Nine years ago, just weeks after giving birth to her first child, Shelly Malone was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Fatigued to the point that she struggled to get out of bed, suffered from achy, painful joints and burning, itchy skin, Malone was terrified that these symptoms might dictate the rest of her life. When conventional medical treatments didn’t work, Malone, a registered dietician and nutritionist, looked elsewhere. Within a week of switching to an anti-inflammatory diet, her pain dissipated almost completely.
“Inflamed,”which came out this summer, is Malone’s story of how she was able to manage her illness by taking a holistic approach to her health. It also serves a blueprint for how others suffering from chronic conditions can see improvements, just by changing their diet and lifestyle.
Today, while Malone still has RA, she is without symptoms.
We spoke with the author about her path towards better health and whether the “golden milk craze” is all it’s cracked up to be.
What exactly is “inflammation,” and what are the symptoms?
Inflammation is basically just your body’s immune response to some type of stimulus, like a foreign or toxic material. Acute inflammation, like a fever that fights off an infection, or if you sprained your ankle and blood rushed to the tissue to heal it, is beneficial, because it’s our body’s way of healing.
But it becomes an issue when it’s chronic inflammation, and you’re constantly having it run through your body because there’s something underlying that’s triggering it. It could be food sensitivities, or a hormonal issue, say if you’re eating a ton of sugar and your glucose is going up and your insulin has to respond, or stress, causing cortisol to run through your body.
Symptoms like digestive issues, or skin conditions like eczema, or acne or psoriasis—these are clues something’s not quite right.
What is an anti-inflammatory diet?
There’s not really one specific definition of it. My definition is eliminating any foods you’re sensitive to — that can be the source of a constant trigger of inflammation throughout your body—eating more whole foods, eating healthy fats, eating a plant strong diet that’s higher in vegetables and fruit, avoiding processed foods. Small amounts of high-quality and sustainably raised meat can be included.
Can you describe the moment you knew the change in your diet was having a real impact?
When I took out gluten, dairy, soy, corn, and sugar, I knew within a few days, because I started to feel so much better. The fatigue probably lingered longer, but the pain went away almost completely within a week. It was very dramatic, though, I was like, this works! I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
How did you change your lifestyle?
Getting enough sleep is a big thing for me. I have to be very disciplined about my sleep, very protective, I will say, in social situations or things like that, I want to get home and get up early, I have small kids. Or working, I kind of have a rule—which got thrown out the window finishing this book—in general I try to not work after 8pm because it will keep me up. I try to turn my phone off after 8pm.
What are some small first steps someone who thinks they might be suffering from inflammation could take?
I would definitely look at trying to cut out gluten—with my clients, if they’re having some sort of chronic symptoms, I usually start with gluten—and taking out processed cow’s milk, and limiting sugar intake. I would say swap your fats out—a big source of inflammation is an imbalance between omega-6 fats, in processed vegetable oils like canola or soy oil, and omega-3 fats, found in fish and algae oil and flax. A lot people aren’t eating enough omega3’s. Use coconut oil, avocado oil, or olive oil. Butter’s not something to be afraid of if you’re getting it from a organic, grass-fed source.
Turmeric, the “golden milk craze” is a big health trend right now. How does it help reduce inflammation?
Turmeric is so effective in relieving pain and inflammation, while over the counter medications, NSAIDS like Ibuprofen, are really damaging on your intestines. Turmeric doesn’t have that effect; it just helps lower the inflammation throughout your whole body, like a medication does.
You can take curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, as a supplement, or you can cook with it. It’s a spice so it can be easily added. But when there’s a hot topic or superfood, in general, I think cleaning up the basics of your diet is the most important thing to do. We can’t just look for this magic bullet, be it natural or pharmaceutical, because then we end up in the same boat. You still have to address all the other aspects of your diet and lifestyle.