are metabolized by the body to produce resolvins and protectins, both having anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have also found that consuming salmon, EPA, and DHA supplements reduce the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).
• Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower have antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects. Broccoli, specifically, is rich in sulforaphane, also an antioxidant, which fights inflammation.
• Bell peppers and chili peppers: They are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory effects. Bell peppers provide the antioxidant quercetin, while chili peppers contain sinapic acid and ferulic acid, which reduce inflammation.
• Turmeric: Turmeric, in combination with black pepper, has been shown to cause a significant decrease in inflammatory markers.
• Dark chocolate: It is packed with antioxidants. Flavanols in chocolate are responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect.
• Green tea: It has been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Foods that promote inflammation are high in refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and have less of natural antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, fibers, and other important nutrients. A study done in women in Nurses’ Health Study found that those consuming diet high in refined grains, red and processed meats, sweets, and fried foods had a higher level of inflammatory biomarkers like CRP, IL-6, E-selectin, sVCAM-1, and sICAM-1, as compared to the group consuming a healthy balanced meal. A strong link was observed between trans-fat acid consumption and inflammation. Some of the foods that can exacerbate and worsen your inflammation are:

• Refined starches and sugars: They can affect blood glucose and insulin levels, and postprandial hyperglycemia can increase the free radicals and proinflammatory cytokines. Therefore, limit carbonated drinks, juice, sweets, and anything with high sugar content.
• Dairy: While dairy does have calcium and protein that are beneficial for your bone health, it also has casein, which can cause inflammation. Limit dairy products to get some relief from your arthritis symptoms.
• Fatty foods, especially fast food and fried food: Trans and saturated fat found in fast and fried food can cause inflammation.  Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are a toxin produced by our body on consuming fried foods or foods cooked at high temperature. It damages the protein in your body which activates the immune system.
• Alcohol is a known inflammatory chemical that has even been linked to gout. Limit alcohol consumption. Better yet, cut it out of your life.
• Tobacco: Like alcohol, tobacco is also an inflammatory chemical that has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
• Gluten: Some individuals might not tolerate gluten, hence leading to joint inflammations. Avoid gluten-containing food like wheat, rye, and barley.
• Additives (MSG, Salt, aspartame): Processed and packaged foods contain additives to increase their shelf life. These additives have been linked to inflammation, so it is better to cut processed and packaged food from your diet.

Anti- Inflammatory Sample Menu
Breakfast: Rolled oats with pomegranate and curd. Don’t forget to add seeds and nuts for your extra omega-3s

Lunch: Rice, lentil, broccoli, and tomato chutney with onions and pepper. Add salads, such as lettuce, carrots, and beetroots for extra fiber and polyphenols

Mid-afternoon: One orange and green tea, or any herbal tea
Snacks: Omelette with onions, bell pepper, mushroom, and tomatoes

Dinner: Grilled fish with mashed potato and salads

After dinner: One dark chocolate cube and any herbal tea
Inflammation is common in many conditions, and it might be overwhelming to many individuals when asked to make many lifestyle changes for their condition. However, simple diet changes in synergy with exercise and mindfulness can bring down inflammation in many conditions. Focusing on high servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grain, nuts and seeds, and fatty fishes reduce inflammation, while being mindful about inflammatory food-triggers like refined starch and sweets and food loaded with trans and saturated fat is the key. Along with your diet it is important to follow other healthy habits like being physically active, staying hydrated, sitting in the morning sunlight for 30 minutes if possible.

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