Among your wellness-savvy friends, you may have noticed that the word inflammation comes up a lot. It's linked to everything from acne to allergies to Alzheimer's—and now "anti-inflammatory" products are everywhere, from the grocery store to the beauty counter. But, if you can believe it, there was a time when you got serious blowback (and even ridicule) for linking the phenomenon with disease and aging—just ask Nicholas Perricone, MD.
"During medical school and my three-year residency in dermatology, I made important connections between inflammation and disease," says Dr. Perricone (who you may recognize from his his eponymous skin-care line, which recently expanded its line of supplements—many of which are anti-inflammatory, natch). "To learn about hundreds of skin diseases we studied in books, we also needed to recognize them in clinical examination and under a microscope."
Inflammation has an unmistakable appearance—he describes them as dark blue dots, "like confetti, although the presence of inflammation is nothing to celebrate. Quite the opposite." And that led to his discovery of groundbreaking intel that's still being dissected today.
Here, the OG of inflammation research explains why inflammation is such a big deal—and the four biggest triggers that you can avoid.
Sounding the anti-inflammatory alarm
Dr. Perricone quickly saw that inflammation wasn't only present in skin diseases—the same thing was showing up when he looked at aging skin, too—which led him to question whether inflammation itself was causing these changes.
"I began to consider wrinkles as a disease, since inflammation was present when damage to skin tissue resulted in wrinkles," he says. "My professors insisted the inflammation was just part of the picture; a byproduct and not the cause."
"Every disease I studied had a common theme: Whether it was cancer or aging, inflammation was present."
He kept looking further into these not-so-good particles, and found it to be tied to everything from arthritis to heart disease. "Every disease I studied had a common theme: Whether it was cancer or aging, inflammation was present."
Dr. Perricone remained adamant that inflammation wasn't merely a secondary response, as everyone else was telling him. "I believed inflammation to be the key to the whole process of disease of every type," he says. It may sound absurd now, but his theory was mostly dismissed. Since he published his book, however, other researchers have fallen in line, and today he notes that there have been tremendous strides in the field of anti-aging medicine. "Now it's accepted by mainstream science, which recognizes its validity and its serious threat to beauty, health, and longevity," he says.
Want great skin? Here's Dr. Perricone's advice
As the wellness world now knows, the condition rears its proverbial head in a number of ways (all of which are pretty much unwelcome).
And to bust an all-too-common myth about the i-word: Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there doing its damage, according to Dr. Perricone. "Inflammation exists in a broad spectrum that ranges from low to high," he explains. "On the low side, it occurs on a cellular and even a molecular level, invisible to the naked eye and possibly even invisible under the microscope. This inflammation is highly damaging to all organs including the skin. On the high side, the inflammation is visibly evident as redness and swelling such as seen in a wound or sunburn."
"Just because you can't see inflammation doesn't mean it's not there doing its damage."
So what in your everyday life could be causing this?
Sugar and starchy foods. Dr. Perricone notes that they tend to lead to skin damage. "Foods and beverages that are rapidly converted to sugar are also pro-inflammatory," he says. That means soda, all kinds of sugar, pasta, bread, anything fried...the list goes on.
Processed foods and anything with trans fats. Not a surprise here—and there are lots of reasons to avoid the chips-and-dips aisle. "Also be sure to avoid processed foods and foods containing unhealthy trans fats."
Stress. This is a big one, along with environmental stressors (and the hidden allergies they could be triggering), a weakened immune system, too much exposure to ultraviolet light, and hormonal changes.
Glycemic spikes. The single biggest thing you can do control inflammation, according to Dr. Perricone? Watch your blood sugar and insulin levels by following an anti-inflammatory diet, he says. "To do so, you must avoid foods that provoke a 'glycemic' response in the body, which is a rapid rise in blood sugar," he says. "This is the key to health, longevity, mental clarity, well-being, and beautiful, youthful skin."
In other words: It might be time to finally cut sugar after all.
To help out with your eating plan, this is what the ultimate anti-inflammatory meal looks like. For a delicious recipe, this turmeric fried rice is a major upgrade from takeout.
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