The funny thing with chronic inflammation is you might not feel anything developing until it becomes a full-blown, obvious disease. Chronic inflammation is a major contributor to a variety of major diseases we see today, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The reason chronic inflammation is not too obvious initially is because individual cells are damaged in the process. When healthy, properly-functioning cells become dysfunctional, it leads to inflammation.
The term “inflammation” is often generalized, and refers to an immune system reaction to a stimulus. Our immune systems tag foreign invaders as “non-self” bodies. The cells responsible for tagging these foreign bodies are the “scouts” of the immune system, known as macrophages and dendritic cells. They are responsible for identifying antigens (foreign bodies), and sending messages back to the rest of the immune system, informing them about what is going on. This promotes activity within the immune system allowing for a planned, organized attack.
When we are injured, say a cut for example, the local area becomes inflamed for a short period of time to prevent excess loss of blood. This then activates a cascade to form a clot to protect the area from the outside world and loss of more blood. Inflammation is useful as a reaction to an infection to either destroy the pathogen or flush it out. In acute situations, inflammation is a useful tool in response to invaders or wounds.
The immune system isn’t involved in acute situations exclusively. When chronically low levels of inflammation are present, it leads to a variety of issues. These can include diabetes, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, heart disease, hypertension, and more.
A state of chronic inflammation lessens our ability to function properly at the cellular level. This is precisely why chronic inflammation can affect so many different body systems and organs. Therefore, when it comes to alleviating any of these conditions, addressing inflammation is the pivotal first step.
Consume Healing, Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The best place to start is with what you are eating. Unfortunately, today we live in a world where there is no shortage of food options, but many of them happen to be questionable or even detrimental to our health. Instead, the goal to should be to consume minimally processed, organic foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. These basics give you these baseline of where to get started:
• Eat real foods, with at least 50% of each plate being vegetables.
• Eat a diet primarily of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
• Choose pasture-raised, organic, grass-fed, and/or wild animal meats and fish.
• Eat and assortment of different-colored vegetables and fruits (eat the rainbow).
• Drink clean water.
• Eat fermented foods to balance your gut flora, like kimchi and sauerkraut.
• Cut out inflammatory foods, like simple carbohydrates, sugars, processed foods, and candies.
• 80% of the time eat right, allowing yourself 20% “wiggle room.”
• Drink lemon water in the morning, it helps boost metabolism and liver function.
• Look for foods that are high in fiber (whole foods) and low in sugar.
• Eliminate all packaged foods, if possible.
• Be sure to read ALL ingredient labels.
• Never eat out of a box or bag.
• Eat greens at least twice per day.
• Choose organic foods as often as possible.
• Listen to your body!
Unfortunately, with the widespread use of pesticides, genetically-modified (GMO) crops, and runoff, our food supply can contain a great deal of toxic compounds. While it is almost impossible to eliminate toxin exposure completely, there are definitely things you can do to limit your exposure and take some of the toxic burden off your body.
Food sensitivities play a key role as well. Please note that these are different from food allergies. Food allergies are obvious, outright negative reactions to certain foods, like peanuts or gluten, that can be life-threatening. Food sensitivities, on the other hand, are much subtler, but mediate inflammatory reaction in the gut and body. Regularly consuming these foods can harm the gut lining and trigger immune responses that can affect other areas. Food sensitivities are incredibly common in those who suffer from an autoimmune disorder, have leaky gut syndrome, IBS, or other inflammatory disorders.
Limit Toxic Exposure from Other Sources
Focusing on the list outlined above is a great place to start when it comes to food. It is really important to stress the focus on organic produce, pasture-raised meats, and healthy fats. These foods will be the most nutrient-dense and contain the most anti-inflammatory compounds. By contrast, for example, congenitally raised animal products are usually loaded with pro-inflammatory compounds like omega-6 fatty acids and can even contain pesticide and antibiotic residues.
Additionally, you could do yourself a great service by checking your water supply. Depending on where you are getting your water from, your drinking water might also contain toxic chemicals, chlorine, fluoride, radioactive substances, heavy metals (like lead), and/or a diverse cocktail of synthetic chemicals. Some city water supplies might even contain trace amounts of prescription medications!
The skin is the largest organ of the human body, yet many of us pay little attention to the things we come into contact with on a daily basis. We knowingly or unknowingly expose ourselves to a variety of toxins on a daily basis. Why is this a problem? For starters, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified over 5,000 different chemicals found in cosmetic products. Luckily, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a database, known as Skin Deep. You can check the safety of over 78,000 products and their ingredient lists, which can be a valuable tool going forward. They constantly update their lists, so be sure to check back from time to time.
We are exposed to toxins from a variety of different sources, as you can see. Once toxins enter our bodies, there are generally two different routes they can go, and which route they take is dependent on our ability to process and eliminate them effectively or not. The more toxins we exposure ourselves to, the less likely we are to process them effectively. When toxins are not eliminated, they end up getting stored in body tissues. The primary destination for storage tends to be body fat.
Along with choosing the right foods and limiting toxic exposure, there are some other things to keep in throughout this process.
Drink Enough Water
The first thing to address is water intake. Consuming adequate amounts of water is crucial in aiding in the body’s ability to flush toxins out. Urine, after all, is one of the primary ways we get rid of waste products. Sources go as far as to recommend the amount of water needed per day is equal to half your body weight in fluid ounces. In other words, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should drink 75 fluid ounces of water daily. This is the goal you should be shooting for.
Move Around Often
Being physically active and getting regular exercise is important when addressing chronic inflammation. The lymphatic system, the body’s sewage system, actually requires movement (muscle contraction) to pump lymph through the body. Physical activity improves lymph flow, cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and allows us to expel more toxins via sweat. Moving often also releases endorphins- or chemicals in the brain- responsible for a happier mood, and promotes creation of new blood vessels in the brain (especially the part responsible for memory and coordination).
Address Emotional Stress
While it might not be (and usually is not) the first thing addressed when we talk about oxidative stress and inflammation, emotional and mental stress can have a massive impact. In fact, a 2014 study found that “pro-inflammatory cytokines, can in turn elicit profound changes in behavior, which include the initiation of depressive symptoms such as sad mood, anhedonia, fatigue, psychomotor retardation, and social-behavioral withdrawal.”
Therefore, if you want to address chronic inflammation, you need to be at peace with yourself as well. You can find that inner peace a number of different ways. Here are just a few things you can do at home:
Practice meditation. Try to recall times you felt loved and appreciated. Reflect on them. Recall how you felt when you were loved and appreciated at that time. Look back on this at least once a week, and cherish the times you were happy with others. Reflecting will help you appreciate all the great people and moments you have had in your life.
Relax and let go. Life is hectic nowadays, and there’s not much you can do to avoid all the commotion. Even when you might think you are relaxed, other things might be on your mind. Things like work, family, friends, and other commitments tend to creep back in. Do yourself a favor and allow yourself some time to really unplug. Ditch the cellphone, computer, and TV completely for a bit. Even if it just for five minutes a day, make sure you spend it completely free of distractions.
Spend time outside. Whether it is going for a walk, meeting up with friends, playing sports, exercising, or taking a break from work, just get outside. Also, spending time out in the sun for fifteen minutes a day with exposed arms and legs in warm weather environments will help you get vitamin D, which is crucial to your health.
Try stretching in the morning and at night. Staying limber and loose will allow you to maintain proper range of motion in your joints and muscles. It also is a great way to wind down and relax before bed.
Reduce your usage of social media. While it may not seem like it, social media is more likely stressing you out than calming you down. Stress levels go up when you are on social media for a few reasons.
First off is the blue light exposure, which is more of an issue when scrolling through social media or favorite news outlets at night. Secondly, you may get into arguments, fights, or read upsetting posts without another means to process your information.
It is fine to go on your social media once or twice per day. Use this time instead to actually spend time your friends and family in real life. This is a great way to reduce stress levels, as you will gain a sense of security and connectedness with people in the real world.
If you incorporate the lifestyle strategies outlined above, you can effectively lighten the toxic load o the body, and keep it away over time. Sometimes, support is needed, and certain supplements can be incredibly effective in enhancing the process.
There are certain micronutrients that play key role in the inflammation process, and insufficient amounts of them can promote chronic inflammation. Again, this can have far-reaching consequences, affecting everything from hormone balance, to immune system function, to properly managing stress. Deficiencies in antioxidants (like zinc, selenium, and vitamins A, C, and E), vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and certain B vitamins most common.
Antioxidant vitamins and minerals include vitamins A (and carotenoids), C, and E, as well as selenium, manganese, zinc, glutathione, and phytochemicals like lutein, quercetin, and lycopene. These antioxidants might be found in many of the foods you are already eating. The best sources of antioxidants are found in plant-based foods. Foods high in antioxidants include: apples, blueberries, broccoli, spinach, lentils, and big leafy greens, just to name a few. Other anti-inflammatory compounds like curcumin (found in turmeric), can combat chronic inflammation.
We know vitamin D supports immune function because deficiencies lead to increased rates of the flu and colds. It also regulates inflammation, decreases the rates autoimmune diseases and cancer, and promotes cellular maturation. There is a large (and growing amount of evidence) showing vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common, affecting at least 50% of adults and up to 80% of all infants. The optimal range is between 50-80ng/mL (125-200nmol/L). Most practitioners agree somewhere between 1,200 IU and 2,000 IU is the optimal range to increase vitamin D levels to normal levels long-term. Doses up to 2,000 IU have been researched to be safe for long-term use.
Many Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, which can result in a relative omega-3 deficiency. Omega-6s can be found in many vegetables oils and meats. Consuming high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids (and not enough omega-3 fatty acids) is associated with an increased risk of over 60 different conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, stoke, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, skin diseases, and other chronic illnesses.
An imbalanced omega-3:6 ratios can lead to increased inflammation, altered immune function, increased insulin resistance, and increases susceptibility to cellular damage via free radicals. When this ratio is corrected (and the correct ratio ranges from 1:1, which is ideal, to about 1:3), the opposite effects occur.
There is no one-step solution to addressing chronic inflammation. You need to take a step back and look at what the potential triggers might be. The key is to accept this, understand better health is a process, and, while it may be a little uncomfortable at times, it will allow for breakthroughs in the long-run.
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Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. The information is designed for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat, or cure disease.Botanical medicine and nutraceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained, licensed health care practitioner before proceeding.