Whether you have broken your leg, twisted your ankle or stubbed your toe, inflammation is your body's first line of defence to help heal the tissue damage. The acute inflammatory response is both normal and essential for proper healing and repair. Increased blood flow to the area delivers white blood cells to promote healing, which results in redness, warmth and swelling. The injured cells also release chemicals that stimulate nutrients, hormones, and immune cells as well as trigger blood clotting in order to facilitate healing. This inflammatory response is short-term and gradually subsides as the injury heals. Healing time varies depending upon the injury (and uncontrollable factors such as age and genetics), however it also depends largely on lifestyle factors.
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What Is Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body remains in a prolonged state of inflammation due to its inability to repair and overcome damage or remove irritants. This can occur when an acute injury does not heal properly, however it is most often caused by lifestyle factors such as diet, stress, alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking and inactivity. It can also caused by factors such as food sensitivities, environmental irritants, and autoimmune disorders. Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer progression and even mood disorders.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation can include chronic fatigue, difficulties sleeping, weight gain, body pain, gastrointestinal issues, and frequent infections, however you could easily unknowingly have it with no obvious symptoms. Chronic inflammation is generally not detected until symptoms start to arise, as it is best measured by a blood test for c-reactive protein (CRP), which is a marker for inflammation.
So while acute inflammation is beneficial to our healing process, chronic inflammation is extremely detrimental. It stands to reason that if your baseline level of inflammation is already elevated, your body's ability to heal itself when acutely injured will be inhibited. Fortunately, the lifestyle factors necessary to reduce chronic inflammation happen to be largely the same as the ones that have been scientifically proven to help speed up the healing process when acutely injured.
Lifestyle Factors That Promote Tissue Healing and Repair
A healthy diet high in fibre and antioxidant rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, unprocessed whole grains, beans/legumes and nuts/seeds.
Adequate intake of omega 3 fatty acids from whole food sources such as chia, flax, walnuts, soybeans and salmon.
Consuming flavonoid-rich foods, such as blueberries, apples, turmeric, garlic, pineapple and green tea.
Adequate hydration (how much water should you be drinking?).
A healthy Body Mass Index.
Adequate (lean and/or plant based) protein intake.
Regular exercise (regular exercise should be a part of everyones life, and it remains important to stay active at a modified capacity when injured).
Adequate quality sleep (check out these tips to improve your sleep).
Low or properly managed stress (learn to manage your stress).
Limited consumption of inflammatory foods such as:
Oils high in omega-6 fatty acids (including corn, safflower, soy, vegetable and sunflower)
Processed grains and convenience foods
Processed meats (hot dogs, sausages, lunch meat, etc.)
Foods high in saturated and trans fats
Alcohol and tobacco
This list is by no means exhaustive, however covers the simplest areas that can make the biggest impact on not just injury repair, but also overall health. Supplementing with zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C, creatine, collagen, or nitric oxide, as some research suggests, will not be effective if you are not first covering these basics. The benefits of adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are endless!
My Experience . . .
As an Occupational Therapist I have seen first hand just how much of an impact these lifestyle factors can have on injury healing and repair. I have worked in various rehabilitation programs for injured workers who have been off work for months to years with musculoskeletal injuries that generally heal in a matter of weeks. Few of the workers that end up in these programs eat well, have a healthy BMI, refrain from smoking, exercise regularly, get enough sleep or properly manage their stress. These factors have a compounding effect on their recovery and for many, adds mental illness (and in some cases, addiction) into the mix. Injuries lasting 10x longer then they should are 10x more challenging to treat, and often do not fully resolve. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is one of the best things you can do for both your short and long term health and wellbeing.