You’ve probably heard that anti-inflammatory foods are good for you, but why? And how can they help you anyway?
First, it’s important to understand what bodily inflammation is, and why it can be harmful. In fact, there are actually two types: acute and chronic. The former is nothing to get too worked up over. “Acute inflammation is part of healing and is a normal, healthy response to injury or infection,” says registered dietitian Jean LaMantia in an email interview.
Basically, whenever your body recognizes something that is foreign – such as a microbe, pollen or a chemical, it goes to work to get rid of it. It does this by activating your immune system which triggers a process called inflammation. Inflammation helps to get rid of the offending organism.
But sometimes this inflammation continues even when there isn’t a foreign invader. That’s called chronic inflammation.
“Chronic inflammation starts out as acute, but then doesn’t shut off. This creates a new environment at the area of injury, as the inflammatory messengers tell the body’s cells to die off and replace themselves with new cells,” says LaMantia. “With this rapid cell turnover, there is greater likelihood of a cell with a genetic defect to appear.” Chronic inflammation is linked to a higher risk of cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, metabolic syndrome and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), among other problems, she notes.