Inflammation: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
You don't get very far in life without getting a few bumps and scrapes. When our bodies suffer injury, our immune system quickly jumps into action and produces the familiar signs of acute inflammation: swelling, pain, redness, and heat. This acute inflammatory reaction is a good thing - a normal and necessary part of the healing process. Sometimes, however, the inflammatory response continues unabated. It's then that too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing, resulting in a state of chronic inflammation which can wreak havoc with your health without your even knowing it. Overtime, this can lead to serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.
Could You Be Suffering From Chronic Inflammation?
The ugly truth about chronic inflammation is the fact that your lifestyle can play a major role in the development of this serious condition. Prolonged stress, smoking, too much alcohol, obesity, and poor dietary habits all interfere with the normal immune response so that the inflammation never stops.
Even things like too little exercise or too much exercise - overexertion - can negatively impact your body's ability to resolve acute inflammation properly. Food allergies also cause low-grade inflammation which overtime can damage of the lining of your gut. Similarly, prolonged use of antibiotics can disturb the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut, resulting in an inflamed and leaky gut lining. Once the lining of the gut is inflamed, it can become more permeable. Important nutrients aren't absorbed while toxins, pathogens, and other undesirable substances are absorbed and go on to cause inflammation in other parts of the body.
Chronic inflammation can also arise when your immune system improperly attacks your own body without your having injured yourself. The result can be an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. Although the triggering factors involved in this faulty immune response may differ from organ to organ, chronic inflammation is present in all of them.
Since chronic inflammation is often silent, it's important to be aware of it's signs. Here are a few common signs:
Weight Gain - especially increases in your waistline
Always feeling hungry
Dazed feeling when you wake up
You Can Heal Chronic Inflammation
The good news is that you can heal from chronic inflammation and can take steps to prevent it from rearing its ugly head. Depending upon your symptoms, your healthcare practitioner may order blood tests to clarify the source of the inflammation. Since chronic inflammation is often caused by more than one factor, true healing necessitates a holistic approach that takes your health, your diet, your relationships, as well as your home and work environments into account.
Many people turn to over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, Ibuprofen, Advil or to prescription medications like steroids for relief. While they all reduce inflammation, they have side effects and fail to treat the underlying cause of the inflammation. Here are a few key changes you can make to reduce inflammation:
Cut out inflammatory foods: fast food, sugary foods, high glycemic carbohydrates, processed meats, meats with low quality fat, and foods high in pro-inflammatory fats like Omega 6 fatty acids.
If you aren't already taking Omega 3 fatty acid supplements, do so. But choose a high quality fish oil, one without environmental contaminants. Omega 3s from plant sources are also available if you can't tolerate fish oils. See our blog on essential fatty acids for more information.
Cook with healthy oils that can withstand high heat like coconut, red palm, and rice bran oils. It's best to use extra virgin olive oil or flax seed oil on salads or after food has been cooked. If you do cook with olive oil, don't overheat it. See our blog on healthy fats for more information.
Limit your red meat consumption and eat only grass fed beef.
Eat wild caught fish. Preferably, salmon, mackerel, sardines.
Eat lots of vegetables, but limit your intake of starchy vegetables.
If you don't eat fresh fruit, add it to your diet, but stick to fruits low in fruit sugar like apples and berries.
Exercise! Even just adding a walk to your daily routine will help.
Get enough sleep. Our bodies regenerate while we sleep.
Look for ways you can reduce your level of stress. This may mean saying "no" to some activities, but the benefits to your health will be well worth it.
Don't Wait to Find Out if You Suffer from Chronic Inflammation
If you think you could have underlying inflammation, it's important that you consult with your healthcare practitioner. For more information on how you can reduce inflammation and improve your overall health, please contact us.
References used in this blog and our Spring Newsletter on Inflammation:
www.women'sinternational.com. "Chronic Inflammation." in Connections Newsletter, August 2012. Women's International Pharmacy
"Anti-Inflammatory Diets & Foods." by Kathleen Doheny, September 11, 2008 on www.webmd.com.
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The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.
~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~