Dr. Day is a cardiologist and Medical Director of Heart Rhythm Services at his practice in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowship in cardiology at Stanford University. He is board certified in Cardiology and Cardiac Electrophysiology.
10 Ways to Stop Inflammation from Air Pollution and Other Causes
Breathing bad air is one of the main causes of inflammation, breathing problems, and heart conditions. A poor diet, too much stress, not enough sleep, and lack of exercise also cause inflammation.
Inflammation is a silent killer that not only causes chronic pain and fatigue now, but also puts you at risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, or arthritis. This article will teach you everything you need to know about how to stop inflammation now.
How bad is breathing bad air?
The air this past week in Salt Lake City has been especially dangerous. Red air days have been common. For most of this past week, our beloved mountains were hidden by dense smog. Here is a photo from our local newspaper to show just how bad the air has been.
When our air pollution is bad, my hospital fills up with patients. We see many patients with respiratory problems and heart attacks on these red air days. It gets so bad that our local schools won’t even let our kids go outside for recess.
Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency, one organization has calculated that breathing Salt Lake City air for one year is the equivalent of living with a smoker for three months. For those of you living in North America, you can find out your “cigarette equivalent” air pollution risk by visiting their website.
It isn’t just Salt Lake City that suffers from bad air. Studies from people living in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, St. Paul, and Winston-Salem can lose up to five years of life from air pollution.
Acute versus Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is like fire. It can be a good or bad thing depending on the company it keeps.
For example, if you caught a cold or sprained your knee this year, you need your body to rev up the immune system for a couple of weeks to repair the damage. Once things have healed, the inflammatory response should shut off.
However, with chronic inflammation the inflammation never turns off. Inflammation that is never settles down causes “rusting” throughout your body, many chronic medical problems, and even a premature death.
How to Measure Your Inflammation
To find out your own inflammation level, there is a simple and reliable blood test your doctor can order for you. Perhaps you have already had this done. It is called C-reactive protein or CRP.
Based on your level of chronic inflammation (CRP level), your doctor can predict your risk of a heart attack. The goal is to get your CRP level as low as possible. Ideally, your CRP level will be below 1 mg/L. Levels above 3 mg/L put you at high risk of a heart attack and premature death. An abnormally high CRP level also puts you at risk for cancer and dementia as well as a myriad of other chronic medical problems.
Of course, you don’t want to get a CRP blood test when you are battling a cold or other infection as it will be quite high. To truly measure your level of chronic inflammation, this test should be done when your body is not fighting off an infection.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Besides breathing bad air, what causes chronic inflammation? Inflammation tends to be elevated in people eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, red/processed meats, fast foods, and processed foods.
Inflammation, and the CRP blood test, are also elevated in people who don’t regularly exercise, weigh more than they should, have a stressful job or life, have difficulties sleeping, suffer from depression, have arthritis or autoimmune diseases, or suffer from medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.
10 Ways to Stop Inflammation
Regardless of what is causing your inflammation, here are my 10 best ways to stop inflammation now. The more things you can correct, the lower your risk from inflammation.
If air pollution is high where you live, then you may need to work even harder on these things to keep chronic inflammation levels low. To track yourself, you can have your doctor check your CRP levels before and after you do these 10 things.
1. Breathe Clean Air
Breathing polluted air from tobacco or air pollution activates inflammation and causes lung and heart disease. One study showed that environmental air pollution can double the level of inflammation in your body. Fortunately, another study showed that breathing clean air immediately lowers inflammation.
One thing to remember is that indoor air can be two to five times worse than whatever air you are breathing outside of your home. To breathe cleaner air, consider the following things: Have smokers smoke outside of the home, office, or cars, use HEPA air filters for your home, keep your home well ventilated, use exhaust fans when cooking on the stove, don’t drive when there is traffic congestion, recycle the air in your car on red air days, exercise outside in the mornings when air pollution tends to be lower, etc.
Of course, make sure you are part of the solution rather than the problem. Minimize your contribution to air pollution and continue to put pressure on your local politicians to make clean air a priority.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Of all of the strategies to reduce inflammation, weight loss consistently lowers inflammation and CRP levels the most. For example, weight loss can result in up to an 81% decrease in CRP. Even just losing a few pounds can significantly lower your inflammation and CRP levels.
3. Daily Exercise
Physically fit people have very low levels of CRP. However, too much of a good thing, like training for a full Iron Man triathlon or an ultra marathon, may increase inflammation and CRP levels. Optimal CRP levels tend to occur with moderate levels of daily exercise.
4. Eat More Fiber
As 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, it only makes sense that a healthy gut lowers inflammation and CRP. In one study, boosting daily fiber intake to more than 30 mg daily cut CRP levels in half. To keep gut inflammation low, focus on fiber from vegetables, fruits, and legumes as well as fermented foods. To learn more about gut heath, please read my blog “How to Heal Your Gut in 5 Simple Steps” from blog #140.
5. Get More Vitamin C from Vegetables and Fruits
The antioxidant, vitamin C, has also been shown to decrease inflammation and CRP. In a well designed study, vitamin C decreased CRP levels by 25%.
To get more vitamin C, eat more vegetables and fruits. For example, just one serving of papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, or pineapples will give you more than enough vitamin C for the entire day.
6. Increase Omega 3s
To stop inflammation, eat more omega 3 fatty acid foods. For example, in a recent study, omega 3 fatty acids nearly cut CRP levels in half.
Unfortunately, up to 95% of Americans are deficient in omega 3. To boost your omega 3s, make sure to eat oily fish weekly in addition to a daily dose of the plant form of omega 3. Plant based foods high in omega 3s include flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, soy beans, cruciferous vegetables, and berries.
7. Reduce Stress:
Chronic stress and anxiety increases inflammation and CRP levels. If stress is unavoidable, then focus on doing something daily to manage stress. This could be yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer, or even a walk in nature.
8. Get Restorative Sleep
Go to bed earlier so that you don’t need an alarm clock to wake you before your body is ready to get up. If you are overweight or snore, talk to your doctor about getting tested for sleep apnea.
9. Limit Sugar, Refined Grains, Red/Processed Meats, Fast Foods and Processed Foods
Besides carrying extra weight and smoking, the Standard American Diet (SAD) is probably one of the main causes of excessive inflammation. The sooner you can get off of, or at least significantly limit these foods, the better off your health and inflammation levels will be.
10. Keep Glucose and Hemoglobin A1C Levels Low
Half of all American adults suffer from pre-diabetes or diabetes. With pre-diabetes or diabetes, blood sugar levels (glucose) tend to be high, especially after eating.
One of the best tests for pre-diabetes and diabetes is hemoglobin A1C. This is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you. This test measures how much glucose is stuck to your red blood cells.
Elevated blood sugar levels are highly inflammatory. Thus, to stop inflammation, keep hemoglobin A1C levels as low as possible to keep inflammation and CRP levels in check.
Take Home Message
Most of the patients I see everyday suffer from high levels of chronic inflammation. Indeed, most of the chronic diseases Americans suffer from can be traced back to chronic inflammation.
Whether this inflammation comes from breathing bad air, making poor food choices, or not exercising, the effects are the same. The key to a long, healthy, and happy life is to only have inflammation when it is absolutely needed, like in battling an infection or an acute injury.
What are you doing to keep inflammation levels low? Please share your experiences with our community below. Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, please leave your questions below. I will do my best to answer every question.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.