05/29/2012 08:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The No. 1 Health Problem You Haven't Heard of (and 10 Ways to Beat It)

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., Nutrition Editor, EatingWell Magazine

As I was editing a new story on inflammation for the May/June issue of EatingWell Magazine, I would talk to friends and family about it -- and, not surprisingly, they didn’t really know what inflammation was. (Do you?)

Here's the thing: under normal circumstances, some inflammation is a good thing -- it's your body's natural protective response to an illness or injury. You know how your finger can get red and puffy when you get a cut? That's your white blood cells shielding your wound from contamination and infection. That's acute inflammation.

Chronic or systemic inflammation is when the "protect me" signal misfires (which is not a good thing). "Essentially, white blood cells inappropriately move into tissues, causing destruction," explains Floyd Chilton, Ph.D., director of the NIH-sponsored Center for Botanical Lipids and Inflammatory Disease Prevention at Wake Forest Baptist Health School of Medicine in North Carolina. This reaction can happen anywhere in your body. "If [it] happens in the heart, you wind up with heart disease; if it happens in the joint, it's arthritis; in the brain, it might be dementia," Chilton says.

As you can now understand, when I explained to my friends and family what chronic inflammation is, nearly all of them were stunned ("Why haven&'t I heard about this?") and also intrigued ("What can I do to lower my risk?").

Well, I couldn't tell them (or you) why inflammation is a fairly unknown health hazard, but as author Holly Pevzner explains in the article, inflammation contributes to every major chronic condition, including the three top killers in the United States: heart disease, cancer and stroke. It is also believed to play a significant role (as either a cause or effect) in many diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

But there are things you can do to turn down the dial on inflammation. Here are 10 tips on how you might be able to stave off -- or tamp down -- inflammation in your body:

10 Ways To Beat Inflammation

If you've had chronic inflammation, what have you done to keep it at bay?

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D.

Brierley Wright
Brierley's interest in nutrition and food come together in her position as nutrition editor at EatingWell. Brierley holds a master's degree in Nutrition Communication from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. A Registered Dietitian, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Vermont.

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