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The Good Medicine Guide to Inflammation by emily penn

You’ve likely heard the term “inflammation” or people talking about “anti-inflammatory” foods or diets. And for good reason - almost every single modern ailment and health issue has inflammation at its root cause. Obesity, chronic pain, brain fog, diabetes, depression, autoimmune disorders - there’s some element of inflammation involved in all of these conditions!

Today we’re going to explore what exactly inflammation is, why it’s so harmful and the best foods + lifestyle practices to fight inflammation.

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What is inflammation?

First, let’s clear up a common misconception about inflammation. It’s not all bad - in fact, we need our body to produce an inflammatory response - it’s a sign that our immune system is alert and working well.

Think of it this way - you fall and cut your knee. The cut starts to turn red, swell and sting. This is inflammation in action! This inflammation alerts your body’s immune system to a problem and in come the white blood cells and your body’s natural line of defense that will help heal you and fight off infection. This is an example of when inflammation is acute, necessary and results in healing.

On the other hand, we can also experience chronic inflammation. Imagine if you were to keep falling on your knee, day after day. That first cut would never heal - in fact it would probably get worse, might get infected, might get so bad that you have to have your leg removed! The kind of inflammation that most of us are experiencing today is like that. It’s a chronic, low grade inflammation. It’s a continuous assault on our body that our immune system can’t quite catch up on.

But here’s another tricky thing about inflammation. When we get a cut, we can see it, we know what that feels like. When there’s inflammation inside of us, we can’t always see it or feel it. We might experience symptoms that are seemingly unrelated. We may walk around for years, chronically inflamed on a low level and never know it. Until one day, out of nowhere, we experience a health crisis.

This is what’s so dangerous about inflammation and why it’s important to combat the inflammation that’s a result of our modern diets and lifestyles.

Why is it suddenly important to talk about inflammation?

You probably know - either from following me or from simply observing the world around you - we’re experiencing a huge health crisis. Never before has the human race been so sick, depressed, or overweight. It’s been getting worse and worse over the last several decades. So what changed?

  • Our diet - we’ve been moving further away from eating foods that mother nature provides and increasingly consuming foods that are highly processed, full of chemicals, preservatives and artificial ingredients.

  • Sugar - sugar is one of the top sources of inflammation. And it. is. everywhere. And we. are. addicted.

  • Pesticides - common sprays like glyphosate inflame our gut lining and promote inflammation in the body.

  • Toxins - all the chemicals that are in our house cleaning products, personal care products, make up and even our furniture are a huge burden for our body! Couple this will pollution from cars, planes and contaminated drinking water. The cumulative effect of this causes inflammation.

  • OTC painkillers + prescription meds - painkillers, even the innocent ones like ibuprofen, are actually extremely hard on the gut. They inflame the gut lining, which then can lead to inflammation systemically.

  • Stress - Chronic stress lessens your body’s ability to regulate inflammation. Stress permeates our culture. It’s been normalized, sometimes even rewarded, and it’s really bad for our health.

What conditions/diseases are associated with chronic inflammation?

  • allergies

  • asthma

  • autoimmune disorders

  • cancer

  • celiac disease

  • hepatitis

  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • coronary artery disease

  • diabetes

  • Alzheimer’s

  • depression

  • anxiety

So how can we combat inflammation? First, let’s look at our diet:

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Foods to Limit/Remove

These are some of the top inflammation causing foods that I recommend you avoid or reduce your consumption of:

  • sugar + artificial sweeteners- especially refined white cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but go easy on more natural forms of sugar too. Artificial sweeteners are usually chemically derived and don’t do your body any favors either.

  • trans fats - there’s been a big movement to get trans fats out of our foods, but they’re still pervasive. Don’t just look at the nutrition facts label - a serving of food that has less than .5 grams of trans fats is not required to be labeled and can be rounded down to zero. Check the ingredients - any oils that are labeled “partially hydrogenated” are trans fats. Fried foods are loaded with trans fats.

  • vegetable + seed oils - including canola, safflower, sunflower, soybean, etc. These oils contain many more omega-6 fatty acids than we need. It’s tough because most any processed/packaged food will contain at least one of these oils. I recommend avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil.

  • refined carbohydrates - I’m not knocking carbs. Whole food carbs (like sweet potatoes) aren’t the problem. Bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, pastries, and some cereals that are made with refined white flour is what you want to avoid.

  • too much alcohol - you can enjoy alcohol occasionally, but too much too often promotes inflammation in the body.

  • processed conventional meats - like bacon, sausage, and smoked meats can promote inflammation. Always opt for the best quality meat you can afford and treat it more as a condiment instead of making it the center of your meal.

  • gluten + grains - the problem with gluten may not be the gluten itself, but more the fact that it’s often sprayed with pesticides, which inflame our gut. For some people (especially those with autoimmune conditions) grains may cause inflammation. This can vary widely from person to person, so notice how you feel when you eat gluten and grains. I recommend cutting them all out for 30 days, see how you feel and notice your body’s reaction when you reintroduce them.

  • dairy - this may not be a cause of inflammation for everyone, but many people don’t digest dairy well. If you’re suffering from headaches, stuffiness, breakouts or bloating, try cutting out dairy to see how you feel.

Foods to Incorporate

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  • fruits + vegetables - virtually all fruits and vegetables provide an anti-inflammatory effect because of their high antioxidant content. Some that are especially good at fighting inflammation are: blueberries, pineapple, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and beets.

  • turmeric - you’ve likely heard of the profound anti-inflammatory effect that turmeric provides. Use it powdered or fresh in cooking. If you’re fighting a lot of inflammation or simply want to be preventative, a turmeric supplement is great.

  • ginger - helps modulate the immune system and has an anti-inflammatory effect.

  • wild caught salmon - is high in omega-3 fats which fight inflammation. It is expensive though, so if you can’t buy it often enough a good supplement works just as well. Some plant-based sources of omega-3s are walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds.

  • nuts + seeds - they contain many phytonutrients that fight inflammation

  • extra virgin olive oil - good quality olive oil contains many antioxidants which fight inflammation.

  • bone broth - helps soothe inflammation in the gut.

Lifestyle Practices

Avoid:

  • stress - stress puts our body in a state of high alert and promotes inflammation. Try to cut stress down in your life and find ways to manage the stress you can’t control. Yoga and meditation are great for stress management.

  • exposure to chemicals - try to reduce your toxic load by opting for natural household cleaners and non-toxic personal care products.

  • exposure to plastics - toxins (like BPA) are found in plastic and can damage your health long-term.

Incorporate:

  • exercise - combats inflammation. Do whatever feels good to you whether that’s hiking, running, lifting weights, a zumba class, tennis - as long as it’s active! Bonus stress reduction points if you get to do any of these things in nature.

  • sleep - get good 7-9 hours of good quality sleep a night. This helps reduce stress, allows your body to rest and heal and helps regulate the immune response.

  • cold therapy - I know, it doesn’t sound fun, but exposing yourself to cold temperatures is amazing for fighting inflammation. You can pay a lot of money to go to a cryotherapy chamber, but cold showers are also super effective. It takes some getting used to, but you might find yourself craving them after awhile. If a whole cold shower sounds like too much, try just a short burst of cold water at the end of your shower.

  • nurture your gut - our gut plays a big role in modulating inflammation. Consume fermented foods (sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, etc.) and plenty of plant foods which act as prebiotics. Bone broth is great for gut health.

This might seem like a lot, but start small! Begin by focusing on incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into into your diet, especially vegetables. There’s no quick fix for inflammation - it’s a shift in lifestyle that will happen over time. Questions? Leave them below!

Ayurvedic Eating for Spring by emily penn

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After what always seems to always feel like a long winter, Spring is finally here! The days are longer, lighter and warmer. It’s the season of rebirth, renewal, new beginnings and growth. We’ve been hibernating all winter - sleeping more, staying inside, resting. Now, much like the flowers, we’re germinating, budding, and getting ready to burst forth into our lives.

In Ayurveda, Spring is considered Kapha season. Kapha is the dosha that’s associated with moisture and warmth. “Of the three doshas… it's kapha that endows your body with its earthy-watery qualities. It provides lubrication for joints, as well as mucus to protect the sensitive tissues of the sinuses, lungs, and stomach; it also determines the size, strength, and suppleness of your muscles. When kapha is in balance, you feel strong, composed, and stable. When it's out of balance, you might feel sleepy, mentally dull, or depressed. You may also experience excess phlegm in the lungs or sinuses, nausea, unhealthy weight gain, water retention, or heaviness in your limbs.” (1)

In Spring, our main goal is to help balance this Kapha energy. In general, we want to incorporate foods and practices that support a feeling of lightness, dryness and heat. Please also take your own dosha into consideration and adjust these recommendations accordingly.

DIET

You may notice your preference for heavier foods that felt nourishing throughout the winter is starting to diminish and you’re naturally feeling more inclined towards lighter foods, fruit, fresh vegetables and salads. This is totally in line with the shift from winter to spring!

During the winter, all that heavy food has accumulated energetically (and maybe physically) in our bodies. Now is the time to support digestion and detoxification. Focus on pungent and bitter foods to support the flow of bile and the detox process. Bitter greens are especially wonderful for this (and also happen to be what’s growing right now) - dandelion greens, kale, cabbage, radicchio, watercress, etc.

Favor fresh vegetables. They don’t necessarily need to be raw, but perhaps instead of a stew or long roasting time, try steaming them or quickly sautéing them.

Green juice is a great way to get lots of nutrients and support the liver.

Green juice is a great way to get lots of nutrients and support the liver.

Reduce heavy, oily and fried foods. Use less oil in your cooking. You can always use water to help prevent sticking in pans.

Reduce your consumption of dairy products, which can promote mucus and congestion in the body.

You may also wanted to reduce your consumption of animal products, again in favor of lots of fresh vegetables and fruit!

If you’re into doing cleanses, spring is a great time to do them! Lots of fresh green juices and light, easy-to-digest meals would make an appropriate cleanse. Kitchari is a staple in Ayurvedic tradition - it’s a super nourishing, simple dish that is used for cleansing, for any kind of digestive issue and as a staple meal. I would recommend adding some fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro this time of year.

Fruits to Favor: Apples, Apricots, Blueberries, Cherries, Cranberries, Dried Fruit, Lemons, Limes, Peaches, Pears, Pomegranates, Prunes (soaked), Raisins, Raspberries, Strawberries

Vegetables to Favor: Artichoke, AsparagusBell Peppers, Beets & Beet Greens, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Chilies, Collard Greens, Corn, Dandelion Greens, Endive, Garlic, Green Beans, Kale, Leeks, Mushrooms, Onion, Peas, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Sprouts, Turnips

All spices will be generally supportive during Spring.

EXERCISE / LIFESTYLE

Spring cleaning is a thing for a reason. I think we’re all naturally inclined to clear the debris of the winter and mentally prepare ourselves for a fresh start. Take some time to clean up your living space, go through your closet and organize your kitchen. Use Marie Kondo as inspiration!

Now is also the time to reconnect and rekindle relationships that may have taken a backseat over the last few months. Increase your socializing time, spend time with friends and family. The dark, introverted season is over and this reconnection will invigorate you.

This is also a good season to play and connect with your inner child. Do whatever it is that sparks joy for you and makes you feel playful - maybe it’s mini golf or having a silly workout outside with a friend. Maybe it’s wandering through a museum or park. Whatever lights YOU up inside!

Oil massage is a big thing in Ayurveda. If you’re into this, spring is the time to use sesame oil. Give yourself a nice oil massage, starting at the ends of the limbs and working your way towards your heart. Do this before a shower.

In terms of exercise, now is the time to amp your routine back up. Winter may have left you feeling low energy and lethargic, and now is the time to take your energy back. You might feel inspired to do more high intensity classes, jog, hike or bike. You might also shift your yoga practice to something with more movement. This time of year, exercise is best done in the morning between 6 and 10 am. If your schedule doesn’t allow, then the evening still works.

Try rising a little earlier. Being up by 6 this time of year is ideal.

Source: Spring Guide / Banyan Botanicals


What are some of your favorite ways to prepare your body and your mind for Spring?! Let me know below!

Ayurveda 101 by emily penn

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Ayurveda is the traditional holistic healing system of India. It is one of the three oldest surviving comprehensive herbal medicine systems. The focus of Ayurvedic medicine is prevention, balance, healing and nourishment through food and herbs. Ayurveda was developed over centuries of patient observation and experimentation - before chemistry or microscopes, which is pretty amazing!

Ayurveda focuses on longevity and good health. It incorporates diet, exercise, activities, routines, massage and botanical medicine.

The 5 Elements

First let’s get acquainted with the five elements - earth, water, fire, air, ether (space). These elements inform how Ayurveda describes certain energies - grounding, cooling, warming, moistening, drying, etc. All these elements are present in the body at all times, just in different and varying amounts. Elements can be affected by our environment, diet, exercise, and even our emotional state.

Another foundation of Ayurveda are the doshas. Doshas underlie the theoretic foundation of Ayurvedic diagnosis and therapeutics. Your dosha = your constitution - basically, your tendencies. It covers everything from your body type to your emotional disposition to your tendency toward illness. In Ayurveda, disease is believed to be caused by imbalanced doshas. Ideally, we would have equally balanced doshas. “From the Ayurvedic point of view, all functions occurring in your body at any moment are a result of the doshas. Every single action affects their balance. The three doshas are ebbing or flowing in the body at any given time.” (1)

The 3 Doshas

  • Vata - the air type. They tend to be creative, nervous, restless or spacey. Their body type tends to be thin, willowy and fragile.

  • Pitta - the fire type. Pittas tend to be fiery, passionate, colorful, argumentative, competitive, leaders, decisive, convincing. They typically have a normal build, they can be thin and have good muscle definition.

  • Kapha - the earth type. They’re considered grounded, conservative, loyal, slow, calm and steady. They tend to be a bigger build and can put on weight easily.

Some people are just one dosha, lots of people are a mix of two. Some people are tri-doshic, meaning they have a good balance of all three doshas, but most of us have a dominant dosha. We are all born under a certain dosha - with certain dominating tendencies, but our dosha can change over our lifetime if we acquire certain imbalances. For example, I’m a Kapha-Pitta but that doesn’t mean that I won’t have a Vata imbalance at some point. In this case, I would first be treated for my Vata imbalance. Ayurvedic practitioners take both of these doshas (your main one and your present imbalance) into account.

There is a huge focus on the gut and digestion in Ayurveda. In Ayurveda, digestion is thought of as a fire that needs to be continually stoked. Too many cold, damp or raw foods can make digestion challenging - which is why there’s a big focus on cooked foods and room temperature or warm beverages/foods. We want to keep the fire stoked. We’re only as good as what we can digest. This is in line with the functional and holistic perspectives in medicine that are becoming more and more prevalent in our culture’s approach to health.

Each season also has a dosha assigned to it - summer is Pitta (heat), fall is Vata (cold, dry), winter can be both Vata and Kapha (wet, heavy) and spring is Kapha (damp). Of course, this can vary depending on where exactly you live.

Here’s a good Dosha Quiz if you don’t know what yours is. I would recommend Googling “dosha quiz” and taking a few others to compare.

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The 6 Tastes

Ayurveda talks about foods and herbs in terms of the 6 “tastes” - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent. Let’s look at what these tastes indicate:

  1. Sweet (decreases Vata and Pitta, increases Kapha) - can literally be sugar and fruit but most grains are also considered sweet, dairy

  2. Sour (decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha) - lemon, vinegars, fermented foods

  3. Salty (decreases Vata, increases Pitta and Kapha) - salt, sea vegetables, tamari, olives

  4. Pungent (increases Vata and Pitta, decreases Kapha) - hot peppers, ginger, onions, garlic, mustard, hot spices

  5. Bitter (increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha) - raw green vegetables, turmeric, green, black and most herbal teas

  6. Astringent (increases Vata, decreases Pitta and Kapha)- beans, legumes, green grapes, cranberries, pomegranates, okra


Food is commonly used to help balance the doshas. By eating for your type and taking into account the season you’re in, you can tailor and shift your diet to support optimal balance. There are other lifestyle practices that can help you align with the energy of the season. For example, most of us naturally experience a slowing down and turning inward in the fall and winter, as the days get shorter and darker. You may sleep more, dial down intense exercise and spend more time nesting and reflecting. In the summer, the days are longer and you likely feel more energized. The energy is expansive - you might be spending more time being social and going to events.

We have a natural inclination to seasonal foods, too. In the summer you probably eat lighter, eat more raw and cooling foods. In the winter you probably tend toward cooked foods, warm foods, soups, stews and warming spices (and yes, pumpkin spice lattes count).

By taking your own personal dosha into account, you can eat in such a way and incorporate lifestyle practices that supports balanced energies and health. For example, if you’re a Pitta and it’s summer you’ll want to focus on cooling foods like coconut water and cucumber. If you’re a Kapha and it’s winter/spring you’ll want to focus on warming and drying foods to help balance the dampness of Kapha.


This is the basic framework of Ayurveda! Once you know your dosha, you can start looking into specific foods, herbs and lifestyle practices that will help you stay balanced. It’s a totally different way of thinking and describing foods and practices, but by continuing to read and research on it, the vocabulary will come more naturally to you. I’ll be continuing to add articles with more specific recommendations and focus on foods for the three doshas. Stay tuned!

Any questions? Please leave them below!