When you get to the point in your chronic illness where the immediate “fires” have been put out, you may reach a point where you start to think of the big picture. For me, I got to the point that I became symptom free and was in maintenance mode. I started thinking of the big picture and what things were not under control YET. Inflammation was at the top of my list of things to address next in my crazy journey to ultimate health. I had reduced it already with diet but still had some work to go. This article is for anyone who wants to prevent disease, fight disease, reduce inflammation and reduce pain whether you are at the beginning of your journey, deep in the throws of the fight or just tying up loose ends on your way to collect your victory prize.
Inflammation shows up regularly as part of a healthy immune system. We become inflamed as a response to allergies, injury, toxins such as viruses or chemicals. In a healthy individual this is a temporary response to a temporary problem. Chronic inflammation is a chronic response to a chronic problem and is at the root of all modern diseases from IBS to Cancer. So What can you do about it? First I would look at the big picture: what is causing it? This may take some detective work. It may be coming from more than one source. But preventing an early death by a chronic illness is worth it! Here are some common reasons for chronic inflammation:
Obesity. If someone is overweight, then they are inflamed. Period. There are instances where some weight can be caused by inflammation and some inflammation can be caused by weight but either way overweight=inflamed. Losing weight and addressing related issues like blood sugar, hormones, stress, sleep, gut health and toxins can all help to undo this damaging factor to our health. All of these issues can cause inflammation and weight gain or obesity so addressing all the underlying issues may help you lose weight more easily. For testing I suggest seeing a Functional Medicine Doctor to assess your hormone levels, diet, gut health and enlist the help of a health coach to help you execute the doctor’s orders. A health coach is someone who helps you with the “how” of the diet and protocols that the doctor may recommend. They will also help you get from point A to point B in your journey to health. For more information on the roles of obesity in inflammation click here.
Stress. We have all seen the commercials about cortisol and belly fat. And yes, cortisol does cause belly fat: if you have too much. But what if you have too little? Having an imbalance here is very common in several forms of chronic illness as a stressful lifestyle effects most of us and leads to a common problem of adrenal fatigue. Prolonged Adrenal Fatigue suppresses the immune system and leads to sugar handling issues which then lead to more health problems. Because of this common chain of events I often see Autoimmune cases that coincide with Adrenal Fatigue. It is also common to become hypoglycemic with Adrenal Fatigue which can sometimes be a precursor to diabetes. Diabetes is a precursor for heart attacks, strokes and chronic inflammation. This inflammation and even prolonged hypoglycemia have already been linked to Alzheimer’s. Because of all these possible pathways from Adrenal Fatigue to various chronic and serious illnesses, I refer to Adrenal Fatigue as a “gateway syndrome”. Addressing your Adrenal Fatigue can not only regulate your cortisol (and other hormones too) but can reduce inflammation and prevent inflammatory disease states. For more information about cortisol and its effects on inflammation click here. For more information on Adrenal Fatigue click here. If you think you may have untreated Adrenal Fatigue I suggest seeing a Functional Medicine Doctor to address and heal from this. If nothing else they can provide you with some supplemental nutritional support to support proper physical response to stressors. A Health Coach can help you with various forms of Stress Management in addition to nutritional support.
Blood Sugar. I can’t talk about cortisol without bringing in blood sugar. Especially because so many of sugar handling issues can be controlled by diet. If you have Adrenal Fatigue then you have sugar handling problems. Period. If you have sugar handling issues (hypoglycemia, pre-diabetes, diabetes or even a predisposition to Alzheimer’s) I highly suggest that you cut the processed foods, grains and sugars from your diet immediately. This includes sugar, corn syrup, honey, agave, nutrasweet, aminosweet, stevia, fruit juice, juice concentrate, dextrin, fructose, sucrose, xylitol, sugar alcohols and more. Even calorie free sweeteners raise your insulin and without the sugar there for it to digest, this causes your body to increase its likelihood of insulin resistance. It also stimulates your adrenals and causes your body to react as if you were in danger. If you are already struggling with your adrenals then this only makes this worse. To learn more about the role of blood sugar and inflammation click here and/or here.
Sleep deprivation. We all have gotten sick because our immune system was weaker when we were sleep deprived. Have you ever noticed your fever is worse at night when you have the flu? This is because lack of sleep raises cytokines (immune system response) which causes inflammation. So chronically not sleeping enough can lead to chronic inflammation. Before the invention of the lightbulb, people slept an average of ten hours a night and today they sleep an average of 6. I would allegate that most of us are sleep deprived on a regular basis. Taking steps to improve your sleep hygeine and making it a priority could literally change how you feel not only tomorrow but for the rest of your life. If you aren’t sure where to start or need accountability I would consider enlisting the help of a health coach. This goes double if you have a long way to go from where you know you should be. For more information on the link between sleep and chronic inflammation click here.
Chronic Viruses. Viruses like Herpes, HPV, Epstein Barre and Cytomegalovirus can put an immune system into chronic inflammation. In cases like these, the immune system is constantly in fight mode. This constant state of alert for the immune system causes constant inflammation. If you suffer from one of these conditions, I suggest taking some anti-virals daily like Vitamin C, L-Lysine, Lemon Balm, Cat’s Claw, St. John’s Wort or getting regular Vitamin C IV’s through a Functional Medicine Doctor. For more information on viruses and their link to chronic inflammation as it pertains to autoimmune click here.
Foods. There are foods that are inflammatory for everyone but some of us react more strongly to them than others. Legumes, grains, and dairy are notorious for their inflammation properties but this is only a problem if you are already suffering from inflammation such as asthma, a cold, IBS, Autoimmune, Osteoarthritis or any type of inflammatory condition (including congestion!). And then there are nightshades. Nightshades, which include white potatoes,tomatoes, peppers of all kinds and eggplant, are part of the same family as Belladonna. This plant is a poisonous plant that is used medicinally as a sedative in small amounts. Large amounts can kill you and it is considered a poison . It is very common for someone who is already suffering with inflammation to react in an inflammatory manner to eating this group of vegetables. It is also possible to either not react to them or to only react to one or some of the group. Only an elimination diet can tell you if you are sensitive as this may not show up as an allergy. For more information on inflammatory foods click here. If you are unsure if you are reacting to foods, please check out my article on identifying food sensitivities here or enlist the help of a Health Coach who specializes in AIP.
Environmental Toxins including Allergies. Chemicals from our house, cleaners, food, soil, beauty products, water, pills and medicines, hair dye and more are full of toxic chemicals that we are constantly being exposed to in our daily lives. We are either breathing it in or putting it on our very absorbent skin. The body uses the liver and lymph glands to filter this through our body but when the body needs our energy for other things like digestion or all the other toxins we put into it, it then stores the toxins in our fat cells to save that energy. Allergies, viruses, and even caffeine are recognized by our liver as something of which we need to process and excrete. Our body sees all of these as toxic invaders and it can elicit an inflammatory response either in an effort to attack it or to isolate it to protect the rest of the body from the invader. For more information on inflammation caused by environmental toxins click here.
Gut Health. At the center of all of this is your gut health. Adrenal Fatigue breaks down your gut lining. Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Autism, Adhd, Autoimmune, and Obesity are all linked to leaky gut. And your gut health is the foundation of your immune system. Healing your gut is crucial to a healthy body. Dr. Susan Blum says that a leaky gut causes inflammation. (video via her facebook page dated September 6, 2016, no link available).
Homo-cysteine levels. This is an inflammatory marker that can easily be measured and, for most, controlled with B vitamins and NAC. It can also be a clue into whether or not you are utilizing your B vitamins properly. I suggest getting this checked. If yours is high, I recommend reading the books by Dr. Perlmutter on ways to lower it using supplements. For more information on homocysteine click here.
What you can do about it. Obviously there are things listed here that require or strongly lend to the leadership of a Functional Medicine Doctor. But that does not mean that you are powerless in your aim to reduce inflammation. Here are some things you can do at home to reduce inflammation NOW.
- Anti-inflammatory diet. Removing inflammatory foods and incorporating ones that reduce inflammation is a good idea for multiple reasons. Above I listed some inflammatory foods and some foods that actually REDUCE inflammation are things like turmeric, ginger, almonds (raw, sprouted almonds are encouraged), cayenne pepper (if you are not nightshade sensitive or are on a strict AIP diet. These are a reintroduction for AIPers), Salmon and more.
- Supplements. I do not recommend NSAIDs like ibuprofen because long term use has side effects that are avoidable if you instead use natural anti-inflammatories. If you need an extra boost I suggest supplements with Turmeric, Boswellia, Ginger and other Anti-inflammatory herbs. A specific one that I really like is by Biotics Research called Kapparest. This is a blend of anti-inflammatory ingredients, all natural and allergen free. I use this as a pain reliever and also as part of my daily regimen to fight chronic inflammation. I suggest getting a practitioner that uses muscle response testing to determine the right dose for your body or you can ask your FMD. Getting enough nutrients is also very important as our body uses more nutrients when healing or stressed. Most of us are perpetually low in Magnesium, for example, which is important in to almost every cell in the body. Talk to your doctor about the ODA for various vitamins. You may want to track your nutrition for a week or more to bring to your doctor so they know what your baseline is. A great tool for tracking nutrition is here.
- Lifestyle Changes: Things like light exercise (heavy exercise may increase inflammation), grounding, and stress management techniques like 4-7-8 breathing, biofeedback, vagus nerve stiulating poses, yoga and meditation, journaling and even karaoke are all great ways to reduce the sympathetic load (stress to the nervous system) and reduce stress and help normalize cortisol levels.
- Things to avoid. Caffeine, Toxins, over-exercise, over-stimulation, no down time, processed foods and an imbalanced diet (like too many carbs and not enough fat or protein; also lack of nutrients) and a high stress lifestyle all pile on when added to an already burdened body. And when it comes to nutrients, you need MORE when you are stressed, toxic or healing. Because of this it is even more important to avoid sugar and processed foods when you are healing. Even the healthy are still burdened with toxins. Most of us are stressed.
- What Else Can You Do?. Heal your gut. Support Your adrenals. Get enough Sleep. Exercise but not too much. Eat to feed Every Cell in your body. Supplement what you can’t get through food. Enjoy your life. Enlist help for the areas for which you are weak, whether from a Health Coach, FMD or, ideally, both.
- Note: All sources listed are just one source in a sea of thousands on these individual things inflammation. If you search for more you will find plenty more. How in-depth you want to get is up to you. There is much more information out there and I encourage you to research anything that may apply to your body. Knowledge is power. Once you find something that is causing your inflammation, you have the ability to find an answer to the problem. This type of detective work is called “bio-hacking”. It refers to investigating problems and solutions of your own biochemistry and bodily state in order to reach better health and healing. I hope this article helps you on your own crazy journey. This information was very helpful in my crazy journey.
To Your Health,