Healthy Lifestyle

How inflammation in the body affects your health

Young woman blending a smoothie with anti-inflammatory foods in her kitchen.


Understanding and managing inflammation is crucial for your health and well-being today and into the future.


By Sana A. Chaudhary, MD, Rheumatology, Nuvance Health


Do you experience unexplained body pain, fatigue or frequent infections? These can all be signs of inflammation. Young adults are increasingly reporting these health concerns and others, including anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes, which are linked to inflammation in the body.


While anti-inflammatory diets might be a fad, inflammation is not just a trendy term because it is important to understand. Reducing inflammation in the body can help you today and set you up for a healthy future.


Find out what inflammation is and how it affects your mental and physical health. Plus, read on for a list of the best and worst foods for inflammation and other tips to keep it in check.



What is inflammation in the body?


Acute inflammation in the body


Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism. Your body responds with inflammation to heal and protect itself when you are injured or attacked by germs. Called acute inflammation, it occurs when you have an injury like a cut or an illness like the flu. You might notice redness, heat, swelling, pain or loss of function.


Chronic inflammation in the body


There is also a less helpful side to inflammation: chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can damage your body and contribute to various health issues.


Why should you care about inflammation in your body?


For young adults, inflammation can be a silent disruptor. It may present as body aches, unexplained fatigue, skin issues like rashes, digestive problems or even mood disorders like anxiety and depression. 


Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to serious conditions, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and digestive conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.



These conditions are becoming more common in people younger than 50 years old. While we need more evidence-based research to explain why, experts think what you eat and how much you move may play a big role. Read on to also find the link between diet, exercise and inflammation.


What causes inflammation in the body?


Since inflammation is your body’s response to things that can harm it, infections, injuries or toxins such as chemicals or pollutants can trigger it. Lack of exercise, stress and unhealthy eating can also trigger inflammation. Why? When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system to try to fix the damage.


How can you tell if you have a lot of inflammation in your body?


Swelling or redness after an injury or a fever from the flu are obvious signs you have inflammation in your body. Yet, signs of chronic inflammation can be sneaky. Watch out for ongoing symptoms like persistent fatigue, unexplained pain, frequent infections or gastrointestinal issues. This might be your body’s way of telling you something might be wrong.


How can you reduce inflammation in your body?


The following lifestyle changes are a great defense against inflammation. Even small changes can make a big difference in reducing inflammation. Speak with your doctor before making major lifestyle changes. They can provide a personalized approach and support. Book now with a primary care provider.


  • Eat a healthy, wholesome diet: A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can reduce inflammation. Read on to find the best foods to fight inflammation.


  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity helps decrease inflammatory markers. Exercise strengthens the immune system and helps ward off obesity, which is an inflammatory condition.


  • Maintain a healthy weight: Speaking of obesity, excess weight, particularly around the abdomen, can increase inflammation. Obesity is a metabolic condition where the body is in a state of low-grade chronic inflammation.


  • Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is crucial for reducing inflammation. Your body repairs itself when you sleep.


  • Manage stress: Chronic stress can exacerbate inflammation because it can make the immune system overactive and cause an imbalance in inflammation in the body.


  • Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption: Excessive drinking can trigger inflammation. As we discussed earlier, toxins can cause inflammation in the body. Alcohol also contains a lot of sugar, can weaken the immune system and affect inflammation.


  • Stop smoking: Smoking is a major inflammatory trigger because it is toxic to the body.



What are the best foods to fight inflammation?


The following foods are like superheroes when it comes to fighting inflammation.


  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, oranges and leafy greens are packed with antioxidants and vitamins that cool down inflammation.


  • Healthy fats: Avocado, olive oil and nuts provide beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which help manage inflammation. 


  • Lean proteins: Fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as plant-based proteins like chickpeas and lentils may combat the progression of chronic inflammation.


  • Whole grains: Brown rice, oats and quinoa contain fiber that helps reduce inflammation.



What is the No. 1 food that can cause inflammation?


Sugar, particularly in processed forms, can trigger inflammatory responses. Studies have shown a high intake of sugar associated with conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, which are also linked to chronic inflammation.


Natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables is healthy to eat. We are talking about refined or processed sugars found in baked goods, high-fructose corn syrup and sugary drinks including soda.


What other foods are the worst for inflammation?


Apart from processed sugar, be cautious with trans fats, excessive alcohol and refined or processed carbs. These can all contribute to increased inflammation. Consume these types of foods in moderation if you are unable to avoid them.


  • Processed sugar: Commercial baked goods such as cookies, cakes and muffins have refined sugar. Breakfast cereal, dressings and sauces are lesser-known foods that contain processed sugar. Look for “added sugars” on nutrition labels to determine what foods have refined sugar. 


  • Processed meats: Bacon, deli meats and sausages.


  • Refined carbs: Pastries, white bread and white rice.


  • Fried foods: Chicken fingers, donuts, French fries and potato chips.


  • Trans fats: Found in most of the above foods, margarine and many frozen and pre-made foods, including frozen pizza.


The bottom line: Inflammation tells you when something might be wrong in your body. Acute inflammation plays a role in healing from an injury or illness. Chronic inflammation can manifest in many ways, including body pain, fatigue, depression and stomach issues. Long-term chronic inflammation has been linked to health conditions such as cancer and heart disease, which are affecting more young adults. 


Try not to fret (because it can cause inflammation!), and instead, channel your energy to diet, exercise and sleep changes. Also, find ways to soothe yourself to manage stress to also calm inflammation. Take control of inflammation to live your healthiest life today and into the future.