I talk a lot about the day-to-day habits that can make or break your health. At the top of the health-breakers list is inflammation. It’s a word my patients become quite familiar with as we work together to tame it. And now, people outside of wellness circles are also starting to hear more about it. Trouble is, most of them don’t really understand much about inflammation or just how destructive it is. You could say everybody’s talking about inflammation, but what are they doing about it? Hopefully, they’re learning to take steps to prevent it. To help you do that, here’s a topline on what chronic inflammation is all about and why it’s essential to tame it.
It’s A Killer You Can’t See Coming
When most people think inflammation, they think of the acute kind that shows itself as a bit of swelling or redness – a kind of physical calling card for those minor injuries that we don’t usually need to worry much about. Chronic inflammation, however, is considerably more worrisome – and there aren’t necessarily any visible signs that let you know it’s ‘flame-on.’ Instead, you may start to experience warning symptoms, like an uptick in allergies, gut problems (bloating, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) or joint pain.
It Sets The Stage For Disastrous Diseases
As a primary culprit behind so many health problems, chronic inflammation has been linked to an increased risk for many of the diseases we fear most, including cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. It’s also thought to play a significant role in neurological problems, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and even mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia. These are “worst case” diseases, so it’s easy to see why it’s so important that we do whatever we can to tame chronic inflammation.
It’s What Happens When Your Immune System Goes Rogue
Acute inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury. When injury occurs, your immune system kicks into gear to repair the damage. It sends a flurry of chemicals and inflammatory cells to the injured region to protect the vulnerable area and get the healing under way. In time, you’re virtually as good as new. With chronic inflammation, however, an out-of-balance, over-revved immune system keeps the flow of chemicals coming, and tissues – healthy or otherwise – wind up living in a perpetually agitated state. Why should you worry? Those constantly circulating inflammatory hormones bring with them an increased risk for plaque build-up in the arteries, arthritis, compromised bone health, high blood pressure and heart disease, to name a few.
It’s About The ‘Leaks’ In Your Gut
Most often, chronic inflammation is the result of an immune system imbalance – so if we can redress that and reduce inflammation, we can cut the risk for long-term health problems and help ease many of the low-grade ills you may be experiencing. In my practice, usually the first step is to get the gut into better, healthier, more balanced shape. Since the gut is home to most of your immune system, if it’s unbalanced, the rest of you will be, too.
How do the wheels come off? One of the most common ways is through what we in the wellness community call “leaky gut syndrome”, triggered by alcohol, food sensitivities (e.g. gluten), certain medications (e.g. NSAID’s), low grade gut infections (e.g. yeast, bacteria and parasites) and even chronic stress. These cause damage to the lining of the gut or the tight links between the cell wall, letting proteins and bits of bacteria into the bloodstream and setting off an inflammatory response throughout the body. These inflammatory particles called ‘cytokines’ run amok throughout the system, setting off a variety of responses, which include everything from skin disorders, digestive problems and migraines to fatigue, anxiety and mood swings.
It’s About Time You Send It Packing
The good news is that with a little effort, you can turn the tide on inflammation and prevent it from wreaking havoc on your long-term health. Here are five quick tips to get you started:
- Ditch processed foods which, aside from offering few beneficial nutrients, are often loaded with gluten and other irritants that can trigger an immune response. In short: less processed food equals less inflammation.
- Minimize antibiotic and NSAID (like ibuprofen, Advil and aspirin) use. They are disruptive to gut health, promoting imbalances in gut bacteria and weakening the gut wall, which in turn sets the stage for ‘leaky gut’ and, eventually, chronic inflammation.
- Moderate alcohol intake. Excess consumption of alcohol increases the gut’s permeability and causes ‘leaky gut’, leading to inflammation. In addition, alcohol disrupts sleep, which can also affect inflammation.
- Cut stress. Easier said than done for many of us, but even a few minutes of meditation a couple of times each week can help quiet your gut, which means less inflammation.
- Floss. A good floss is one of the simplest and quickest things you can do every day to keep bad bacteria from taking root in your mouth and entering the bloodstream, triggering inflammation.
Now that you know more about chronic inflammation, what it does to your body, and how dangerous it can be, you should understand why it’s so important to stop it in its tracks. There are many ways to tame and prevent inflammation, from recognizing the symptoms and watching what you eat to meditating and flossing. Simple healthy habits can make all the difference when fighting inflammation, so start today and take control of your health!