By Dr. Mercola
Most people want to live a long, healthy life. If that’s something you aspire to, you’d be well advised to keep a careful eye on your insulin sensitivity. It is perhaps one of the best markers for limiting your risk for degenerative diseases that will take you out prematurely.
The reason for this is because insulin resistance lays the foundation for virtually all chronic disease, as it promotes chronic inflammation and speeds up your body’s aging processes.
A recent study1,2 looking at extreme longevity confirms this view, concluding that having very low levels of inflammation in your body is the most potent predictor for living beyond 100 years of age.
Inflammation levels also corresponded to people’s ability to live independently and maintain cognitive function throughout their life.
Chronic inflammation can be the result of a malfunctioning, over-reactive immune system, or it may be due to an underlying problem that your body is attempting to fight off.
But many of these “problems” are actually rooted in an unhealthy (inflammatory) diet and lack of exercise.
How Can You Determine If You Have Chronic Inflammation?
In contrast to acute inflammation, chronic inflammation typically will not produce symptoms until actual loss of function occurs somewhere. This is because chronic inflammation is low-grade and systemic, often silently damaging your tissues over an extended period of time.
This process can go on for years without you noticing, until a disease suddenly sets in. Since chronic inflammation tends to be “silent,” how can you determine if inflammation is brewing in your body?
Clinical tests used in allopathic medicine include:
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test, which measures a protein found in your body that signals responses to any forms of inflammation
- ESR (sed rate) test, which checks for non-specific indicators of inflammation
But you can also use your fasting blood insulin level to gauge inflammation. Although this test is typically used to screen for diabetes, it’s also a marker for inflammation.
Typically the higher your fasting insulin levels are, the higher your levels of inflammation tend to be. Clinically, I have found this test far more useful than the other markers for inflammation.
Diet and Exercise Are the Primary Ways to Combat Chronic Inflammation
Avoiding processed foods, which are high in inflammatory ingredients such as refined sugars and processed fats like trans fats and vegetable oils as the video above discusses, and getting regular movement and exercise are two of the most potent ways to help normalize your insulin levels and avoid insulin resistance.
Diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthy lifestyle, and keeping inflammation in check is a major part of these benefits. It’s important to realize that dietary components can either trigger or prevent inflammation from taking root in your body.
If you have not already addressed your diet, this would be the best place to start, regardless of whether you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic inflammation or not.
To help you get started, I suggest following my free Optimized Nutrition Plan, which starts at the beginner phase and systematically guides you step-by-step to the advanced level.
But diet is not the only component that will have a profound impact on your health and longevity. It’s really about addressing your total lifestyle, and physical activity is a major component of that.
When you think of “physical activity” you may automatically think of a regimented fitness routine — going to the gym several times a week, for example. But while that is certainly part of a healthy lifestyle, what you do outside the gym plays an equally important role.
The average American adult spends about 10 hours each day sitting, and research shows that this level of inactivity cannot even be counteracted with a 60-minute workout at the end of each day. My personal experience confirms this. It’s really important to realize that you simply cannot offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise. You need near-continuous movement throughout the day. At the bare minimum, you need to get out of your chair every 50 minutes or so.
While a brief period of sitting here and there is natural, long periods of sitting day-in and day-out can seriously impact your health and shorten your life. For me, sitting and getting up every 10 minutes failed miserably. The only thing that worked was to restrict my sitting to under one hour a day.
In fact, the evidence suggests chronic sitting is an independent risk factor for insulin resistance and an early death – even if you eat right, exercise regularly and are very fit; even a professional or Olympic level athlete. For example, research3 has shown that sitting for more than eight hours a day raises your risk for type 2 diabetes by 90 percent!
So, to lay the groundwork for overall health and longevity, I recommend avoiding sitting as much as possible, ideally striving to sit for less than three hours a day. A stand-up desk is a great option if you have an office job.
The second step is to simply walk more. I recommend aiming for 7,000 to10,000 steps a day. Use a fitness tracker to make sure you’re meeting your goal. Next, you’ll want to incorporate a more regimented fitness routine, and while virtually any exercise is better than none, high intensity exercises are the most potent.
High Intensity Training Promotes Anti-Inflammatory Myokines
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most effective and efficient ways to capture and maximize the benefits exercise has to offer. It also offers anti-inflammatory benefits that you cannot tap with milder, less strenuous exercise.
Some of the latest research into the benefits of HIIT involves myokines, a class of cell-signaling proteins produced by muscle fibers that offer potent protection against metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions, including high blood sugar, that raises your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
High intensity training effectively stimulates your muscles to release these anti-inflammatory myokines, which increase your insulin sensitivity and glucose use inside your muscles. They also increase liberation of fat from adipose cells, and the burning of the fat within the skeletal muscle. Acting as chemical messengers, myokines also inhibit the release and the effect of inflammatory cytokines produced by body fat.
Now, it’s important to realize that your diet can sabotage these beneficial effects. By eating inflammatory foods, such as sugar/fructose, refined grains, trans fats, and processed foods in general, your body will generate inflammatory cytokines. And, unfortunately, you simply cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. No amount of exercise will successfully create enough myokines to outcompete the inflammatory cytokines produced by an unhealthy diet…
A frequent question that comes up with regards to high intensity exercise is the differences between the high-intensity cardio that you can do on an exercise bike or elliptical machine, versus high intensity strength training, using weights. Either strategy will give you the general benefits of HIIT, which includes cardiovascular fitness, improved muscle growth and strength, and the generation of “anti-aging” human growth hormone (HGH), also referred to as “the fitness hormone.”
However, high intensity strength training has the added benefit of inducing a rapid and deep level of muscle fatigue. This triggers the synthesis of more contractile tissue, and all the metabolic components to support it — including more anti-inflammatory myokines. So if you aim to address chronic inflammation in your body, high-intensity weight training may offer additional benefits over other forms of HIIT training.
To Avoid Chronic Inflammation, You Need to Recover Between Workouts
The fact that exercise can reduce inflammation may be confusing in light of the fact that it also increases inflammation… Mark Sisson addressed this seeming contradiction in a previous blog post,4 noting that “depending on the context, this increased inflammation due to exercise is either a good thing or a bad thing.”
The key difference is that while bouts of exercise tend to promote acute inflammation, when done regularly over the long term, it decreases chronic or systemic inflammation. The oxidative stress from the exercise forces your body to build up your antioxidant defenses. This is indicated in studies showing extended exercise programs help reduce inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein.
That said, acute inflammation can become chronic, so part of the equation involves exercising in such a way as to avoid turning those acute bouts of inflammation into a chronic one. I’ve often stressed the importance of recovery — especially when doing HIIT — and this is precisely why. If you over-train, you typically wind up end up doing more harm than good, as your body needs to recuperate from the damage (inflammation) incurred during your workout.
As Mark explains in his article:
“An effective training session is basically an acute stressor that initiates a transitory, temporary, but powerful inflammatory response. An effective training regimen is composed, then, of lots of those acutely stressful training sessions interspersed with plenty of recovery time against a backdrop of lots of slow moving and good nutrition.
Avoid inflammatory plateaus. Track your training. Plotted on a graph, the inflammatory responses to your training should resemble a series of peaks, dips, and valleys. If you don’t let your last exercise-induced inflammatory spike recede before exercising again, you’ll only heap more on the pile.
If you keep stringing together spikes in inflammation without recovering from the previous one, they start to overlap and that starts to look a lot like chronic inflammation. That gives you a plateau, a mesa of inflammation. Avoid the mesa.”
Both Nutritional Deficiencies and Excesses Can Contribute to Inflammation
Your diet will also wield a significant influence over the level of inflammation in your body, as most food will either promote or deflect it. Recent research5 also shows that both deficiencies and excesses of certain micronutrients (such as folate, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and zinc) can result in an ineffective or excessive inflammatory response.
As noted by co-author Anne Marie Minihane:6
“Studies have showed that high consumption of fat and glucose may induce post-prandial inflammation (manifesting itself after the consumption of a meal), which may have consequences for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The Western-style diet, rich in fat and simple sugars but often poor in specific micronutrients, is linked to the increased prevalence of diseases with strong immunological and autoimmune components, including allergies, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, and obesity.
Inflammation acts as both a friend and foe, being essential in metabolic regulation, with unresolved low-grade chronic inflammation being a pathological feature of a wide range of chronic conditions including the metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.”
The easiest way to ensure your diet is as anti-inflammatory as possible is to simply eat REAL FOOD. You really do not need a PhD in nutrition to get it right. To help you get started on a healthier diet, I suggest following my free Optimized Nutrition Plan, which starts at the beginner phase and systematically guides you step-by-step to the advanced level. It is especially important to avoid processed vegetable oils and sugars. Personally I believe the oils are far more toxic than the sugars. You simply must have a regular source of high quality unprocessed fats if you hope to be healthy.
Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of learning which foods tend to provide the greatest anti-inflammatory benefits. I’ve provided a sample list of such foods below. By replacing processed foods with whole, unprocessed, and ideally organic foods, you will automatically eliminate several of the most inflammatory culprits in your diet, including:
- Processed fructose and refined sugar and grains
- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid from exposure to heat)
- Vegetable oil (such as peanut, corn, and soy oil), which degrade into toxic oxidation products when heated. One category called aldehydes are highly inflammatory
- Trans fats
- Synthetic chemical additives such as preservatives, stabilizers, colors, and flavors, etc.
A number of foods are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and making sure you’re eating a wide variety of them on a regular basis can go a long way toward preventing chronic illness. The following foods and nutrients deserve special mention for their ability to quell inflammatory responses in your body:
Animal-based omega-3 fat Animal-based omega-3 fats — found in fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon and fish or krill oil — help fight inflammation throughout your body. It’s particularly important for brain health. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology7 in 2012 confirmed that dietary supplementation with krill oileffectively reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. Leafy greens Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C — all of which help protect against cellular damage. Ideally, opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet. Blueberries Blueberries rate very high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables. They are also lower in sugar than many other fruits. Tea Matcha tea is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground unfermented powder. The best Matcha comes from Japan and has up to 17 times the antioxidants of wild blueberries, and seven times more than dark chocolate.
Tulsi is another tea loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health.
Fermented vegetables and traditionally cultured foods Optimizing your gut flora is important for a well-functioning immune system, and helps ward off chronic inflammation. In fact, the majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut, as the result of an imbalanced microbiome.
Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives, and other fermented vegetables, will help “reseed” your gut with beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods can also help your body rid itself of harmful toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides that promote inflammation.
Shiitake mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms contain strong compounds with the natural ability to discourage inflammation, such as Ergothioneine, which inhibits oxidative stress. They also contain a number of unique nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet.
One is copper, which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health. Since your body can’t synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease.
Garlic Garlic has been treasured for its medicinal properties for centuries. It’s also one of the most heavily researched plant foods around. Over 170 studies8 show it benefitting more than 150 different conditions. Garlic exerts its benefits on multiple levels, offering anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antioxidant properties.
It’s thought that much of garlic’s therapeutic effect comes from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. Research9 has revealed that as allicin digests in your body it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts faster with dangerous free radicals than any other known compound.
Herbs and spices Being liberal in your use of high-quality herbs and spices is a simple way to boost the quality of your food. They’re among the most potent anti-inflammatory ingredients available, ounce for ounce. Spicing up your meals is not enough, however, if processed foods comprise the bulk of your diet