The Most Important Steps You Can Take To Reduce Inflammation
by Dr. Harrison Weisinger, MBBS, PhD.
In my 20 years’ experience as a scientist, medical practitioner, and university professor, I have learned that taking these practical steps will drastically reduce inflammation and improve your life.
Step 1 - Sleep at least 7 hours per night
Have you ever stopped to wonder why we sleep? Indeed, all animals sleep. What could be so important that a Zebra in the Savanna should render themselves unconscious and vulnerable for 8 hours when there are predators all around them?
We now know that sleep is paramount to normal brain function and those that get less than 7 hours sleep per night are far more likely to incur inflammatory consequences such as weight gain and other metabolic problems such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression as well as making poor decisions and performing up to 30% worse during physical exercise.
To paraphrase sleep expert, Professor Matthew Walker, wakefulness causes a minor form of brain damage – that is reversed only through adequate sleep.
The most disturbing trend is that today, people living in the UK sleep on average 2 hours less per night than they did 50 years ago.
In practical terms, you can increase the quality and quantity of your sleep by:
Giving yourself the opportunity to sleep 8 hours. It takes most people between 10 and 20 minutes to fall asleep so if you wake up at 7 am, it needs to be lights-out at 10.30.
Set up your bedroom to optimise sleep. For most that means ensuring the room is completely dark and cool (about 19 degrees), has fresh air or good ventilation. Prior to bed, you should reduce exposure to blue light. There are a range of lightbulbs that can do this (such as Phillips or LIFX) and you can filter the light emitted by your phone or computer (I use f.lux for the Mac).
If you’re prone to being woken by noises, either try wearing earplugs or devices like the Bose Sleepbuds which mask sounds by playing soothing noises such as rainfall or windscapes.
Monitor your sleep. There are lots of apps and wearables you can try to get a measure of how much sleep you’re getting. I recommend ‘Sleep Cycle’ and Withings devices. If you don’t want to wear a wristwatch, you might tolerate an Oura Ring.
Try a natural supplement. I’ll talk about supplements extensively, later in this article.
Step 2 - Reduce food intake, especially carbohydrates.
What people eat is always a subject of intense debate. Horses for courses, right? Not really.
Years of personal experience and of guiding patients (my special interest in medicine is dietary change and weight loss), I can categorically say that lowering dietary carbohydrate reduces inflammation, while improving body composition, mood, physical and brain function through the day.The research, as far a ‘food restriction’ and longevity goes, is equally categorical.
Second only to getting adequate sleep, reducing the total amount of food consumed significantly extends life.
The effect is so profound that many leading experts and physicians have themselves, switched to ketogenic diets or intermittent fasting, or a combination of the two.
It’s important to understand that after years of high carbohydrate intake (look in your pantry or in the display window of any café or cafeteria), it takes a little while to adapt to a new pattern of eating and the fact that your body must re-learn how to use fat as fuel instead of carbohydrate.
After this period of adaptation, which for many takes just 2 weeks, consumers of a low carbohydrate diet overwhelmingly report substantial weight loss, fewer aches and pains, faster recovery from physical exertion, clearer thinking particularly late in the day, better mood, superior energy levels and freedom from cravings.
If you’re willing to give it a try, you won’t regret it.
Practical steps for getting started:
Take a week to prepare mentally.
During this time, you can offload high carb snacks from your pantry and fridge, do some grocery shopping, plan a few staple meals.
Find an app that helps you track your progress.
As far as apps go, the most popular and functional is My Fitness Pal. The free version is very good – good enough to get started, for sure. However, the paid version enables better tracking of macronutrients as well as goal setting. If weight loss is something you’re interested in, then MFP shows you your progress in a number of ways such as by weight, ‘before and after’ photos and other metrics.
Start simple and don’t be too hard on yourself.
While keto enthusiasts espouse the 20g of carbs per day, there’s no need to go so low, so fast. I suggest an initial intake of 100g per day, spread across the day. Most of the carbohydrates should come by way of green vegetables.
Avoid the following:most alcoholic beverages, starchy foods – bread, rice, pasta, noodles, potatoes, milk, and most fruit. You can still have almond or coconut milk, berries, spirits with soda or diet mixer and what my wife and I refer to as “fake rice”, which is either cauliflower or konyaku (a gelatinous plant) in origin. You may be able to find a low-carb online supermarket to source this stuff.
Think through, and perhaps even prepare a meal or two in advance. If you find yourself arriving home after a tough day at work, without any idea about what’s for dinner – the temptation to reach for Uber Eats may be too strong to handle. I speak from experience!
There are hundreds if not thousands of recipe books, Facebook groups and blogs on the topic of what to eat on a low carbohydrate diet. As I said earlier though, what we eat is a divisive topic so once you find something that works for you and you’re set, try to avoid social media.
As a general rule, athletes need to have slightly more carbohydrates on board so have a little but extra the night before a big session (for example, a small bowl of rice or some sweet potato).
Intermittent fasting is effective in reducing inflammation and is best done after adapting to a low carbohydrate diet. The essence of intermittent fasting is to skip a meal so as to extend the natural fast that occurs while you sleep. Most people I know that fast intermittently skip breakfast completely meaning they won’t have eaten between, say, 8 pm and midday the next day.
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