Inflammation seems to be the buzz word for all things health-related at the moment. And it will come as no surprise to you that it has a big effect not only on your general health but the health of your bones, too.
Most of us have a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about when inflammation refers to something visible on our body: it could be a localised swelling or, perhaps, a red, itchy patch of skin which causes irritation. But when it comes to inflammation inside the body – what is that all about? And how serious is it?
The first thing to say is that inflammation happens to everyone as our immune system works to protect our body from injury, infection, or even disease. It is absolutely natural and essential to allow our body to heal. Acute inflammation occurs for a short period of time (no more than two weeks duration) and is often severe with localised symptoms including: heat, pain, redness, swelling or loss of function. These symptoms appear very quickly and help restore the body to its state before the illness/injury.
When our immune system becomes imbalanced due to lifestyle, dietary and other factors, it can result in ongoing or chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation can last for months or even years. In such cases inflammation can become more systemic and can damage the body by creating too many pro-inflammatory cells and chemicals such as nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), prostaglandins, and free radicals. These pro-inflammatory substances can cause damage to the body, leading to inflammation-related health issues and conditions, including autoimmune disease and osteoporosis.
Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation include body pain, muscle pain, chronic fatigue, insomnia and mood changes.
Chronic Inflammation has been linked to a number of illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, coeliac disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can also damage bones and raise the risk of osteoporosis.
Inflammation and bone health
Chronic inflammation in the body can adversely affect our bones and put us at greater risk of osteoporosis as it increases the levels of inflammatory cytokines – which can induce bone loss. Recognising this bone and immune system interaction has led to the emergence of a new discipline called Osteoimmunology.
“With age, there is an increased production of inflammatory cytokines which can activate osteoclasts (the bone breakdown cells) involved in bone remodelling. As a result, many inflammatory conditions also appear to increase the risk of osteoporosis,” says registered nutritionist and bonebalance™ ambassador Christine Bailey.
Chronic inflammation is related to a higher fracture risk, independent of other risk factors common to osteoporosis such as reduced physical activity, poor nutritional status, low Vitamin D status and low calcium intake.
Christine adds, “The activity of immune cells affects the balance of activity between our osteoblasts (the bone building cells) and osteoclasts (the bone breakdown cells). When we break down more bone than we form, this increases our risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.”
Managing inflammation through your diet
Both diet and lifestyle factors can influence the production of inflammatory chemicals. Christine advises we pay attention to sleep, stress levels, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Also, we should think about factors in our diet that may exacerbate inflammation such as high sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, smoking, insufficient protein and too little intake of fruit and vegetables.
Christine advises adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet including:
- Ginger, garlic and turmeric. Turmeric contains special compounds called curcuminoids, including curcumin. In over five clinical trials, curcumin was as effective in relieving arthritis symptoms compared to pain medicines.
- Plant proteins like soy, beans and pulses. Various studies have shown they contain several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
- Oily fish which contains omega 3 fatty acids shown in studies to lower inflammation
- Vitamin D found in salmon, sardines, liver, egg yolks and mushrooms
- Magnesium from nuts and seeds, dark green leafy veg, cocoa powder
- Vitamin C from colourful fruits and vegetables which is crucial for collagen production
- Green and black tea – rich in polyphenols including catechins shown to lower inflammation and increase our natural antioxidant protection
- Foods rich in the antioxidant quercetin such as apples, red onion, capers, citrus fruits and tea
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables rich in L-sulforaphane
The importance of collagen
Collagen is the largest and most abundant structural protein in our body. Vital in allowing our body to function properly and effectively, it is also anti-inflammatory.
“Studies demonstrate collagen has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which make it beneficial for joints and bone health,” says Christine. “Furthermore, collagen optimised for bones – such as bonebalance™ can both calm inflammation and help strengthen bone tissue from within.”