More and more research is being published in the medical journals about the impact of inflammation on the body. Most of us know that inflammation is about redness, swelling, heat and pain, usually after we have been cut or had an infection. What most of us don’t know is that inflammation is not always obvious. It can quietly smolder in the body for years before making itself obvious by way of cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

I was talking about this with my medical practitioner a few weeks back. He looked at me in disbelief, as if I was treading on some of his favorite ideas. He was the doctor and therefore he must be right and I as the patient must be wrong. Sadly, he was just not up with his ongoing professional development – though to be fair there are just so many medical journals out there it just isn’t possible to be up to date in everything.

So what is this new information? It is an idea that has been around since the Romans, and quite possibly earlier. However it is only now that the research is catching up with the concept. An in-depth look at inflammation was the focus of a specialized medical journal Current Opinion in Pharmacology (2009) and there were a nice simple few sentences for ordinary people amongst the discussion about the pathways that only a few could understand.

The core idea is that inflammation is activated by tobacco, stress, some foods, obesity, alcohol, infections and environmental toxins. This makes it much simpler for all of us. We don’t need to know the detail – our body knows how to do that without our minds knowing anything about it.

So we need to give up smoking, avoid sugar, many grains, grain fed meat and any foods that contribute to obesity, reduce our overall levels of stress (physical, emotional, social, work), avoid truck and car fumes and other poisons where possible and make sure our hormones are functioning properly. This is really important as, for example, a low functioning thyroid means that we can’t turn beta-carotene into Vitamin A. A Vitamin A deficiency means not only that we can suffer from night blindness, but also that our skin and the linings of our lungs and gut don’t keep out the viruses, bacteria and fungi that cause infections or the toxins that might get into our bodies and need to be contained and removed.

Our bodies give a great feedback system to many of us in the community. If our waists keep getting bigger or our arthritis gives us trouble or we keep getting infections then we know immediately that we have an inflammation and immune system problem.

We CAN take charge of our lives and not leave it until we get sick, have a heart attack or be challenged with cancer or diabetes. We can take “feeling ill” or a large waist as an early warning symptom and choose to do something about it now.

As a person with a strong early warning system (that is I have lots of inflammatory symptoms), I used to get annoyed by people who were thin, who smoked, worked hard in high stress jobs and seemed to be fine. But the medical papers I have been reading reminded me that they might not be fine. These people can appear to be coping well, but under all of this appearance can be a smoldering inflammation, an immune system that is ripe for a heart attack or a cancer. Remember that some people stay completely well until all of a sudden they are hit with one of the big health problems.

We need then to take some pre-emptive action. We need to add some more brightly colored vegetables, especially the broccoli and onion families, get some regular exercise, learn to relax, get some sun for vitamin D and stop smoking if you are a smoker. This will improve your odds of avoiding one of the big diseases.