Inflammation: What You Need to Know About the Latest Health Buzzword

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

woman sitting on ottoman in blue and white room

Inflammation. It’s the buzziest health buzzword around today. It’s a pretty important word in my life. (More on that later.) But what exactly is it? Why should we care? And what, if anything, do we need to do about it? Today I’m going to give you the lowdown on inflammation and tell you why it’s a term you need to become very familiar with as you age.

What is Inflammation?

At a fundamental level, inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself against harm. There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic.

Acute Inflammation

We’re all familiar with acute inflammation. When we cut our finger, sprain an ankle, or even catch a cold, the white blood cells in our bodies act as a tiny army, dispatching defenders to surround and protect the area in distress. If we’re injured, things like redness, swelling, and pain will occur. If we’re ill, we might experience fever, chills, a stuffy or a runny nose, etc. Inflammation is essential in healing wounds and injuries, and in preventing bacteria and viruses from turning into deadly infections.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation occurs in response to toxic, unwanted substances in the body like cigarette smoke, or an excess of fat cells. In the arteries, for example, inflammation can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis. This buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque is perceived as abnormal and foreign, so the tiny anti-inflammation army will attempt to wall off the plaque from the flowing blood. Unfortunately, if the wall breaks down, the plaque may rupture and mingle with blood, forming a clot and blocking blood flow. These clots cause heart attacks and most strokes.

Sometimes, inflammation can go rogue, mistakenly triggering an inflammatory response when there aren’t actually any foreign invaders to fight off and responding as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal. This causes autoimmune disease, where the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. You may have an autoimmune disease or know someone who has one. (Click any of the ones below for additional information.)

Common Autoimmune Diseases

Addison’s Disease
Celiac Disease
Grave’s Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Lupus
Multiple Sclerosis
Pernicious Anemia
Psoriasis/Psoriatic Arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Sjögren’s Syndrome
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
Myasthenia Gravis
Type 1 Diabetes
Vasculitis

Inflammation can affect organs or joints as part of an autoimmune disorder. Most autoimmune diseases cannot be cured, but treated with the goal of controlling or slowing down the disease progression. Treatment options include things like medication, rest, exercise, and sometimes even surgery—depending on the type of autoimmune disease. (Fun Fact: There are more than 80 autoimmune diseases.)

Why Do We Need to Know About Inflammation?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH),

“Aging is a complex process that results from a combination of environmental, genetic, and epigenetic factors. A chronic pro-inflammatory status is a pervasive feature of aging.”

In other words, aging is a normal, natural process, and chronic inflammation is a part of the process.

“At present, chronic inflammation is thought to be a risk factor for a broad range of age-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Although age-related diseases may be partially preventable with lifestyle modifications, including diet, the burdens of unhealthy aging associated with lifestyle are increasing, both in developed and developing regions. Therefore, the elucidation of the sources and cellular pathways/processes of chronic inflammation is an urgent task.”

It’s clear that anything we can do to reduce chronic inflammation may help us avoid (or postpone) age-related chronic disease, prevent or reduce the adverse effects of an autoimmune disease, and even increase life span.

Most of the time, the chronic inflammation involved in aging is painless and virtually undetectable to the average person. Claudio Franceschi, Professor Emeritus of Immunology at the University of Bologna in Italy combined the terms inflammation and aging to come up with the name inflammaging to describe this process. (You’ll be seeing that term in the media more often in the months and years to come.)

woman standing with hand on shoulder in blue and white room

What Can we do to Reduce the Effects of Inflammation?

Whether you’re trying to reduce the symptoms of an autoimmune disease or you just want to live longer and decrease your risk factors for developing age-related diseases, there are things you can do to reduce the effects of inflammation.

1. Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet 

Avoid or limit these foods which have been shown to cause inflammation:

  • Refined flour (like white bread & pastries)
  • Fried foods
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame)
  • Red meat and processed meat
  • Margarine, shortening, and lard

Include these foods in your diet:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive Oil
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, and tuna)
  • Fruits (like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges)

Overall, the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils, is a good one to follow.

Also, increased tea consumption has been linked to lower inflammation levels, weight loss, and reduced cancer risk in many studies. Green tea has been shown to be even more beneficial than black.

2. Exercise

According to researchers at the University of California in San Diego, even one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system, producing an anti-inflammatory response. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) can help even more. You can do HIIT no matter what type of cardio exercise you do. Simply vary short bursts of intense exercise with longer bouts of slower (recovery) intervals. I use the FREE HIIT workouts at FitnessBlender.com or do my own HIIT workout on either a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. I wrote an entire post on the importance of HIIT.

In addition, it’s important to stay strong. A 2018 study in Aging and Disease found that maintaining muscle as we age lowers disease risk and combats chronic inflammation. Use body-weight exercise, resistance bands, and lift weights to avoid age-related muscle loss (called sarcopenia). Here’s what I do.

3. Lose Weight

Obesity is linked to inflammation. Losing weight will decrease inflammation.

4. Improve Oral Health

According to a Journal of Aging Research study, seeing a dentist two or more times a  year may lower mortality risk (from all causes) by 30-50 percent. According to that same study, non-flossers had a 30 percent higher death risk than daily flossers. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to elevated levels of inflammation.

5. Sleep

A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study found that the effects of sleep deprivation on the body mimicked the aging process on a cellular level and many studies connect sleep loss with cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and other disorders. Also, a Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience study found an association between regular sleep patterns in older adults and longevity. Did you catch my recent post on the “discipline” of sleep that I’ve been working to incorporate into my life?

6. Manage Stress

Chronic stress contributes to inflammation. Exercise can help with this, as can counseling, prayer, meditation, yoga, biofeedback, etc.

7. Strong Social Ties

A review published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that strong social relationships lower inflammation, while isolation increases it. Also, a study cited in Psychology Today linked laughter to an anti-inflammatory effect that protects blood vessels and heart muscles from the damaging impacts of cardiovascular disease. It’s thought that laughter lessens the body’s stress response, which is directly linked to increased inflammation.

woman sitting on ottoman in blue and white room

Speaking of laughter, when I was doing this photo shoot at the beginning of January, my daughter Becca was still home for the holidays. She was headed to yoga, and sweetly took the time to photobomb her mother! My photographer, Megan, conspiratorially snapped the picture, and I had no idea until I saw the proofs! Hahahaha! 🙂

It may surprise you, but inflammation is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. It’s something that everyone over fifty needs to be aware of and understand. Research has shown that uncontrolled inflammation plays a role in almost every major disease, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and even depression. We’re all aging, and inflammation will occur. But we can fight it all the way! The choices you make every day add up, and they can and will influence everything from your day-to-day health, mood, and stamina to your very life span!
It’s time to pay attention and make changes if you need to.

I’ve never talked about it here before, but inflammation is a real factor in my life because I have lupus and also celiac disease. I guess the reason I’ve never talked about them before is that they aren’t who I am; they’re something I have. Nobody wants a disease with a name (hahaha!), and mine are definitely a factor in my daily life. But they don’t define me, and they don’t hold me back from doing what I want to do. (Actually, Bob will tell you that when I’m ordering at restaurants, I am a total nightmare, and they hold the entire table back!) 🙂 I told you I would be sharing more of myself this year, and sharing this information with you all is a biggie for me. I don’t want to bore you, but I would be willing to write more about it if you’re curious or want to hear more it. Let me know in the comments, okay?

woman sitting on ottoman in blue and white room

Navy Sweatshirt With Gingham Ruffle Trim | White Jeans | Navy Ruffle-Back Ankle Booties | Heart Hoop Earrings

 

We took these photos in our family room. Is it clear to you that I love pairing blue and white together? LOL! I fell for this darling navy sweatshirt because (1) it was a sweatshirt(!); and, (2) it had a tiny gingham ruffle at the neckline and the sleeve. (Do you love the way I’m awkwardly holding my arm up to show you?!) It’s on sale right now and runs TTS (true to size). I paired it with white jeans, which I wear all year long. Mine are by NYDJ, which is my favorite jeans brand for women our age. They’re high-waisted and feature “lift & tuck technology” to lift you and tuck you in all the right places. (Plus they’re so stretchy, they feel like leggings!) They’re guaranteed to take a full size off, so order a size down from your normal jeans if you order. I have these navy ruffle-back ankle booties in black, white, and now navy, and I’m having trouble not buying them in more colors! The leather is butter soft, and the ruffle at the back is such a special and unique little detail. They run TTS. I’m wearing gemstone heart hoop earrings from Soul Stonz with a white moonstone. Soul Stonz will be a vendor at my FREE Makeup Class for Women Over 50 next Thursday in Dallas! If you live in the Dallas area (or even if you don’t), I hope you’ll come and bring your friends! One of my readers is flying in from Alabama, and I couldn’t be more excited! (More details in this post and you can RSVP at this link.)

Blessings,

 

 

Photos by Megan Weaver.

P.S. Have you checked out the Empty Nest Blessed Valentine’s Day Gift Guide yet? I’ve got gifts at all price points for all the people you love! Click below to check it out!

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Suzy Mighell

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34 Comments

  1. Suzy, thank you for sharing your life with us. Many of my friends deal with auto immune diseases. It’s hard to know how to encourage them sometimes. Also, we all need to be aware of inflammation and the suggestions and reminders are great to us over 50 people and good for those younger to take note now. I appreciate you sharing your life and health struggles with us. I really appreciate your suggestions and your encouragement. This is my first time writing! I enjoy reading your gift suggestions and clothing suggestions as well! Your daughter’s photo bomb is precious and oh so fun! God bless!

    1. Lisa,
      Thank you so much for your sweet comment! It really meant a lot to me! Inflammation is something we ALL need to be aware of because each day’s choices really DO matter. I’m so happy you’re enjoying my content and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Hugs to you, Lisa! xoxo Suzy

  2. Thank you for sharing! Both of my college age boys have Crohn’s Disease and it is very painful for me to watch how they struggle being so young. All your info is great and I am going to pass this along to them ~

    Take care and I love reading all your articles!!!

    1. Ashley,
      What a kind comment, thank you! It must be heartbreaking to watch as a mama. I’m so thankful they have each other to lean on but I know it must be a struggle. They have a loving and supportive mom and that means a lot. It means so much to me when the people I love take the time to be informed about my auto-immune issues. So grateful to you for reading and commenting! xoxo Suzy

  3. Hi Suzy, this was a very important and interesting post for me for two reasons, and thank you for sharing your personal information. I am very informed about Celiac disease as my daughter’s best friend of many years was diagnosed at age 5. I have learnt how to cook gluten free meals over the years and have realised how limiting some restaurants are catering for it.
    Also I have had psoriasis all my life in various degrees which has now developed into psoriatic arthritis in my knee! I have battled with inflammation and pain from it for a few years with walking but cycling if fine so I try to do that as often as possible.
    I am sure lots of your followers will identify with this post as well and feel more part of your community.

    1. Carole,
      SO sorry to hear about your psoriatic arthritis, but I’m proud of you for continuing to exercise! I was wondering how restaurants in the UK did with GF since Bob has promised to take me to visit you in the next few years! I think you are just the sweetest to have learned to cook GF for your daughter’s best friend. That must mean so much to her! Hugs to you, my Carole! xoxo Suzy

  4. Suzy… You are too precious! Love your blogs, your inspiration, your very practical advice, your irresistible sense of humor, your transparency and your faith… thank you!
    I also want to “love ” your Instagram but try as I might I can’t make it work. I’m typing in emptynestblessed but there are 2 sites with that name and neither one are you… or it is that Instagram shopping one. HELP!.. anybody! Hate to take up comment space with a technical question. Where is a savey techie grandchild when you need them??!!
    Thank you!!
    Nancy

    1. Nancy,
      Thank you for your adorable comment! How nice of you to want to follow me on Instagram! Here’s the easiest way to do it: Click here: https://www.instagram.com/emptynestblessed/
      Then when you get to my page, click “Follow.”
      If you want to follow me in the LiketoKnow.it app (that’s the fashion one where you can easily shop the looks I post on Instagram), you have to download the app from the app store. Then in the search bar, type in Empty Nest Blessed. When my page comes up, hit “Follow.”

      Thank you so much for reading and following me, sweet Nancy! xoxo Suzy

  5. Great article Suzy!! thank you for sharing. Also, 🙂 You look adorable in the top picture in the blue chair! The room is also so beautiful – those are my colors as well. Would you mind sharing who you used to put it together and or where you found the fabric.

    1. Marcy,
      Thanks for your comment! Blue and white is just such a fresh, clean look, right?
      I definitely know when I am NOT qualified to do something and interior design is one of those things! I’m happy to share my Interior Designer’s info, but I don’t want to put it here as she might not want her info blasted out in cyberspace! Hahahaha! Why don’t you DM me on FB or send me an email at [email protected] and I can reply! Also, are you coming to my FREE Makeup Class next week? Would love to see you there! xoxo Suzy

  6. Suzy, What a great, informative post! My daughter has both lupus and fibromyalgia and it’s so hard for me to watch her struggle at the young age of 25. Fortunately, she has embraced an almost vegetarian diet and goes to her gym regularly. I love your openness and willingness to share. Do your daily naps have something to do with your lupus? My daughter gets fatigued very easily. As always, you look terrific and your upbeat attitude towards living encourages me.

    1. Laura,
      We have so much in common! My sweet 22-year-old, Becca, also has lupus, celiac, and fibromyalgia. She writes a monthly column for the lupus.org newsletter! She and your daughter could probably really encourage one another! Your daughter is so blessed to have you in her corner! My quick 20-30 minute naps are one way I take care of myself, for sure! Also, getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night is really important! It sounds like she’s taking good care of herself, and I’m so glad.
      Thank you for your encouraging comment! xoxo Suzy

  7. Thank-you for this helpful article on inflammation. I want to learn more about eating an inflammatory diet and this is a good start. I also love the gingham sweatshirt! Beautiful!

    1. Maureen,
      Thank you for your nice comment! Isn’t that sweatshirt just adorable?! I’m so glad you found this info helpful.
      Thanks for reading and taking a sec to leave a comment! xoxo Suzy

  8. Thanks for sharing this, Suzy! Great information and links. Since my diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis over 10 years ago, I’ve definitely experienced first hand the links between food/sleep/exercise/stress! It truly is a journey, but as so many of us find inflammation is a part of our lives, it is empowering to make choices to limit the impact of these issues on our everyday life. I have found that fatigue has really increased with aging combining with auto-immune issues–so your previous post on managing rest and being intentional for our own health will make such a huge difference in our ability to still embrace all God has for us in this season!
    Laughter is also SUCH a healing factor!! As we have added a sweet lab pup to our lives, she definitely gives us lots of opportunities for laughter and exercise! LOVE Becca’s photo bomb & reminds us to keep laughing loud and often with our adult kids!!

    1. Anita,
      Thank you for your comment! You are such an inspiration to me and your daughter is so blessed to have such a wise mom! Yes, managing rest/sleep/exercise/stress is really important for everyone, but even more so if you have an auto-immune issue. My kids always know how to make me laugh – and Weston is chief among them! Sarah has a wicked sense of humor too, and when it bursts forth out of that sweet and gentle spirit, it makes us laugh even harder! I know that puppy is bringing you so much joy. I’m so glad.
      Thanks for reading and leaving me a comment, my friend!
      xoxo Suzy

  9. Suzy,
    I loved your blog post! I have hypothyroidism and some vitiligo brought on by changing medications. Both are autoimmune and I am careful to take care of myself too. Healthy eating, exercise and sleep work for me. Plus less stress is helpful. Thanks for sharing!

    Brigit. Bzgallife

    1. Brigit,
      You are right about all of that! Sleep, good food, exercise, and less stress is good for everyone, but when you have an auto-immune issue, it becomes a key to life and there’s simply not as much wiggle room for cheating! Right? Thank you so much for reading this post and for commenting! Your Instagram posts are always so adorable. Do you have a blog too? Drop me the address, okay? I’d love to check it out!
      Thanks so much for sharing, sweet Brigit!
      xoxo Suzy

  10. Thanks for sharing this information, I\\\\\\\’m sorry to read you deal with lupus and celiac. I firmly believe in a healthy lifestyle and was influenced from my early years by my mother who was also interested in it. As you said, its those daily choices that really do add up. I know I want to age as well as I can, so it is important to do what we can and that includes being educated about it which you are helping us do! Cute outfit, too!

    1. Martha,
      Thanks so much for your sweet comment! I’m so glad you’re committed to aging well and living a healthy lifestyle. It is so much better when you’re raised that way and don’t get into a situation where you’re in a hole and you have to climb out of it (so to speak!). Hugs to you! xoxo Suzy

  11. Thank you for this informative post! Im sorry to read you deal with lupus and celiac disease but Im sure by this post you are an encouragement for many! It was instilled in me by my mother to live a healthy lifestyle and you are right, it is those daily choices that really make a difference.
    Cute outfit!

  12. My brother died from an autoimmune disease – scleroderma and my mom may have had some sort of inflammation when she passed 2 years ago. So I appreciate you sharing your knowledge of inflammation and how it affects us as we get older. Also thanks for sharing your personal health struggles. I know quite a few women with Lupus. I’m glad you’re here to share and give yourself away.

  13. I’m 43 and have had systemic lupus since I was a freshman in college. It affected my kidneys and liver in the beginning but I did go on to have two children and, although it is not always easy, I work full time. Like you, I try to stay focused on overall wellness and decreasing inflammation through diet. My disease has been mostly well-managed for years but I did have a significant flare late last year as I was going through a stressful time. Reached your site via Loft Instagram and just wanted to thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much for your sweet comment! I feel you, girl! My daughter is a senior in college and has been diagnosed since she was 16. She actually writes a monthly column for the lupus.org monthly e-newsletter. You probably get it, so look for Becca.
      I am amazed at how the three “S” triggers are SO real! Sleep, sun, and stress. Getting rest and exercise helps, although the exercise can be a double-edged sword because it makes me tired! So happy that you found me! The Lord had a plan for that, I’m thinking (and Loft helped!!!) Please reach out any time if I can be an encouragement to you. We’re in this together, sister! xoxo Suzy

  14. Thank you for writing this post. It is so important to keep all the information needed about imflamation. Keep up all the wonderful things you do to keep yourself healthy. You are an inspiration and I respect and admire your honesty in sharing this very private information about yourself and your daughter. I would love for you to write more about this topic and keep sending all your wonderful advise.

  15. Thank you for sharing your story with us! As someone that is chronically ill myself, I know how important it is for us to see others that are living their best life possible despite being chronically ill! Thank you for your bravery and Inspiration!

    1. Kim,
      Thanks for taking a minute to share your situation and thank me for sharing mine. So sweet of you! If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that EVERYONE has SOMETHING. The Lord wants to keep us mindful of our need for Him and His grace poured out in our lives! Thanks again for your comment. Big hugs to you! xoxo Suzy

  16. Loved this!! I too have an inflammatory diseases. Was diagnosed a little over a year ago with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Dr at first thought it was joint pain do to menopause but after some further testing confirmed it was not. I’m not quite were you are I’m still letting it define me sometimes. Trying to find the right biologics to get me into full remission. It’s been a rough 5 yrs on my body between peri menopause and RA. Thanks for the post and please continue to share anything new that comes across your desk.

    Robin ❤️

    1. Sweet Robin,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your RA. Living with an auto-immune disease is not easy! It can’t define you unless you let it! Everyone has something! Every time I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself, I remember how blessed I am to have a happy marriage, kids that are doing well, and a beautiful home! Lots of people face heartbreak because they don’t have those! (You should see my emails from devastated parents with kids who’ve REALLY struggled …) Thanks so much for sharing. I hope you feel empowered to do what YOU can to help your disease. Love and hugs to you and thank you so much for your comment. xoxo Suzy

  17. Suzy,
    I emailed earlier about inflammation and then found this post! Thank you so much for clearing this up for me. Although, I would still like to know what your symptoms are and how do you know you are having a flare-up. I’m just getting started on this journey. It is interesting to read other people’s experiences.

  18. However your daughter did that photo,?it’s darling!…she sure looks like mom!..I’m impressed w/ your attitude in the midst of health issues…thank you and blessings!…I struggle w/ inflammation; my journey has taken me to Carnivore eating, and as long as I follow, w/ o coffee and sugary cream, I have no symptoms..but find that hard! Dyshydrotic exzema on top of hands, between fingers,…BIG cracks appear within 2 days of onset…2 wks to heal…mouth/ tongue tingles, burns…a strict Carnivore diet has been only help…struggled with this for past 9 yrs…. Survived father’s death; car accident age 10, deep disappointments w/only child, step child, too…I think it’s stress and grief,; emotionally related…

    1. Debbie,
      I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. You may be right, it may be stress exacerbated. I hope you are getting some mental health and spiritual help at the same time as phsical help for your symptoms. Hang in there, sweet girl. Thank you for sharing.
      xoxo Suzy

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