Inflammation: What Causes It and How Can You Reduce It?By Elisa - Jenny Craig Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, R.D.
Ouch! If you’ve ever stubbed your toe or gotten a paper cut, you’ve experienced inflammation: It’s your body’s natural response to an injury or infection.1 Without inflammation, your body wouldn’t be able to heal wounds or fight off illness. But there can be too much of a good thing. Chronic inflammation — when your body experiences inflammation for a prolonged period — is linked to serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.2
So what causes inflammation and how can you reduce it? We tapped Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian, Briana Rodriquez, to find out.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s immune system response and natural defense mechanism against infections, injuries and toxins.3 When your body comes in contact with a harmful toxin or becomes injured, your body’s white blood cells spring into action to help your body heal. There are two different types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Photo on iStock by NickyLloyd
Acute inflammation comes on quickly but only lasts for a short amount of time — like your body’s response to a paper cut. You’ll likely experience swelling, redness and pain. But these symptoms typically disappear within a few hours to days.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, lasts for an extended time after the initial immune response fails to resolve the problem.2
What causes inflammation?
While acute inflammation is typically caused by a single incident — like a cut or an infection — chronic inflammation happens when your body continues to release white blood cells, usually when an acute injury persists or when your body perceives something as an ongoing threat.
For example, having too much visceral fat (the type found around your abdomen that puts pressure on your organs) can trigger chronic inflammation. According to Harvard Health, your body recognizes the excess visceral fat cells as a threat and will send white blood cells to attack them.4 The longer you carry around the extra weight, the longer your body will continually fight the perceived attack.
Other factors that may contribute to chronic inflammation include:3
- Chronic stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Symptoms of chronic inflammation
Unlike acute inflammation, where symptoms are easily recognized (redness, swelling, etc.), symptoms associated with chronic inflammation aren’t always apparent. However, research indicates people with chronic inflammation may experience the following:5
- Body pain
- Mood fluctuations; anxiety
- Digestive problems
- Weight gain/loss
Why is chronic inflammation bad?
Although its role in disease progression is unclear, chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer.6
How can you reduce inflammation?
The good news is that by focusing on certain lifestyle factors, you can reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body, naturally. We spoke with Briana Rodriquez, Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian, to learn more.
1. Focus on your diet
“Eating a balanced diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables is one of the best things you can do to fight inflammation,” Rodriquez explains. “Antioxidants found in certain foods can help fight oxidative stress, which can trigger inflammation.” Here are some of the top foods she recommends eating and avoiding.
Photo by Jonathan Ybema on Unsplash
Anti-inflammatory foods to eat:7
- Green leafy vegetables. Excellent choices include spinach, kale and romaine lettuce. Leafy greens are packed with vitamin K, and research indicates that a higher intake of this vitamin may be associated with lower levels of inflammation.8
- Berries. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries — pick your favorite! Berries contain a compound called anthocyanins which give them their bright color. Anthocyanins are also purported to have anti-inflammatory effects in people.9
- Nuts. Walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds all contain beneficial antioxidants.10 Just be sure to monitor your portion sizes if your goals include weight loss, Rodriquez notes. Check out this handy visual guide for a few tips.
- Fish. Salmon, mackerel and tuna are all great options. Fatty fish contain omega-3s, which have been linked to a reduction in inflammatory-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis when included in a balanced diet.11
- Whole grains. Think whole-wheat bread, brown rice and quinoa. These types of grains have been linked to a healthy gut microbiome, which may help keep inflammation in check.12
- Herbs and spices. Cinnamon, ginger and turmeric are just a few examples of some of the best anti-inflammatory herbs.13 Amp up the flavor in your next dish with one of these 10 fresh herbs.
Now that you know some of the top foods to eat, here are some of the foods Rodriquez recommends to avoid.
Inflammatory foods to avoid:14
- Fried foods. Doughnuts, french fries, fried chicken and the like all contain trans fats which can increase LDL cholesterol (learn the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol) and inflammation.15
- Sugar-laden drinks. From soda and sports drinks to sweetened coffee and teas — sugary beverages are loaded with empty calories. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that drinking just one soda a day with 40 grams of sugar led to an increase in inflammatory markers and weight gain.16
- Refined carbs. White bread, white rice and pasta are all considered refined carbs. Eating too many refined carbohydrates can lead to an increase in inflammation throughout the body.17 Learn more about the difference between simple and complex carbs here.
Photo by Emmy Smith on Unsplash
2. Lose weight if you’re overweight
If you’re overweight or obese (click here to find out your BMI), research suggests that weight loss can reduce inflammation throughout your body.18 “Since excess energy stored in your body can trigger an inflammatory response, reducing your weight can help normalize those levels,” Rodriquez says.
The best way to lose weight? Rodriquez suggests focusing on your diet first. “Eat plenty of vegetables and nutritious foods,” she says. “You don’t have to spend hours exercising to get the results you want. Start with your diet, then work in some activity to supplement your efforts.” (See the 80/20 rule for weight loss).
Want some more weight loss tips? Try these 11 ways to eat healthy at home.
3. Manage stress
In today’s busy world, stress is often a part of our everyday lives. But chronic stress can contribute to inflammation, so it’s important to monitor your stress levels.19 Try these quick tips to de-stress:
Take a deep breath. Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that focuses on breathing from your belly instead of your chest and has been found to reduce stress, stabilize blood sugar levels and support overall health.20 Learn more about diaphragmatic breathing and how you can try it at home.
Take a few minutes for yourself. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or 10 minutes before bed, carve out some time to do something just for you. Savor a cup of coffee, do some gentle stretches, listen to your favorite podcast, or get lost in a book.
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Try yoga. The benefits of yoga go beyond stress management: Yoga has been found to lower blood pressure and your heart rate.21 Stretching your muscles and moving your body doesn’t just feel good, it’s also a great way to relax and unwind. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Yoga to get started.
4. Sneak in some exercise
One reason to get your heart pumping daily: Research shows that just 20 minutes of exercise could have anti-inflammatory effects.22
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. Sound like a lot? Break it up! You can do 20 minutes of moderate walking in the morning, followed by a quick yoga class or strength training routine in the evening.
Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise to get moving!
Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash
5. Quit smoking
Smoking doesn’t just cause inflammation throughout your body,23 it’s also a risk factor of severe illness from coronavirus. Regardless if you smoke or vape, ditching the habit now could help improve inflammatory markers throughout your body fairly quickly. In fact, within 2-12 weeks of quitting, you could also see improvements in your blood circulation and in your taste and smell.24
Now that you know what can cause inflammation and what may reduce it, you’re well equipped to start making healthier choices. If you need help when it comes to improving your diet, we can help! Check out Jenny Craig’s healthy meal plans starting at just $12.99 a day. View plans now.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig