Inflammation. You’ve probably heard about it by now; that it’s the leading cause of just about every disease and early death. Inflammation has also been linked to the cause of food allergies (e.g. gluten).
In our modern day living, there are so many factors we as people encounter that cause inflammation. Part of what I do as a Functional Medicine practitioner is helping my patients identify and combat the causes to, in turn, improve their health and wellbeing.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is an important bodily process that, when triggered by factors like an unhealthy lifestyle, stress, and toxic exposures, can spin out of control into a chronic inflammatory situation. Chronic inflammation is slow, long-term inflammation, lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years before you may see or feel the damage or symptoms.
When inflammation is allowed to continue without intervention, it can damage the body by creating too many pro-inflammatory cells and molecules, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukins (ILs), nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), prostaglandins, and free radicals. Having too many of these pesky pro-inflammatory substances being produced can cause damage to the body, leading to inflammation-related health issues and conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disease, to name just a few.
But how do you know if you have inflammation? What does it really feel like?
What does inflammation feel like?
You’ve probably experienced the symptoms of acute inflammation at some point in your life following an injury, characterized by obvious symptoms like redness, pain, and swelling in the area. The symptoms of chronic inflammation, however, are a bit more elusive, which is why many will suffer from it for years without being able to identify exactly what’s causing their health issues.
Here are a few common ways chronic inflammation reveals itself in the body:
Inflammation affects your entire body, including your brain. In fact, the brain might be particularly at risk since an overload of inflammation can trigger an inflammatory-autoimmune response against your brain and nervous system. The consequence of this is often an erratic mood or feelings of anxiety and depression.
Inflammation can also damage your blood-brain barrier, which can lead to something called “Leaky Brain” and oxidative stress in the hypothalamus, which according to the NIH Library of Medicine is the part of the brain responsible for regulating appetite and weight, body temperature, emotions, behavior, memory, growth, salt and water balance, sex drive and your sleep-wake cycle. (Wow.)
Needless to say, the consequences of this, which include brain fog, concentration, and attention issues, are something you want to avoid.
Inflammation and pain are intricately related. In just one example, many inflammatory and autoimmune conditions, such as fibromyalgia or arthritis, have pain as their primary symptom.
If your joints are constantly stiff and achy, it’s a strong sign that your inflammation levels are higher than they should be.
Inflammation creates pain as a way to communicate to the body that there’s a problem that needs attention. It’s your job to listen and make appropriate changes in your lifestyle that decrease both inflammation and pain.
Chronic inflammation messes with the way your body responds to stress. More specifically, it messes with your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is the signaling cascade that tells your body to produce cortisol and other stress hormones. The result of this is chronically high cortisol, which can leave you with daytime fatigue, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, and trouble sleeping at night.
When this happens, it makes sense that your body would rather have you take it easy than get up and hit the gym at six in the morning. Many people try to push through by pumping their bodies full of caffeine, but this only further triggers the adrenals and inflammation, and ultimately exasperates the problem.
How do you diagnose inflammation?
As a functional medicine doctor, I typically diagnose inflammation by way of a detailed medical history and talking to a patient about their symptoms. That said, there are also a few lab tests I use to check for unhealthy levels of inflammation, including:
C-reactive protein levels: This test looks for inflammatory proteins in the blood.
Homocysteine levels: This inflammatory amino acid has been connected to a wide range of illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, heart disease and cancer.
Ferritin: When ferritin levels are high, it’s considered a good indicator of inflammation.
How do you decrease the symptoms of inflammation?
Now that we know what inflammation is, what it feels like, and how it’s diagnosed; how do we calm it and keep it away?
To combat inflammation, start by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet. This means avoiding inflammatory foods like dairy, refined grains and sugar and learning to love fresh leafy greens, healthy fats and pasture-raised meats.
You can also turn to other inflammation-fighting practices like chiropractic, mindfulness-based stress reduction and infrared saunas.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please email us to schedule a Functional Medicine evaluation. We work with clients in-person or via webcam for people across the country and around the world.
If you’re looking to get started with an easy to follow, gentle cleanse to reduce chronic inflammation, learn my recommended anti-inflammatory diet, and work on dumping toxins while shedding weight, I encourage you to check out my Spring Cleanse program, complete with my 40-page guidebook with meal plan, recipes, progress trackers, and at-a-glance instructions. Learn more here.