How we choose inflammation as a way of life

It’s common knowledge that our physical well-being is compromised by inflammation. Major diseases like arthritis and cancer are linked to it, while lesser ailments like colds and flus thrive when our bodies are in an inflamed state. Many of the foods we eat, especially wheat, dairy and sugar, can trigger an inflammatory reaction and suppress our immune function, making us more likely to get sick.

I’ve noticed the same principle applies to our mind-state. A steady diet of bad news, ride with political, social and environmental disaster can destabilize our ability to regulate our own moods, leaving us feeling much the way we do after a junk food binge.

A whole lot of “news” is inaccurate, urgently negative, and/or horrific, much like the ingredients in processed food, and many of us feel torn between our desire to remain well-informed about current events and our need to maintain our emotional equilibrium. This is not a selfish impulse—if we are flattened by despair, how can we act to better our world? There’s a reason airline passengers with dependents are instructed to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others with theirs, in the event of emergency.

In these days of “peak rage” (to borrow a term coined by columnist Dan Leger), an inflammatory response seems to be afflicting society in many ways, from abusive online comments following news stories, to mass protests, to the divisive, angry polemics of wall-building politicians.

In “Mending Wall,” with the unnerving prescience of a great poet, Robert Frost speaks of an annual spring ritual with his neighbour, fixing their shared fence, as he questions the truth of the old aphorism, “Good fences make good neighbours”:

 “Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.”

 

I know my own nature well enough to know its tendency to rapid inflammation. To get inflamed less, and remain able to function emotionally without succumbing to despair, I (and I suspect many others) have chosen to limit my exposure to sources of inflammation, most of them screen-based. I call this exercise, “Don’t eat the junk food.”

 

Most people are aware of the ‘no screen time at or before bedtime’ rule to allow melatonin to do its drowsy work on our bodies and minds so we can rest. I’ve extended this practice to first thing in the morning, when I’m normally the most productive, and also most likely to be derailed by the horrors of the world as they pour into my newsfeed.

 

To claim a small victory of my own, even if only writing a letter to an elected official on behalf of a good cause, helping a friend or child with a portion of my time and energy, or finally getting to work on the article on water conservation I promised to write for World Water Day in March, makes me feel like an active creator in my own life, rather than a passive reactor to events over which I have no control. Once I have accomplished something of my own, I feel better emotionally equipped to enter the rapids of ever-eddying news stories without drowning in them.

 

Because winter is the season of viral infections of all kinds, I also wanted to pass along a useful tonic I often brew up when I feel a cold coming on. It’s called Immunity Soup, and I’ve adapted the recipe from Aviva Romm’s Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent’s Guide. If you can get your hands on fresh turmeric root, please do so: it’s a proven inflammation fighter that I take in capsule form throughout the cold months.

 

 

2 chopped onions

1 whole garlic (or more), diced

Sesame oil

4-5 cups water

2-3 shiitake mushrooms, dried or fresh, broken into small pieces

One large piece of fresh turmeric root, peeled and diced

One large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced

1-2 teaspoons astragalus root

1-2 teaspoons burdock root

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

Any kind of dried seaweed, crumbled

 

Saute the onion, garlic, turmeric and ginger in some sesame oil until onion is translucent. Add water and the rest of the ingredients and simmer, covered, over low heat for an hour or so. If you’re using dried mushrooms, check to make sure they’re soft. To serve, you can either strain the soup and just drink the broth, or you can keep all the chopped stuff in and make a heartier soup by adding tofu and rice noodles.