Underlying many of the chronic diseases that we commonly see today is a picture of chronic inflammation. In fact, I would even say that most chronic diseases develop from (and are worsened by) chronic inflammatory processes.
What is inflammation? There are two types. Acute inflammation is your body’s response to any sort of tissue injury. Think about when you cut yourself: the area around the cut becomes hot, red, swollen and tender. These are the four main body responses to injury, and they characterize inflammation. In an acute situation these responses are normal and healthy – you wouldn’t be able to heal that cut if your body didn’t send components of your immune system to the site. However if your body thinks that it is being injured over a long period of time internally (say, by a build up of toxins from the environment, poor diet or excessive stress), it responds in a similar way with swelling and sending the immune system to respond. Over time, the body gets so overwhelmed by this need for a chronic inflammatory response that the immune system gets confused about what is and isn’t supposed to be attacked. Bring on all autoimmunity conditions (like MS, crohn’s disease), cancers, rheumatological conditions and other long-lasting chronic conditions.
Bottom line is that inflammatory processes in acute situations are welcomed and necessary components of healing. But in chronic situations, we often want to quell the inflammation both to relieve the symptoms and allow the immune system to reset.
Some of the most common culprits of chronic inflammation include:
-poor dietary choices (highly processed, high animal products, sugar, trans fats, alcohol)
-intestinal health issues (see this post for why)
-chronic infections (bacterial, viral, yeast, parasites)
-stress and exhaustion
-heavy metal or other environmental toxin buildup
Here are 5 ways to reduce chronic inflammation:
1. Plant based diet: not to say you should avoid animal products forever, but reducing animal proteins, processed foods, sugar and alcohol will remove some of the immune system insult. Plus, a plant based diet (high in fruits, vegetables and minimally processed grains/legumes, low in processed foods and animal sourced proteins) floods your system with the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre it needs to remove toxins, fight cancer and recover from chronic inflammation.
2. Improve your gut health: as mentioned in this previous post, healing the gut is often the first step to approaching a chronic disease. Make sure you’re having at least 1-2 bowel movements per day, and rebuilding the intestinal flora under guidance of an ND. 80% of our immune system resides in the peyer’s patches of the intestines – reducing inflammation in this body area specifically makes sense when we understand the role of the immune system in chronic disease.
3. Identify and address food allergies and chronic infections: food allergies distract and irritate your body’s immune system, and cause it to focus on the GI tract when it should be focusing elsewhere. A good place to start with food allergies is eliminating gluten, soy, dairy, eggs and yeast – these are the most common food allergens that hijack the immune system: avoid them for at least 1 month and see if your symptoms improve. If not, it may be another food irritating you and it may be time to do a full elimination diet under ND supervision, or have an IgG food sensitivity panel. To determine if you have latent or chronic infections residing in your body (or a FOCUS of infection), you’ll need to consult with your biological doc.
4. Relax and de-stress: sounds easier than it is, but if you’re experiencing chronic inflammation I can guarantee you your body is dead tired of constantly mounting an immune response. Give your body a break. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and allow your immune system to regroup before tomorrow’s barrage of insults. Further, cortisol (the stress hormone) increases inflammatory markers in the body. Bottom line: de-stress and sleep more to quench inflammation.
5. Reduce toxins: your food, home and personal care products, and your water are the highest sources of toxic chemicals. Remember that your skin is porous and absorbs anything you put on it. Your body is more than 70% water and requires at least 1.5-2L per day of fresh, uncontaminated water just to replenish what it uses in metabolic processes. And that, no matter how clean your diet and lifestyle are, your teeth (hint: mercury filled silver amalgams) are part of this picture too. Reduce your exposure as much as possible to heavy metals and chemical contaminants. Your body is over-reacting as it is, don’t give it any more reasons.
There are many other ways to reduce inflammation, including specific dietary changes and supplementation. Starting with the above will give you a jump start on your next appointment with your ND to discuss inflammation!