Many seniors suffer from various chronic aches and pains — I do.
Most doctors will say it is part of the aging process and brush it off, but my doctor, not so much. She will try to pinpoint the issue and search for a possible solution or treatment. Sometimes, the answer is not medicinal, but as simple as changing habits, eating differently and, yes, the dreaded exercise regimen.
We have all heard of anti-inflammatories, but what is a “flammatory,” anyway? Obviously, there is no such word, but with a little research, I found out plenty about inflammation and how it works to alert us to an injury or illness and cause pain.
When you get a cold or flu, your body temperature rises to fight the virus. That’s a form of “good” inflammation. The redness and swelling that occur when you sprain your ankle is another example of how your body uses this process to provide healing chemicals and nutrients needed to help repair the damage. This temporary response goes away when the issue goes away.
“Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a slow, creeping condition caused by a misfiring of the immune system that keeps your body in a constant, long-term state of high alert,” says Robert H. Shmerling, clinic chief in the department of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Studies at The National Institute of Health claim that over time, inflammation damages healthy cells. This can be hereditary and, in some cases, certain diseases can be triggered by inflammation. Diabetes and cancer are two genetically related examples that can be affected while the gene itself causes a hindrance to the immune system. This can sometimes be a factor in producing the inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and other diseases.
Other factors promoting inflammation include the environment (where pollution, air and water quality are factors), lifestyle choices, obesity, unregulated stress, tobacco use, drinking too much, lack of physical activity, too little or interrupted sleep and, of course, poor diet. These are all linked to chronic inflammation, and as we get older, we are exposed to more and more of these concerns.
Aging makes it more difficult for our bodies to properly manage our immune systems, to extract nutrients from food and lose extra pounds. When something sparks our immune system and puts our bodies into a state of stress, we respond. The body goes into attack mode with its inflammatory response, which includes blood vessel expansion to increase blood flow to the problem. Inflammation that causes cellular damage can trigger diseases like diabetes, cancer, dementia, heart disease, arthritis and depression. Nasty!
Getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night) and eating foods that heighten your immune system can defer the pain or minimize it by quite a bit. Foods high in sugar or unhealthy fats are at the top of the list of what not to eat. Not fair, but true.
Whatever disease or illness you contract, the immune system will respond. The shorter the issue, the shorter the reaction. There is a fine line between good and bad inflammation. Short term is good to fight off and alert you to a problem. Long term is a whole another story.
So, how can we get a good balance? The answer is easy and extremely hard at the same time.
Giving up sweets is major for me, but cutting back is possible. The thought that foods that are tasty and good for you may be an oxymoron. but for inflammation, dark berries, apples (which are rich in fiber) and vegetables are excellent. The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables help slow down cellular damage created by inflammation. Avoiding or minimizing inflammatory foods like processed flour, sugar and anything high in fat will also help. Most vegetarians or vegans will claim to have lowered their inflammatory issues.
High-fiber foods are essential for your gut during digestion. Plant-based foods pack the strongest anti-inflammatory punch. It’s also true that red and processed meats can cause inflammation, but you don’t have to totally banish meats from your diet. This is particularly important for older adults, because protein consumption may help prevent age-related muscle loss, and one can eat just so many eggs or bowls of cottage cheese.
A well-balanced diet can include a healthier choice of organic, grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish, which have a lower inflammation factor because they feed on plants and animals that are high in phytonutrients. Salmon and avocado are great sources of protein and good fat.
By a certain age, we all have some degree of inflammation in our bodies. Instead of pharmaceuticals, try the natural way and keep yourself in check by drinking lots of water, avoiding toxins, eating well and keeping active, any way you can. Ask your doctor, as always, for input, but I think there is one thing we can all agree on, and that is for the stress part.
I say turn off the news and crank up some good Sinatra, Beatles or Moody Blues music and dance!
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at email@example.com.