The Truth about Why Your Body Produces Inflammation

If you’ve ever read an article on nutrition, you’ve probably read that an unhealthy diet can cause inflammation. But what is inflammation and why is it actually bad for you?

Inflammation is a natural bodily response that plays a critical role in your health. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to heal yourself when you get sick or when you have foreign invaders in your body.

Keep reading to find out what triggers inflammation, why you should minimize it, and what type of changes you can make to keep it under control.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s way of dealing with foreign substances in your body. Viruses, bacteria, or even a splinter can trigger inflammation release. (1)

When your white blood cells sense these types of unfamiliar bodies, they release chemicals that lead to the various symptoms of inflammation.

These symptoms include the following: (2)

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Loss of joint movement
  • Heat
  • Feelings of exhaustion

There are two ways that inflammation can cause discomfort.

When swelling pushes against your nerves, it can stimulate pain in your brain. The build-up of certain chemicals called cytokines can also bind to receptors that causes the area to ache. Cytokines are small proteins that change the way your cells communicate.

Inflammation also signals for the release of several hormones including bradykinin and histamine that cause your small vessels to dilate. More blood rushes to the area, which makes an inflamed area feel hot. This increase in blood flow allows your body to carry more nutrients to the area, which speeds up the rate of healing.

A real-world example of your body’s inflammation reaction is if you had a thorn stuck in your finger. The area becomes red and tender to the touch as your body tries to get push out the thorn. You’ll probably also notice some swelling and heat around the injury. However, a thorn is probably too small to cause a noticeable decline in your energy levels.

Causes and Risks of Inflammation

The body’s inflammation reaction is supposed to be a short-term solution to dealing with unwanted entities. However, inflammation can also become chronic because of genetic factors, infections, poor diet, or poor exercise habits. (3)

If you were to look at an inflamed area under a microscope, you would see dilated blood vessels and a built-up mucus-like liquid surrounding inflamed area. In this mucus, you would see a variety of proteins released by your immune system such as histamines and cytokines.

Chronic inflammation increases your risk of several diseases including the following: (4)

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type II diabetes
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity

Research shows that a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar leads to a high risk of developing chronic inflammation. These types of carbohydrates can spike your insulin levels and increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (5)

Refined vegetable oils are high in an omega 6 fatty acids that have been found to increase inflammation. Like sugar, these types of vegetable oils increase your body’s production of pro-inflammatory cytokines—in particular—IL-1, TNF-a, and IL-66.

In a study published in 2007 in the journal Physiology and Behavior, researchers examined the relationship between perceived stress and food consumption in university students. The researchers concluded that students with higher perceived stress or depression may use food as a coping mechanism.

Other research shows that stress may also play a role in increasing inflammation. Stress negatively increases your metabolic response to the food you eat and may influence your food choice. Stress can also affect various parts of digestion such as your body’s insulin response to carbohydrates. (6)

Changes You Can Make to Lower Inflammation

Most of the changes you can make to your diet to reduce inflammation can also improve your overall health.

Research shows that diets higher in the following foods are linked to lower amounts of inflammation: (7)

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fiber
  • Tea
  • Curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric)
  • Gingerol (active ingredient in ginger)
  • Catechin (Flavanol found in various fruits)

You’re probably not going to be surprised to hear that the best anti-inflammatory foods are fruits and vegetables.

It’s a good idea to include fresh produce with each meal. Berries with bright colored flesh like blueberries and raspberries are among the fruits with the highest anti-inflammatory effects. (8)

Dark, leafy green vegetables are also a good source of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. (9) In general, the darker the flesh of a vegetable the higher its polyphenol content. Spinach, bok choy, kale, and chard are among the best sources.

The two herbs also have proven anti-inflammatory benefits because of their active ingredients gingerol and curcumin. (10,11)

Here’s a list of some foods that are high in either sugar, refined carbohydrates, or omega 6 fatty acids that you should avoid if you want to decrease inflammation:

  • Sugary juices and sodas
  • Syrups and jams
  • Candy and sugary desserts
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • White potatoes
  • Crackers, chips, rice cakes
  • Sunflower oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Deep fried foods
  • Alcohol
  • Processed meats such as sausage and hot dogs

You can avoid most of these foods by minimizing the number of days per week that you eat fast food. Many pre-packaged foods are filled with sugar and vegetable oils because they’re cheap to produce. Buying primarily foods with one ingredient such as meat, fruit, and vegetables can help you minimize your consumption of these foods.

Minimizing stress may also decrease inflammation. It’s not always as easy to control stress as it is to control your diet. However, making some small changes to your lifestyle habits can go a long way. Scheduling time for activities that relax you can help decrease your stress hormone cortisol. Research also suggests that the act of laughing may also decrease your stress levels. (10)

Many people also find that meditation is helpful for reducing stress. The benefits of meditation come from your vagus nerve. This cranial nerve connects your brain to your heart and allows you to slow your heart rate by controlling your breathing rate.

Benefiting from a Low Inflammation Diet

Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting itself. However, when inflammation remains elevated chronically, your body isn’t able to heal itself effectively and you raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer.

If you want to take your health seriously and lower inflammation, it’s a good idea to focus on eating a clean diet high in fruits and vegetables and avoid sugary foods and refined vegetable oils.

Research also suggests that including curcumin and ginger may also help reduce inflammation.

Quick Disclaimer

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. Readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither the author(s) nor the publisher of this content take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All readers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.


1. Hunter P. The inflammation theory of disease. The growing realization that chronic inflammation is crucial in many diseases opens new avenues for treatment. EMBO Rep. 2012;13(11):968-70.

2. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. What is an inflammation? 2010 Nov 23 [Updated 2018 Feb 22]. Available from:

3. Zhang JM, An J. Cytokines, inflammation, and pain. Int Anesthesiol Clin. 2007;45(2):27-37.

4. Edwards T. Inflammation, pain, and chronic disease: an integrative approach to treatment and prevention. Altern Ther Health Med. 2005;11(6):20-7.

5. Esposito K, Nappo F, Marfella R, et al. Inflammatory cytokine concentrations are acutely increased by hyperglycemia in humans: role of oxidative stress. Circulation. 2002;106(16):2067-72.

6. Kiecolt-glaser JK. Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med. 2010;72(4):365-9.

7. Liu C, Xie B, Chou CP, et al. Perceived stress, depression and food consumption frequency in the college students of China Seven Cities. Physiol Behav. 2007;92(4):748-54.

8. Joseph SV, Edirisinghe I, Burton-freeman BM. Berries: anti-inflammatory effects in humans. J Agric Food Chem. 2014;62(18):3886-903.

9. Tufts HR, Harris CS, Bukania ZN, Johns T. Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activities of Kenyan Leafy Green Vegetables, Wild Fruits, and Medicinal Plants with Potential Relevance for Kwashiorkor. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:807158.

10. Prasad S, Tyagi AK. Ginger and its constituents: role in prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2015;2015:142979.

11. Deguchi A. Curcumin targets in inflammation and cancer. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2015;15(2):88-96.

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