Inflammation in the body
I’m sure you’ve had a scrape or cut before. After you get past that initial stage of irritation, you may start to feel swelling or see redness around the area. This is inflammation. Inflammation is a natural process of the body to protect itself. In the instance of a cut, the body will direct fluids to the injured area to bring white blood cells, increase the temperature to fight off potentially harmful bacteria, and repair the area, all of this directed by inflammatory signals. This is the acute inflammatory response, and the body is very good at it. However, there is another kind of inflammation that can end up being harmful for the body.
Chronic Inflammation occurs over weeks, months, and years can lead to breakdown of body tissues and even organ systems if left untreated. There are thousands of diseases known to man, and almost every single one has a cornerstone of chronic inflammation. While a protective mechanism, if we continue to harm our bodies knowingly or unknowingly, there are consequences. Inflammation has been described by many as a fire in the body. Think of an out of control forest fire that continues to ravage everything in sight, until much needed supplies dampen the flames.
Others have described inflammation in the body as a repair deficit, meaning that the body is breaking down faster than it can heal and rebuild. This leads to damage of tissues, ligaments, organs, and breakdown of hormones, neurotransmitters, and leads to many conditions. While almost all disease is caused by inflammation, some common inflammatory conditions include: depression, chronic fatigue, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, osteoarthritis, and IBS.
The gut: the ultimate inflammatory control center
If the body is under attack (stress, diet, too little movement, etc) the immune system activates cytokines (chemical messengers) to deliver messages to protect itself. This leads to inflammation, and if not corrected, can lead to a chronic inflammatory state. The most efficient way to reduce inflammation is through the gut, due to the fact that 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gut. Our gut has also been dubbed the second brain, as it has more neurons than the spinal cord. This is why it is imperative to have a healthy gut to have a healthy body, and is why gut health is the basis of our functional medicine practice in St. Louis.
Causes of inflammation
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our world since World War II. These chemicals show up in our drinking water, our food, air, rivers and streams, cosmetics, and so forth. Health and Human Services states:
“ We do not know the effects of many of these chemicals on our health, yet we may be exposed to them while manufacturing, distributing, using, and disposing of them or when they become pollutants in our air, water, or soil.”
The average human uses over 13 personal care products per day, and this becomes a problem when they are loaded with toxic chemicals. Anything on our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream in under 30 seconds; so be cognizant the next time you reach for your favorite shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, or perfume.
The foods we eat either build us up or break us down. It really is as simple as that. Certain foods can stimulate healing, growth, repair and balance in the body, while others lead to breakdown, tissue damage, and inflammation. NF-kB, one of the most important inflammatory molecules in the body, can be turned on by eating a highly processed diet full of high glycemic foods like pastries, candy, cookies, cakes, crackers, and bad inflammatory fats. While anti-inflammatory foods are the foundation for a strong gut health diet.
When we are stressed, the body releases hormones and chemicals to kick the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This a normal response that can raise our blood pressure and blood sugar, and divert blood flow in order to combat whatever we are facing. The problem is, nowadays people are chronically stressed. This leads to wild hormone imbalances, immune imbalances, gut dysfunction, and of course— inflammation.
What’s one of the first things that both natural health doctors and conventional medicine doctors tell you when something is wrong…REDUCE YOUR STRESS!
Lack of or too much exercise
It is now believed that sitting is more dangerous for our health than previously thought. A few studies show that those who were more sedentary had higher levels of the inflammatory markers Il-6, CRP, leptin, and adiponectin. Other conditions that have been seen with too much sitting are: high blood pressure, decreased brain activity, and poor circulation.
Too little sleep
Sleep is when the body and brain heals and repairs. Studies show that even short term sleep loss can lead to inflammation in the body by increasing inflammatory molecules Interleukin -6 and TNF-alpha. Also- sleep has been shown to increase pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain and body.
There are trillions of different microbes in the gut. In fact, we have 10 times more bacteria in our body than human cells! Whoa. In order to have optimal health, these bacteria need to be a good balance. Dysbiosis is a term to explain the disruption of the delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. When bad bugs and infections proliferate, from parasites, to fungus and yeast, to harmful bacteria- inflammatory molecules can be released, triggering an immune response. If left untreated, these gut infections can lead to immune deprivation and imbalance; which can cause not only inflammation, but severe chronic conditions. One nasty molecule that can be released by the gut is lipopolysaccharide, or LPS. LPS is extremely toxic to the body, some hypothesize just as toxic as outside elements.
Ways to decrease inflammation
Meditation has been shown to change the shape and volume of the brain, but can also decrease inflammation across the entire body. Thousands of studies have been conducted on meditation that show decreased anxiety, decreased stress, reduced insomnia, lower blood pressure, lower risk for cardiovascular disease, pain reduction, increased cognitive function, and increased longevity. My personal favorite meditation technique is Transcendental Meditation, in which one practices a simplistic but extremely powerful form of meditation twice daily. This has personally changed my life and health.
Movement is life and life is movement. Exercising sounds so simple, the hard part is sticking to it. Do something you love to do, walk outdoors, go for a hike, throw some weight around, swim, take a pilates class, do yoga in your pajamas. If you do something that you like to do, you will be more apt to stick to it. Exercise can drastically reduce inflammation, improve circulation and detoxification, slow the aging process, balance blood sugar and hormones, and just makes you feel good.
The importance of sleep can not be overstated. While most people today in America are running on fewer hours of sleep than their ancestors, the health effects start to add up. Certain pro-inflammatory compounds in the brain and body are released when one is sleep deprived.
Anti inflammatory diet
Food is not just calories-it is information for our genes. Great choices can turn on quality genes, turn off harmful genes, and build the body. Poor food choices can activate harmful genes and trigger inflammation. Green tea is loaded with antioxidants that can help detoxify, speed up metabolism, and decrease inflammation. Fruits and vegetables are the basis for an anti-inflammatory diet, providing healing nutrients for the gut and our cells. You should shoot for at least 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day to load up on antioxidants to nourish your cells and body. Good omega-3 fats from wild caught fish and grass fed meats are great at squelching inflammation. Include healthy fats for cellular health, healthy hormones, and reducing inflammation.
Include healing herbs like curcumin and cinnamon for soothing inflammation. Other anti-inflammatory compounds can be found in boswellia and resveratrol.
Inflammation: Where Functional Medicine Shines
Conventional medicine has started to look into inflammation as a possibility for causing diseases. The research cannot be denied, inflammation is killing us and we need to do something to change it. While this is good that conventional medicine is heading in the right direction, the treatment for inflammation is still lackluster to say the least. Medications like NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, Advil) and steroids are usually the gold standard. While these medications may make people feel better for a short period of time, they fail to address the underlying causative factor of inflammation. Many like a quick fix, but if you cover up the problem you may be burying a ticking time bomb while doing so.
Would you continuing mopping your floor after a sink leak, or would you make sure the water is turned off first?
Functional medicine focuses on finding and correcting the source of inflammation. When the source of inflammation is identified, steps can be taken to build the body up so that the person continues to grow healthier; while disease fades away with the inflammation. Now that is healthcare!