In my every day health coach and personal training life and frequently here on the blog as well, I talk about inflammation and it's harmful effects on the body.
Grains are inflammatory to the gut.
Stress causes chronic inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is at the root of most modern diseases.
But what exactly to I mean by inflammation?
In today's post, I hope to break down inflammation and help create a comprehensive post detailing exactly what inflammation is, what causes it, and how to reduce it if it is chronically high in the body! Let's dive in.
What is Inflammation?
Simply put, inflammation is our body's response to a perceived threat or stresser to the body (pathogens, cuts, bacteria, viruses, etc). Inflammation is natural and completely necessary for survival. Without it, we would simply not survive. It is a healing and necessary process for our body that is for our protection.
Every day reactions to things like minor cuts and bruises on the body are forms of acute inflammation. They are localized to that specific area of the body. This type of inflammation doesn't last long - it comes quickly and leaves within a few days.
However, there is such a thing as too much inflammation, or chronic inflammation. This is where inflammation sets into several areas in the body and can last for several months or even years. This is usually the type of inflammation I refer to when I say that certain foods or stressers cause inflammation in the body.
What Causes Inflammation?
Foods and stressers to the body in our environment are the main causes of chronic inflammation in the body. These include, but aren't limited to:
Vegetable oils (corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, etc)
Trans fats (margarine, partially hydrogenated fats, shortening)
Grains (especially those that contain gluten)
Conventional, pasteurized, low-fat dairy
Sugar and artificial sweeteners
Excess Omega 6 fatty acids in relation to Omega 3 (Omega 6 is found mostly in soy products, soy oil, too many nuts, refined and processed foods, conventional poultry, etc)
Illegal drugs, nicotine, etc
Excess caffeine and energy drinks
Excessive antibiotic usage (current or past)
Mental stress (depression, anxiety)
Overall stressed, busy, go-go-go lifestyle
Sleep deprivation (this is a HUGE one!)
Excessive dieting or restrictive eating
Excessive exercise or not enough exercise
Blood sugar issues or irregularities
Vitamin D deficiency or lack of sun exposure
I'm sure that every single one of us can check off at least two or more of the items from this list, and when coupled together, these items can create the perfect storm for chronic inflammation in the body.
Obviously, it's not easy to avoid the causes of inflammation, but how do you know if you are actually in a chronically inflamed state?
The Symptoms of Inflammation
The symptoms of chronic inflammation are vast and varying from person to person. However, this list will help get us started:
Skin disorders (our skin IS our largest organ, after all!)
Hormonal irregularities or issues (male or female!)
Blood sugar dips and spikes
Energy dips and spikes (often related to blood sugar irregularities as well!)
Excess weight, especially around the mid-section that will not budge no matter how hard you try to lose it
Depression and anxiety
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Susceptibility to colds and illnesses (aka always sick!)
Type II Diabetes
Leaky gut (more on this in a future post!)
You'll notice that some of these symptoms overlap with several of the causes of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is often like the "chicken and egg" analogy. It's often hard to tell which came first - the inflammation which led to the symptoms, or the symptoms (from another source) that causes the inflammation.
For instance, you might have horrible sugar and carb cravings because you have been following a low-fat, Standard American Diet for years. Eventually, this diet robs your body of key nutrients that we need to thrive and live a healthy lifestyle, which leads to chronic inflammation in the body that manifests in the form of more sugar and carb cravings, along with sleep disturbances, and headaches. In this instance, it was the sugar and carb cravings cause from a poor diet that caused the inflammation, which lead to further inflammation related symptoms. Make sense?
Reducing Chronic Inflammation
Okay, it's obvious that having even a little bit of inflammation in the body is not desirable. Inflammation hinders our body from performing it's basic functions (like making hormones or digesting and assimilating nutrients) because our body is so busy trying to reduce the inflammation in the body. It uses all of it's available nutrients and energy to try and fight the "fire" that is chronic inflammation in our body. Eventually, if we aren't taking the corrective steps to actually reduce the inflammatory state in our body, our body will shut down or develop diseases (depression, Type II diabetes, etc) that we have to deal with for the rest of our life.
But all is not lost! There are plenty of steps you can take to help rid your body of the harmful effects of chronic inflammation. Like most things related to our health, it isn't easy, but it is 110% worth every single effort! Who wants to live a life dependent on medications or feeling horrible most days? A healthy life is always worth the effort and always worth living!
The ways of reducing inflammation are of course highly individualized, but these items tend to be the top recommendations that I use personally and with my clients:
Eliminate gluten, soy, processed foods, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and excess alcohol from your life (I know, easier said than done, but this will make a HUGE difference)
Completely avoid all vegetable oils and trans fats
Switch to healthy sources of fat (avocados, olives, coconut oil, butter)
Switch to organic meat if possible or at least switch to organic, pasture raised chicken (poultry tends to be one of the foods highest in Omega 6 due to the feed given to conventional chickens)
Avoid conventional dairy and seek out organic, full-fat, unpasteurized (if possible) versions of your favorite dairy products OR avoid dairy all together for a while
Aim to eat five or more servings of vegetables per day (the more color and variety the better!)
Drink tons of water (put a pinch of sea salt in your water for extra minerals!)
Drink bone broth or use it in cooking on a daily basis (google "bone broth paleo" for simple recipes or buy from Epic, Kettle & Fire, or Osso Good Bones)
Add collagen to your bone broth or any other hot/cold liquids (buy from Vital Proteins hereL
Eliminate certain stressers from your life that you can control
Get a massage
Go out for a walk in nature
Acupuncture (I swear by it!)
End stressful relationships or have those tough conversations when they are necessary
Start exercising if you aren't already
Back off on exercise if you are working out more than 2 hours a day, 5-7 days per week
Sleep. More. Tonight. - just do it!
Avoid antibiotic usage accept when absolutely necessary
Take a high-quality probiotic daily (see my favorite brands here)
Eat probiotic rich foods (raw sauerkraut, kombucha)
Focus on gut health (see parts 1, 2, and 3 of my posts on gut health)
Get outside for some vitamin D
Switch to cleaner skincare products (see my recent post on BeautyCounter here)
Switch to natural, cleaner versions of cleaning products for the home
Use essential oils and a diffuser instead of conventional "scenty" items
Consider a water filter
Try to get out of the city if you live in one and spend time in the fresh air in nature
Basically, it comes down to taking stress seriously, making sleep a priority, completing a common elimination diet for 2-4 weeks, and focusing on gut health. When you start to make these changes, I promise that inflammation will start to go down in your body, and the symptoms of inflammation that you are experiencing will start to go away! There's no healthier state for the body than one that is free from inflammation.