Chronic inflammation can negatively affect your health and even accelerate your skin's aging.
That's why we turned to world-renowned integrative-medicine expert Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Knopf, 2005) for advice on how to prevent and reduce harmful inflammation throughout the body.
The basic facts about inflammation in the body
Inflammation is an essential part of the body's healing process: It occurs at the cellular level when the immune system tries to fight off disease-causing germs and repair injured tissue. Inflammation can be invisible (if your body is battling an infection internally) or visible: Hives or pimples, for example, occur when blood vessels dilate near the skin's surface to enhance blood flow, which in turn facilitates healing. Redness, heat and/or swelling can also occur alongside inflammation.
When the fight is over, the army of inflammation-triggering substances is supposed to retreat, but in many cases they don't. This chronic inflammation has been implicated in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even Alzheimer's disease. When the skin is involved, it can accelerate fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores, as well as puffiness, sagging, blotchiness or reddening of the skin.
What to look for
Environmental and lifestyle factors can set off unhealthy inflammation. These include:
> Environmental pollutants Exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke and the sun's ultraviolet light can generate free radicals (highly reactive oxygen molecules), which can in turn produce an inflammatory response in the skin.
> Dietary factors Unhealthy fats -- such as partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils -- may encourage inflammation in the body, as can highly refined carbohydrates like sugary or starchy processed foods.
> Chronic stress Skimping on sleep and being perpetually stressed can alter your body's internal chemistry by revving up the production of cortisol, a hormone that can predispose your body to increased inflammatory damage.
> A family history of inflammation If arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease or autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis run in your family, you're at greater risk for chronic inflammation. Discuss your family history with your doctor.
Keep reading for ways to reduce inflammation to fight back against premature aging and health problems.
[header = Reduce inflammation in the body by dietary changes, staying active and more.]
If you want to prevent chronic inflammation and premature aging of the skin, here are some simple solutions.
- Eat an anti inflammatory diet. This means following a Mediterranean diet, which has plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) from every part of the color spectrum; monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocados; and sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in cold-water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies, as well as walnuts and flaxseed. All these foods have anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, spice up your anti inflammatory diet with ginger or turmeric, which have natural anti-inflammatory effects.
- Look for the right supplements to reduce inflammation. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements that contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E and alpha lipoic acid can help combat the inflammatory damage wrought by free radicals in the body. And if you don't like fish, ask your doctor if it's safe for you to take fish-oil supplements, which contain inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
- Stay physically active to lower inflammation in the body. Getting 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five or more times per week may help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Use beauty products with anti-inflammatory properties to help prevent premature aging. These include topical preparations with vitamins E or C (such as N.V. Perricone M.D. Vitamin C Ester Concentrated Restorative Cream, $90; sephora.com; and dr. brandt C Cream, $58; skinstore.com); these ingredients help block free-radical damage and therefore help prevent premature aging. In addition, skin products that contain mushroom extract, ginger, ginseng and/or alpha lipoic acid may reduce inflammation and protect cell structures. Creams with coenzyme Q-10, a powerful antioxidant, may also help; try Nivea Visage Q10 Advanced Wrinkle Reducer Night Creme ($11; at drugstores).