Inflammation is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the nutrition world. Maybe you’ve heard of inflammatory diseases or an anti-inflammatory diet? I was pretty unaware of inflammation until it affected me. I first found out about my inflammation about a year ago after tests run by a functional medicine clinic. I started going there because of some problems I was having that I couldn’t figure out. My inflammatory marker, CRP, was high and I was also having insulin resistance, which goes hand-in-hand with inflammation. I was completely shocked that I was dealing with insulin resistance but it was starting to make much more sense. There were things happening in my body causing problems that I didn’t know about. That’s just my story but it also may sound a lot like your story.
So, what exactly is inflammation and how does it work in our body? There is a lot of information when it comes to inflammation and it can be very sciency! Is that even a word? Yep, pretty sure it is. Let’s break this information down to help make sense of it. And, just the juicy tidbits instead of all the blah, blah, blah stuff. I personally like the blah, blah, blah stuff but I’m a geek.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to a stimulus, usually to protect itself from harm. Inflammation can be good and bad, also known as acute and chronic. Acute inflammation happens when we get a cut and our body sends out the defenses to heal the wound. This is good and is shorter in duration. We need inflammation to survive. Chronic inflammation happens when our immune system is consistently in the “on” switch causing a release of chemicals that cause damage leading to disease. This is bad and long term. Chronic inflammation is responsible for pain and tissue destruction in disease.
What Causes Inflammation?
In working to figure out how to calm chronic inflammation to heal, we must understand the causes of inflammation. According to integrative and functional Dr. Mark Hyman, the list of causes isn’t very long. His list of causes of inflammation:
Poor diet: mostly sugar, refined flours, processed foods and inflammatory fats such as trans fats.
Lack of exercise
Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites
Hidden allergens from food or environment
Toxins such as mercury and pesticides
Mold toxins and allergens
I would also add to this list:
Gut dysbiosis or imbalance of good and bad bacteria (often caused by diet and medications)
Negative thoughts and emotions
Inflammation is very individual and it can be hidden to some. It can present in different ways, even in people with the same disease. The key is for health practitioners to work with an individual to find their specific inflammatory triggers by digging into their health history and testing to get more specific information. Testing can be very helpful when we talk about food allergies or sensitivities, toxins and chronic infections. There are also a few tests that can determine inflammation in the body with C-reactive protein (CRP) being most common. This is the test I had run. Mine was 1.2 with optimal (according to my practitioner) being <0.3 so it wasn’t terrible but wasn’t awesome. If you suspect inflammation, ask your doctor for this test with your next set of labs.
What Diseases are Correlated with Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is at the root of many common and chronic conditions. It can slowly cause problems with many systems in our body. We usually don’t know about the inflammation until major issues and symptoms show up. If it is a chronic disease, you can bet there is underlying systemic inflammation that needs to be dealt with. Here is a small list of inflammatory diseases:
Type 2 Diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, fatty liver disease
Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS
Bone, muscular and skeletal disorders
IBS, IBD, Chron’s, Colitis (microscopic and ulcerative)
Depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders
Symptoms of inflammation include
Headaches and migraines
How Can You Reduce Inflammation?
There are a number of strategies that can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Let’s talk about the heavy hitters that can give you a big bang for your efforts.
1. Eat real food. Yes, I said it. Eat real, high-quality food, lots of colors, lots of flavors and things you can pronounce. Anti-inflammatory diets can be helpful in reducing inflammation as the name would suggest. See your dietitian (or me =) ) for guidance starting an anti-inflammatory diet.
2. Decrease inflammatory fats and oils and increase anti-inflammatory fats and fatty foods. This could go with #1 but I like it on it’s own. Inflammatory oils are often found in processed packaged foods like chips, crackers, frozen meals, and shelf-stable peanut butter. Get my free guide to healthy fats here.
3. Exercise, but not too much. Studies have shown that exercise can protect against chronic diseases. Over-exercising can cause more stress on the body leading to increased inflammation.
4. Control blood sugar levels. Decrease or eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates, eat at regular intervals and include protein and healthy fat with meals and snacks.
5. Address food sensitivities. This can reduce inflammation quickly. An elimination diet can help with finding food sensitivities but you can have a sensitivity to even the healthiest foods you eat. See my post on the MRT food sensitivity test and the LEAP program for more information.
6. Address nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your physician or dietitian about testing for nutrient deficiencies, and more than just vitamin D and B12. If this isn’t an option, a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is never a bad idea to fill in the gaps. I also like a high-quality vitamin D with vitamin K-2 supplement for most of us.
7. Relax, de-stress and get adequate sleep. Is this a joke? No, no it’s not. Lack of sleep increases stress. Stress, as mentioned above, can cause inflammation. Find your favorite ways to relax. Maybe yoga, meditation, bubble baths, music, more time with friends, a vacation. Allow yourself this time. Get on a better sleep routine and aim for 8 hours a night. Read my post on the importance of sleep.
8. Minimize toxic burden. Decrease exposure to plastics, pesticides, oxidative fats, pollutants, and harsh chemicals. What goes on your body and on/in your food is important also.
I hope this gives you some good, useful information. I am definitely not saying that everyone is dealing with chronic inflammation that is causing problems. I am saying that if you have a chronic condition or generally don’t feel well, taking some action to reduce inflammation can make a big difference. I would also take away that your lifestyle now can play a role in your health later down the road. I know it is a lot of information to digest so feel free to leave me your questions. You can also schedule a free 15 minute discovery call with me if you would like to learn more about working with a registered dietitian.