Are you suffering from Inflamm-ageing? That’s the inflammation which makes you miserable and angry in midlife. Here, an award-winning science writer unveils the lifestyle changes that can keep you feeling younger for longer
- For anyone at midlife, this is the secret to rediscovering a happy, calm you
- Even in the throes of the worst menopause, claims science writer Maria Borelius
- The tips include changing your diet, and also eating a healthier breakfast
Maria Borelius (pictured) reveals the secret to rediscovering a happy, calm you
Menopause crept up on me slowly. First it was the dull backache and noticeably painful joints.
Then I started coming down with constant colds and sore throats. At 52, I felt as if I was 80. With a successful career as an adviser to global companies on sustainable business, a loving husband and four gorgeous children, I had so much to be happy about, yet most mornings, I’d wake up feeling blue.
I found myself prone to uncharacteristic bouts of rage, too. I’d always been such an easy-going person, but suddenly I started to fly off the handle for no reason.
Just as dismaying, I had to abandon my lovely figure-hugging clothes in favour of long tops to disguise the jiggling roll of fat that desperately wanted to spill over the waistband of my jeans.
I couldn’t stop thinking: is this what ageing is like? Is everything downhill from here?
My background is in science journalism, so I decided to throw my experience into investigating what I could do to shift this rage and malaise and get back to something like my old self. I talked to specialists all over the world, and examined the facts about ageing and health from a range of medical disciplines, pulling together puzzle pieces from nutritionists, physiologists, geneticists and psychologists.
I went beyond the headlines and simplistic explanations, cherry-picked the best advice and began to make changes to my diet and way of life. After six years of painstaking research, my life, mood and figure are transformed.
At 58, my muffin-top belly has melted down, my back doesn’t hurt, and I wake up feeling as energetic and happy as I used to. I feel stronger than I have in 20 years and the midlife rage has disappeared.
So what’s the secret? The one word I kept hearing from experts was ‘inflammation’ and the key, I discovered, lay in taking simple steps to reduce it.
The biggest key to reducing chronic inflammation is an anti-inflammatory diet (stock photo)
It’s important to understand that the inflammation triggering your menopausal symptoms and making you feel older — and angrier — is very different from the swelling that forms around a splinter or a sprained ankle.
What I’m talking about is a chemical cascade triggered by poor nutrition, stress and environmental toxins — a form of chronic internal inflammation which, when allowed to continue long-term, acts as a catalyst for illness and ageing.
In the past decade, scientists have begun to discover much more about this process, and it’s now thought that it plays a critical role in age-related diseases such diabetes and arthritis.
There’s even a name for it — inflamm-ageing. Yet many of us have never heard of it and have no idea how to combat it.
But it is possible to mitigate the effects of the menopause. By avoiding triggers and antagonists such as stress and sugar, by packing your diet with inflammation-fighting foods, and by exercising and de-stressing through meditation, you can encourage the harmful processes of inflammation to leach from your body.
I am evidence of the fact that an anti-inflammatory lifestyle can counteract ageing, making you a stronger, cleverer and more toned version of yourself. Even my wrinkles are smoother.
For anyone at midlife, this is the secret to rediscovering a happy, calm you — yes, even in the throes of the worst menopause.
CHANGE YOUR DIET
The biggest key to reducing chronic inflammation is an anti-inflammatory diet, which means switching from eating whatever looks or tastes good to strategically planning your food intake.
I admit, it’s not always easy. I tend to eat when anxious, bored or exhausted, or in response to cravings. Sometimes it can be tough to plan your diet meticulously when there are so many other things to think about.
But it’s worth it. An anti-inflammatory diet has been proven to decrease your risk of diabetes and heart disease. It can also reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels and boost your capacity to think, remember, solve problems and learn things.
I aim to eat healthily 80 per cent of the time, but I still enjoy a glass of wine on Fridays and a good dessert if I feel like it. Food should provide health, joy, strength and enjoyment.
An anti-inflammatory diet means switching from eating whatever looks or tastes good to strategically planning your food intake (stock photo)
- Aim to eat food in its most natural form — a tomato rather than tomato sauce, an orange rather than orange juice. The chemicals in processed food trigger inflammation as your body attempts to deal with them. Regard anything with more than five ingredients with suspicion.
- Enjoy more vegetables of all kinds (aim for four types at each meal) and eat a rainbow of fruit and veg every day. The polyphenols they contain act as protective chemicals for the plants and we can use them to protect ourselves against the onset of inflammation.
- Eat plenty of protein (for example, meat, eggs, lentils and fish) to help build connective tissue and muscle. Aim for a palm-sized portion with each meal.
- Eat plenty of fats. Olive oil, rapeseed oil, coconut oil, and sometimes organic butter are good, but avoid margarine, sunflower oil and hydrogenated fats.
- Use spices with abandon. They are packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenols. I add turmeric to everything.
- Love your tea: black, green, red — enjoy a variety every day.
- Have only one cup of coffee a day (it contains beneficial polyphenols, but too much can raise blood sugar levels).
- Eat omega-3 daily in capsule form, and oily fish twice a week, plus chia seeds. When eating out, choose oily fish and vegetables.
- Grow your healthy gut bacteria by eating greens. Take a probiotic tablet every day, switching to a different type when each pot of pills is used up, eat yoghurt or kefir, and experiment with kombucha. Have a spoon of sauerkraut at dinner if you can.
- Keep sugar levels low by avoiding sugary junk such as ice cream, biscuits, fizzy drinks and fruit juice, and eat complex carbohydrates (brown rice, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and sweet potatoes) instead. However, do try to have just one carb-based meal per day. This keeps blood sugar levels stable, which minimises insulin release — insulin being a key trigger for inflammation.
- Begin your meal with proteins, vegetables and fats, then eat the complex carbohydrates last so insulin levels rise slowly.
YES, YOU SHOULD EAT BREAKFAST BUT. . .
The classic breakfast of cereal or toast will only set off your inflammatory response early in the day.
Try these options instead:
- A smoothie with almond milk, fruit, nuts and protein powder.
- A bowl of yoghurt with nuts, seeds and berries.
- Scrambled eggs with tomatoes and spinach.
- A bowl of porridge with seeds.
Try to cut down on toast. Bread, even wholegrain, contains heavy gluten proteins that the body struggles to digest, giving rise to low-grade inflammation.
If you bake, use almond, buckwheat, or coconut flours, which are gluten-free. And if you can’t resist bread, opt for sourdough because the acid produced breaks down gluten during proving.
WHEN YOU DRINK, GO FOR A PINOT NOIR
Alcohol can trigger an inflammatory response, so it is wise to cut right back. I’ve found this hard. Weekdays aren’t a problem, but my body itches when we’re socialising.
It feels empty to drink water on a Friday night, or to be sober at the theatre bar while everyone is sipping champagne.
Sobriety turns me into a slightly buttoned-up prude, who wants to go home at 10.30pm to read a book, and who slips out of her party dress feeling sad about everything that didn’t happen.
Alcohol is a natural part of how I socialise. But it’s just fermented sugar and I know it affects my ability to stick to a healthy diet. My rule is to drink only when I am with people who are really important, and I dilute my wine with fizzy water. I can drink three glasses that way without consuming more than one glass of wine.
One glass of red wine with a meal is lovely and delivers the polyphenol resveratrol, which research has shown to be anti-inflammatory. (It’s highest in pinot noir).
The classic breakfast of cereal or toast will only set off your inflammatory response early in the day – instead try fruit and yogurt
DON’T SKIP DOING STRENGTH TRAINING
Inactivity causes low-grade inflammation, so regular exercise is key. Studies show it counteracts the main health problems linked to inflammation (cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity), and a little resistance training triggers the release of powerful anti-inflammatory substances.
The visceral fat which clings to the organs in your abdomen triggers inflammation and health problems, but this fat is mobilised as soon as you begin to exercise.
Build a regular routine which combines three key elements of cardiovascular training (something that makes you sweat) with strength training and some form of calm stretching.
INVEST IN STRESS BUSTERS
Stress triggers the release of the inflammatory hormone cortisol. When you are stressed, your adrenal glands have to work harder than usual and your body is flooded with sugar, which gives rise to a state of constant inflammation. This, in turn, drives more cortisol in a vicious circle.
The key is planning for conscious rest. Give yourself time each day for peace and calm, and take every opportunity to seek out ‘awe’, allowing yourself to experience reverence, respect and wonder.
I learned about transcendental meditation (TM) 25 years ago, and it is a regular part of my life now. Every morning I sit on my bed and spend 20 minutes in meditation, letting my thoughts wash over me.
There have been many periods in my life when this has been a struggle; when there simply wasn’t time to sit and gaze at my inner self. But now I long for my meditation. It lights me up in the morning and the effect lasts all day.
I’ve learned to meditate on the go — on buses, planes, in waiting rooms, on the bathroom floor, or in the children’s beds after the bedtime story. I’ve meditated in tracksuits and pyjamas, bikinis and party dresses, and even while dressed up as Father Christmas.
Meditation might not be for you, but anything you can do that counteracts the cortisol effect will help lower your risk of inflammation. A moment of deep breathing is enough, so make yourself open to the idea of trying breathing exercises and mindfulness.
Extracted by Louise Atkinson from Health Revolution by Maria Borelius (£16.99, HQ). To order a copy for £13.59 (valid until July 15), call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.
Source: Read Full Article