This post is going to look at inflammation– what it is, why it’s worse in some ways during the winter, and how to reduce it.
Did you know that in the United States, 52.5 million ( 22.7 percent) of adults were affected by arthritis in the years 2010-2012? This number is projected to climb to 78.4 million adults by 2040! Many of these people suffer worse during the winter months.
Keep reading to find out a little more about inflammation, as well as ways to combat it this winter.
Anyone who suffers from an inflammatory response of any kind is familiar with a flare up. Many of us can relate to suffering a little (or a lot) more in the winter months. Some of this is related to the barometric pressure changes that occur in winter. Barometric pressure is the weight of air molecules pressing down on you. When temperatures drop, the air pressure drops, and this lower air pressure pushes less against the body than a higher air pressure would. This causes tissues to expand, which can lead to tendons, muscles, and surrounding tissues to expand, and this leads to joint pain, also known as inflammation.
Symptoms of inflammation you may experience more in the winter:
- Skin redness/itching
- Swollen, painful, and/or stiff joint(s), sometimes warm to the touch
- Loss of joint function
One study analyzing blood cells found fascinating results–around 5,000 different genes showed changes that varied based on the season. The most observed genetic changes occurred in the white blood cells, which deal with our immune system response. Inflammation is defined in the study as our body’s response to harm, and findings showed that in the winter, inflammation is highest. Why? Is it because we are eating different foods during the winter, or staying indoors more than usual, or there is less daylight? Maybe, but the culprit is likely environmental. Regardless, the evidence was pretty clear that there is a change in our DNA makeup in the winter seasons, that is, our body responds differently in the winter than in the warmer seasons. This is significant to our overall health because elevated inflammation can put us at higher risk for cardiovascular and/or autoimmune disorders.
So, how can we reduce inflammation in our bodies any time of year, but especially in the winter seasons when we are most at risk? Here are a few ways:
How Can I Reduce Inflammation in the Winter?
Really rack up those antioxidant points (and rack up some omega 3 points as well)
Antioxidants are found in many foods, and are helpful in protecting the body from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can cause inflammation, which can cause painful swelling in the joints and also negatively affect our immune system. Inflammation is linked with development of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. Winter is a prime season for finding antioxidant filled produce, which can help keep our joints happy. Some good sources of antioxidants are:
Beets contain the antioxidant betaine. Betaine has been linked to reducing oxidative stress associated with Alzheimers as well as heart disease. Beet greens, which are the tops of the beets, contain the antioxidant lutein. Lutein may prevent the eyes from macular degeneration. Beets also contain natural nitrates that may increase your endurance, allowing you to exercise for longer periods of time.
Suggestions: Try roasted beets. Peel and cube some beets, toss in olive or avocado oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook at 425 degrees, for 15-20 minutes or until fork tender. If you buy beets with the tops attached– save the tops! Wash and dry them, remove stems, chop, and sautee in some olive oil with a little salt and pepper. Serve as a side dish (they’re really good on a breakfast plate!).
- LEAFY GREENS
Leafy greens can withstand cold temperatures, which makes them an excellent choice of produce in the winter. Leafy greens contain an array of antioxidants– carotenoids (good for protecting the skin), flavonoids (fight a host of diseases), omega 3 fatty acids (good for heart, blood vessels, and brain), vitamin C (useful for overall health and reduction of chronic diseases, and lutein (important for your eye health). Grees are also rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and iron. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, parsley, and broccoli are a great source of Vitamin E as well. One thing vintamin E does really well is protect the body against inflammation.
Suggestions: Consider sautéing greens to go with any meal of the day, or chopping a handful and adding to a salad, or tossing some into a smoothie. Aim for at least five servings a day.
Especially citrus… We know citrus fruits are powerhouses for Vitamin C, but did you know that Vitamin C isn’t just an awesome immune system booster? There is some research suggesting Vitamin C might fight the inflammation associated with exercise induced asthma. Citrus fruits also contain flavonoids, which may reduce the risk of strokes, and lycopene, which may protect the cells from oxidative damage. All fruits contain a plethora of nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, which all work to reduce inflammation.
Suggestions: Eat more citrus fruits! Take advantage of their peak freshness in the winter. Tart cherries, strawberries, raspberries, watermelons, and grapes are especially helpful at reducing arthritic inflammation/pain. Aim for 5 or more servings of fruit each day.
You probably aren’t going to eat this one on its own, but turmeric is a nice addition to winter dishes. Turmeric has been shown to have powerful antioxidant properties and curcumin, turmeric’s active form, may reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis.
Suggestions: Sprinkle turmeric on roasted veggies like beets or cauliflower. Consider taking a turmeric supplement.
Potatoes are rich in antioxidants. All types of potatoes contain significant Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes and purple potatoes are particularly high in antioxidants. Carotenoids– which are a precursor to Vitamin A, which protects the cells from sun damage and also protects the eyes– are present in sweet potatoes. Purple potatoes have been found to have almost twice the amount of the antioxidant anthocyanin found in most other produce. Anthocyanins encourage heart health, reduce cholesterol, prevent diseases, fight obesity, and boost our brain function.
Suggestions: cube and roast the potatoes (of any variety). If you like mashed potatoes, consider changing it up and making mashed sweet potatoes every once in awhile.
- OMEGA 3
Leafy greens containing omegas 3s has already been mentioned, but other great sources of omega 3s include: fish, nuts, and olive oil. Olive oil also contains a chemical that actually halts the production of the chemicals that produce inflammation in the body.
Suggestions: Try to include ¾ ounces of fish at least twice a week. Drizzle some olive oil atop a salad. Consider adding flax seeds or walnuts to your salads, cereals, or desserts.
- DRINK MORE WATER
Fresh drinking water flushes toxins and other irritants out of the system, which helps to manage inflammation. When our cells are deprived of enough water, their function slows down, our metabolism slows down, nutrients aren’t delivered optimally, and these things affect every organ in our body, and our largest organ- our skin. Inadequate water intake can have consequences ranging from fatigue, brain fog, headaches, joint pain, weight gain, and unhealthy cravings.
Suggestions: Drink a minimum of half your body weight in ounces of water daily. For example, someone weighing 180 pounds should aim to drink 90 ounces of water each day.
- DRESS IN LAYERS
The warmer you are, the better. Stiff joints are soothed by warmth.
Listen to your body, and take care of it–inside and out.
- STAY ACTIVE
Begin, or continue in, regular exercise. Exercise is important to increase muscle and bone strength and also helps to decrease stiffness and fatigue. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which helps to alleviate inflammation.
Suggestions: Don’t forget to stretch. Stretching helps to loosen the joints and reduce the risk of injury.
- SLEEP WELL
A good night’s rest is important because lack of adequate sleep can increase inflammation.
Take the time this winter to take care of yourself and empower yourself to reduce or prevent symptoms of inflammation. May you enjoy some of the beauty winter brings, with less pain from Old Man Winter’s stings.