The Enemy Inside. Chronic Inflammation: Signs, Symptoms and Solutions
When most people think of inflammation, they think of a sprained ankle, an open wound or a painful tooth abscess. We don’t often equate inflammation with autoimmune diseases, heart disease, diabetes, cancer or many other illnesses. But the fact is, chronic inflammation can contribute to nearly every major illness out there.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is our body’s normal and healthy response to injury or attack on the immune system.
There are two types of inflammation. The first is painful inflammation, which usually shows up in the body with heat, pain, swelling and redness. This sort of acute response is a protector of our health.
The second is silent chronic low-level inflammation, which attacks at the cellular level and isn’t associated with pain. It’s this chronic inflammation that can lead to obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis etc.
Acute inflammation hurts but chronic inflammation kills!
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
While chronic inflammation isn’t necessarily associated with pain, the body does try to warn us that something is wrong with nagging signs and symptoms such as:
- Gut issues such as IBS symptoms (bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea), blood or mucus in stools, abdominal pain, acid reflux etc
- Aching of joints and muscles, low bone density
- High blood pressure
- Rising blood sugars, metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity (visceral fat)
- Headaches, dizziness, tingling and pain along nerves
- Food intolerances, allergies and asthma
- Skin issues such as rosacea, eczema, hives or psoriasis
- Mood issues such as anxiety and depression
- Difficulty with sleep – either trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Chronic fatigue and low energy levels
- Brain fog, loss of focus or problems with remembering things
If we don’t take any notice of these symptom, the inflammation is left to persist until it becomes so evident (sometimes years later), that it can’t be ignored anymore. Hello autoimmune disease, a heart attack, cancer, stroke etc!
Looking back now I see my body spent the guts (pardon the pun) of 20 years trying to tell me there was something wrong with my stomach. I often think if I had only acted on those niggles (bloating, constipation, fatigue) I may have avoided getting Crohn’s disease. But who knows?
The trouble with these little niggling signs and symptoms is that we have come to think of a lot of them as the norm of modern living and don’t really pay too much heed to them. Especially when a pill can be popped to mask the symptom making it easier to ignore. But while the symptom may be quietened down the root cause isn’t addressed and the chronic inflammation may still persist.
WHAT CAUSES CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
Poor Diet and Gut Health
Toxic diets that are high in sugar, highly-processed foods, trans fats, alcohol, gluten, refined grains, food additives, dairy etc and that are low in omega 3 fats and other anti-inflammatory foods can take their toll on people’s gut health and lead to inflammation, a leaky gut, gut dysbiosis and/or chronic infections.
Inadequate sleep (going to bed late, using electronics late at night, not getting enough hours of sleep) has been linked to elevated inflammatory markers.
Lack of exercise and movement. We lead very sedentary lives, sitting for most of the day (in work and at home) and a lot of people don’t make time for exercise. This lack of activity has been linked to systemic, glow-grade inflammation.
Too much exercise. Over training without rest and recovery on the other hand is also a form of chronic stress that leads to inflammation.
Lack of down time. Always being busy, always being switched ‘on’ (email, social media etc) isn’t relaxing or rejuvenating and can take its toll on your body.
Second-hand smoke, pollution, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, chemicals and airborne irritants
Modern life can make us stressed-out a lot of the time, whether the stressors are in your workplace, relationships, financial, commuting etc, they (big and small) all add up resulting in a physiological inflammatory response.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
Ditch inflammatory foods
Cut out the refined sugars, sugar substitutes, soft drinks/sodas, trans-fats, highly-processed carbs (cakes, biscuits breakfast cereals etc), additives, gluten and so on. Eliminate any foods that you may be allergic or intolerant to. You could do an IgG blood test for food sensitivities or try an elimination diet to see which foods you may be sensitive to.
Try to avoid the foods that have a high glycaemic load which may impact your blood sugar levels. Some of the big offenders range from muffins and bagels to sweets and ice-cream to so called “healthy” foods like fruit juice, dried fruit and fruit yogurts.
JERF it out (Just Eat Real Foods)
Crowd out all the crappy inflammatory foods with plenty of real whole foods. If you fill up on the good stuff there’s less room for the bad stuff – your body will thank you for it!
By whole foods I mean the foods that will flood your body with the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals and fibre it needs to combat inflammation. This means large amounts of vegetables along with herbs, anti-inflammatory spices, fruits, nuts and seeds, oils such as EVOO and coconut oil, oily fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel) and grass fed meats. It’s best to purchase organic where possible.
Some great anti-inflammatory power houses are:
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea (especially matcha green tea)
- Wild-caught salmon
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Dark leafy green vegetables
Nutritional supplements can also be used in conjunction with dietary changes. Some supplements I like to use are Vitamin D3, Omega-3 fish oils and turmeric capsules (curcumin).
Avoid toxins as much as possible
Your body goes on the defence when you absorb toxic chemicals and pesticides through your digestive tract and your skin. Cut down on your exposure and give your liver a much-needed break by choosing organic produce when you can and choosing non-toxic personal care and cleaning products.
Support your body with lifestyle changes
When you’re stressed out all the time, you’re also producing more cortisol which is a stress hormone and inflammation’s best friend. Therefore, stress reduction should have the knock-on effect of reducing inflammation also. You can do this by:
- Getting more quality sleep so your body can repair, restore and rejuvenate
- Incorporating exercise and movement into your daily routine
- Meditation and deep breathing does wonders for your nervous system
- Making time for rest and rejuvenation – maybe doing a digital detox, going for a walk out in nature, getting a massage or taking a mini-break