Are you on fire? spontaneous combustion legends aside, the human body actually can experience a slow burn. It's called inflammation. This warming reaction is your immune system's way of getting rid of cells and tissues damaged by injury or infection. But when there's too much of it, it is a problem. Allergies, arthritis, asthma, back pain, Crohn's disease, colitis, gastritis, gum disease, lupus and psoriasis are all marked by high levels of inflammation.
Allopathic and holistic types agree that such fiery conditions, no matter where they occur in the body, may be at least somewhat treatable or preventable by diet.
There appears to be general agreement that moderation in the meat department can help your body stay balanced, since meat contains fatty acids that encourage flare-ups.
Take flaxseed or fish oil and cut out processed foods to get your quota of the fire-quelling fatty acids. Avoiding nightshades - tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco - is a solution promoted by some holistic practitioners but not all. Sensitivity to nightshades is considered genetic, so if you've got a family history of arthritis or other inflammatory disease, it won't hurt to give this a try. Another tactic is to avoid dietary ruts. The more often you eat a particular food, the greater your chances of developing an inflammation-encouraging sensitivity to it. And go out for Indian. Turmeric, the spice that makes curry yellow, can douse internal flames. Alt-health types also use bromelain supplements to sooth any swelling that's already begun.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"The body often has a reason for developing inflammatory chemicals. It wants to revolt against consumer culture: processed food, GM food, fried food, the fast pace of life, which forces you to eat faster. Pollution also contributes to the inflammatory process. A diet high in acids is more inflammatory. Fat and meat contain amino acids, uric acids, so the vegetarian diet, generally speaking, is an anti-inflammatory diet. Slippery elm bark moisturizes and soothes the digestive tract. Take 1 tablespoon of powder made from the inside of the bark and mix it into a paste with a little water. Add 2 to 3 ounces hot water. Drink on an empty stomach, one to three times daily. Not advised in pregnancy."
ROGER LEWIS, chartered herbalist
"Food allergies are a big issue. They set off the immune system into an oxidative/inflammatory response. At every meal, you want your plate to be filled with colour. The more you vary your diet, the better you'll do. We tend to develop allergies to the foods we eat repetitively. Avoid constipation (less than one bowel movement per day). Bowel movements eliminate toxic compounds that trigger inflammation. Get adequate sleep. Napping is wonderful. Cultures that nap have lower rates of many chronic diseases."
TIMOTHY GERHART, chiropractic intern, thermographer, Phoenix, Arizona
"We should feel light and energized after we eat. If we feel drowsy, we're having an immune reaction to the food, which is tiring us. Generally, people who are eating foods that are not right for their blood type do show generalized inflammatory or degenerative diseases. The number-one thing would be choosing live, whole foods as often as possible. Another is being in a parasympathetic mode ('rest and digest' rather than sympathetic 'fight or flight') when we eat. You cannot simultaneously function well in both modes. Set time aside to eat. Slow down enough that you can actually taste your food. Your taste buds tell the digestive system how much of each digestive juice to make.'
ANTHONY GODFREY, naturopath
"Many different foods, vitamins, and minerals potentially have an impact on inflammation, but the research overall is still limited, unfortunately. Some evidence indicates that correct essential fatty acid intake is worth trying. You eat less meat, less processed food, more of the oils and seeds that are beneficial for your heart and circulation as well as for inflammation. There are a lot of anecdotal reports on avoiding nightshades, but no solid studies. It's a no-harm, potential-gain approach that may be worth trying for some. If you have a strong family history of arthritis, there'd be no harm in altering your diet in the hope of preventing it."
LORI ALBERT, MD, rheumatologist, assistant professor, faculty of medicine, University of Toronto