Inflammation, which is certainly no stranger to people with spinal cord injury, is part of the immune system’s first line of defense against the invasion of microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. Once microbes are detected as foreign to the body, immune cells such as macrophages (literally meaning “big eaters”) are rapidly activated to help defend the body. When these “big eaters” encounter an unwanted microorganism, they engulf it and at the same time release substances into the space around them, which not only prevent the infection from spreading, but also alter the blood vessels near the site of infection, causing increased blood flow to the area and the entry of immune cells. These effects account for the swelling, redness, pain and heat symptoms of inflammation.
So what we’ve just described is a good thing, correct? Inflammation helps protect the body — when it’s short term. The problem with inflammation is when it is prolonged, it wreaks havoc on the body — and people with SCI tend to be systemically inflamed. This chronic inflammation can then contribute to decreased immune function, making us more susceptible to infection (such as colds, flu, bladder and respiratory infections), difficulty losing weight, neuropathic pain and depression. Some factors that contribute to our chronic inflammation are stress, pain, intake of certain medications and poor diets.
With regard to diet, certain foods cause acidity in the body, which in turn cause inflammation. To reduce diet-induced inflammation, avoid sugar (cakes, cookies, candy, soda pop, refined carbohydrates), artificial flavors/colors/sweeteners, trans fats (prepared salad dressing, packaged foods, fast/deep fried foods) and reduce your intake of red meat. Instead focus on eating foods and spices that have an alkalinizing or anti-inflammatory effect. To help reduce your inflammation, try to incorporate these anti-inflammatory foods into your diet on a regular daily basis: omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, fish oil, flax seeds/oil), green leafy vegetables, fruit, ginger, turmeric and lemon water. Here’s an easy recipe for anti-inflammatory turmeric tea that you can drink every day!
Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tea
1 cup hot water
1 tsp ground turmeric
squeeze fresh lemon juice
½ tsp honey
Combine everything in a mug and stir well. If necessary, adjust certain ingredients slightly to your taste to get a pleasing flavor.
Joanne Smith and Kylie James are co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.