Our modern lifestyle is very different than how ancient humans, and even recent ancestors lived. The constant abundance that we now have is increasing chronic inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation leads to a whole host of problems. All of which are the most common diseases of our time, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, auto-immune disease and many more. The good news is that we can reverse inflammation by tapping into the ancient wisdom of our ancestors.
One quick note about inflammation before we dive in. Acute, or short lived inflammation is an amazing thing. It is the first stage in the body’s self healing process. The kind of inflammation we want to avoid with a few lifestyle tweaks is chronic inflammation.
Plant-rich diet and the microbiome
The food that we eat is the most impactful way to either increase or decrease inflammation. And luckily, it’s within our control. The cool thing about eating more vegetables and fruits each day, is that if you add even one additional serving per day, you can reverse inflammation proportionately. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. And the more servings you add, the lower you can take inflammation. Ideally, aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
The Mediterranean diet is the only evidence-based diet in the literature. If you look at the Mediterranean Diet food pyramid, it consists first of physical activity and community. Next, the vast majority of your daily food should come from plants.
Another important thing about plants is that they are rich in fiber, which is profoundly anti-inflammatory, and also food for the microbiome. The microbiome is a fascinating network of beneficial bacteria found in the gut that ultimately affects the brain and all systems of the body. We definitely want to feed our resident microbes the plant fiber that they need!
Inflammation is an energy intensive system for the body to run. Therefore, it requires calories to maintain it. So one way to “starve” inflammation is to restrict calories. In ancient times it was nearly impossible to over-eat. Our bodies knew when to stop. However, the food industry smartly began combining sugar, fat and salt to get us addicted to their products. Unfortunately, we have no natural way of stopping ourselves from eating these types of foods due to the dopamine hit that our brains receive.
Another way to restrict calories is to practice time restricted eating, also known as intermittent fasting. Assure that you have somewhere between 8-12 hours between your last food of the evening and the time you eat in the morning. This is how breakfast got it’s name. You’re breaking your fast!
Ancient humans naturally fasted during periods when food was scarce or unavailable, this kept them from developing chronic inflammation. We certainly don’t want to go back to food scarcity, but this means that we need to simulate this environment for ourselves.
Humans evolved to match the planet’s oldest rhythm, the circadian rhythm. This is the 24 hour period of light and dark which makes up a day. There are clock genes in every cell in our body that signal biological processes to occur at the most optimal time of day. Having your body in sync with the circadian rhythm is essential for health and is anti-inflammatory.
Modern disruptors include artificial light, jet lag from travel, time changes, and exposure to blue light from screens before bed. The way to restore this essential biological clock is by exposing your eyes to morning sunlight and allowing for darkness in the evening. Serotonin is produced with morning light and helps with mood. Melatonin is produced with exposure to dark and helps with sleep.
If you can’t avoid screens before bed, blue light blocking glasses can be used as an inexpensive hack. Below is a reputable brand that we recommend with a frame style for everyone.
You can also purchase low blue light bulbs, which are a fantastic choice for bedroom lighting.
Hunter-gatherers spent their days walking to hunt and forage for food and retrieve water. No gyms or exercise programs needed. Now, adults are sedentary 10 hours per day, another sign of abundance because we don’t have to walk or lift to access food and water.
Exercise is an ancient stressor. Low levels of physical stress can improve our health, well being, adaptability and fitness by stimulating the cellular stress response. The type of exercise that reverses inflammation is moderate intensity exercise. Ideally adults should engage in a well-rounded exercise routine. This includes 150-300 minutes a week of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or a combination of the two. Unfortunately in the case of exercise, more isn’t better. Exercising vigorously for more than 3-4 hours a week actually increases inflammation.
Community as a buffer to stress
In ancient times, humans spent all their time with the same 20-50 people throughout most of their lives. This level of community allowed for traditions to be passed along, for people to help one another, and to have a sense of purpose. A trusted support network allows for boredom which is anti-inflammatory. Routines, rituals, initiations and rhythms are soothing and stress-relieving.
Historically, acute stressors were short lived. In modern times we are exposed to constant information, noise, traffic, pollution and social isolation. All of which contribute to inflammation.
Gone are the days of living with the same 20-50 people. However, you can still establish a trusted support network. Be mindful of adding ritual and routine into your daily life. And finally, eliminate constant exposure to information.
Other ways to decrease inflammation like the ancients
The above lifestyle modifications are the main ways to affect inflammation. But there are a few more things that help, and the best part is they can even be fun.
Before central air conditioning and heating, human bodies adapted to extreme heat and cold. These physiologic stressors lead to biological adaptability and resilience. We can mimic these temperature extremes by practicing cold plunge or cold exposure. And on the heat side we can use saunas and hot springs.
Spending time in nature has also been shown to improve cognitive function, sleep and cardiovascular health. In forests, we breathe in volatile terpenes and terpenoids and these have anti-inflammatory effects.
And finally, cook with a broad range of herbs and spices. All have anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, which comes from turmeric is the most famous anti-inflammatory spice and it has evidence to back it up. But, be sure to check with your doctor before using curcumin since it can interact with other medications. Below is an excellent high-absorption curcumin that we recommend if you’ve been given the go-ahead from your physician.
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