“Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy.”
Chronic inflammation is a theme this week at Happy Living! While it might not sound like the most exciting topic, there is a lot to learn and a lot we can do to prevent the effects of chronic inflammation on our health. As a follow up to our post from Wednesday about bad inputs, today’s guest post from Dr. Sult shares why chronic inflammation is so damaging to our bodies and what we can do to alleviate it.
Dr. Tom Sult is board-certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He practices functional medicine and strives to find the fundamental cause of health issues. Dr. Sult is also an inspirational speaker and author of Just Be Well: A Book For Seekers of Vibrant Health. For more information about Tom and the Just Be Well Movement, click here.
Inflammation is something doctors and medical practitioners have known about for thousands of years. In fact, Roman medical texts from the first century describe inflammation in terms of the pain, redness, heat, and swelling that accompany injury. Inflammation is a short-term response to infection and injury. The body releases anti-inflammatory chemicals called “resolvins” to localized sites of injury to heal and repair damaged tissue. When the healing is complete, the body returns to a state of balance.
When inflammation is confined to a specific area for a short amount of time, it is a healthy body response. However, as a doctor, I’m seeing more and more evidence of chronic inflammation. As I wrote in Just Be Well, “Chronic inflammation happens when the body is stuck in an inflamed state. The inflammation response is still normal, but it’s happening over long periods of time…. When your body is inflamed at a low level for that long, you begin to see major problems creeping up: heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and a host of other diagnoses no one wants to receive.” Chronic inflammation is persistent and systemic. It perpetuates disease.
Our bodies are not built for the constant onslaught of toxins, stress, and poor nutrition they receive. The continuous state of stress inside our bodies causes the immune system to release low levels of resolvins. While these chemicals are good for localized injury, when they occur in excess and circulate inside the body, they can damage otherwise healthy tissue.
Add to that the environmental pollution we are exposed to on a regular basis—chemicals, synthetic fibers, plastics, cleaning products, pesticides, and heavy metals. These compounds are fat-soluble, meaning they are stored in fat cells and accumulate in the body. The immune system has to go on overdrive just to maintain balance.
Psychological distress in the form of stress, panic, and anxiety causes your blood vessels to dilate and your adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is a major hormone that affects the release of insulin. When your body is overwhelmed with insulin, it can become resistant and unable to use the hormone effectively.
Insulin resistance is also a common side effect of a high-sugar diet. Blood sugar triggers the release of insulin. When the body is overwhelmed with too much insulin, the cells are unable to respond to the hormone. And sugar isn’t the only culprit in the modern diet that’s helping to fan the flames of inflammation. Resolvins, those anti-inflammatory chemicals, are made of Omega-3 fatty acids. However, our diet is now primarily composed of Omega-6 from grains and vegetables rather than meats. This imbalance may contribute to chronic inflammation, as the resolvins are unable to act quickly and heal effectively without the right nutrition.
All of these issues come together to create the perfect storm of inflammation. In Just Be Well, I wrote, “Chronic inflammation—the equivalent of a long-term war raging inside you—can also lead to autoimmunity. In any war, you’re going to get attrition: you’re going to run out of supplies and spare parts, while fatigue and weakness can even lead to tragic friendly fire. In a chronically inflamed state, your body’s ability to repair itself will suffer, and it is more and more likely to attack its own tissue inadvertently.” These tissue attacks may come in the form of these symptoms:
- Skin problems – acne, dryness
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
- Weight gain
- Dry eyes
- Frequent colds
- Brain fog
Chronic inflammation, when left untreated, is associated with chronic diseases such as:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Chronic pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Traditional medicine is prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs to counteract these issues. However, drugs cannot cure all inflammation, and many of these prescription medications have severe side effects, including liver and kidney failure. The way to cool the flames of inflammation is to bring your body back into homeostasis. Finding an internal balance will relieve your body of the necessity to constantly fight off stress and toxins.
One of the best ways to start alleviating your chronic inflammation is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. This diet isn’t meant to help you lose weight; it’s meant to bring balance back to your internal systems. An anti-inflammatory diet consists of foods that soothe inflammation and help control free radicals, such as:
- Coldwater fish
- Grass-fed or wild meat and eggs
- Fresh fruit
- Nuts: especially walnuts, cashews, and almonds
- Chocolate (when minimally processed)
- Herbs and spices: turmeric, ginger, garlic, basil, pepper
- Whole grains: brown rice or bulgur wheat
- Sweet potatoes
These foods will help keep your blood sugar low and stable and will add essential nutrients, like Omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid highly processed and high-carb foods, like bread, white potatoes, chips, pastries, soda, and fruit juice. Eliminate casein and gluten.
Additional lifestyle changes will help reduce inflammations. Supplements like vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, coenzyme Q10, and mixed carotenoids can help your body rebalance itself. Sleep, meditation, relaxation, and exercise are also important components to keep inflammation at bay.
In my medical practice, inflammation is always a sign that something in the body is out of balance. Chronic inflammation can lead to chronic disease as the body wears down and depletes its reserves. It is possible to stop inflammation and rebalance the body. There are no magic tricks to getting on the path to wellness after dealing with inflammation. The plan is lifestyle changes—eat right, stress less, live green, and get some sleep.
To see this article as it appears on the Just Be Well movement website, click here.
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