Inflammation in the body is a normal and healthy response to injury or attack by germs. We can see it, feel it and measure it as local heat, redness, swelling, and pain. This is the body's way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity into an area that needs to fend off infection or heal. But inflammation isn't always helpful. It also has great destructive potential, which we see when the immune system mistakenly targets the body's own tissues in (autoimmune) diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Whole-body inflammation refers to chronic, imperceptible, low-level inflammation. Mounting evidence suggests that over time this kind of inflammation sets the foundation for many serious, age-related diseases including heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Recent evidence indicates that whole-body inflammation may also contribute to psychological disorders, especially depression - for more on this, see my new book, Spontaneous Happiness, which will be released November 8, 2011.
The extent of this chronic inflammation is influenced by genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, too much stress, and exposure to environmental toxins such as secondhand tobacco smoke. Diet has a huge impact, so much so that I believe that most people in our part of the world go through life in a pro-inflammatory state as a result of what they eat. I'm convinced that the single most important thing you can do to counter chronic inflammation is to stop eating refined, processed and manufactured foods.
You can also try my anti-inflammatory diet, as illustrated by my anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid. This isn't a weight-loss diet (though you can lose weight if you follow it). Instead, it is designed to help you reduce chronic inflammation by eating fresh, healthy and delicious foods. One of the most important things the diet does is provide balanced amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Most people consume an excess of omega-6 fatty acids, which the body uses to synthesize compounds that promote inflammation. You get a lot of omega 6 fatty acids from snack foods and fast foods. Omega-3 fatty acids - from oily fish, walnuts, flax, hemp and to a lesser degree canola oil and sea vegetables - have an anti-inflammatory effect.
If you look at the food pyramid on this site you'll see that it emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, fish and sea food, whole soy foods, and tells you how much of these foods to eat daily or weekly. You get a wide variety of fresh foods on this diet, plus some red wine daily, if you so desire, and healthy sweet treats such as dark chocolate (make sure it has a minimum content of 70 percent cocoa). Along with influencing inflammation, this diet will provide steady energy and ample vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, and protective phytonutrients. What's more, I think you'll enjoy it.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Learn more about Dr. Weil's new book and online program: Spontaneous Happiness