Inflammation in the body is a good thing … until it’s not. Your healing cells start to rapidly fire towards an injured source as soon as your immune system becomes compromised. It’s like a siren going off and saying, “It’s time to heal- let’s go.” If you sprain your ankle, for instance, you will almost instantly see and feel the symptoms of acute inflammation — pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat. This is often referred to as PRISH.
Don’t worry — This type of inflammation is actually good and an essential part of a healthy immune system; it signals that the body is attempting to heal itself, and any pain and immobility you experience are a warning to you to stay off your ankle. This is also when you probably have heard the old adage of applying RICE. No, I don’t mean the grain you eat! I mean RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. This helps to ease discomfort. When the healing process is complete, the inflammatory response normally shuts itself off.
But, what happens when it doesn’t shut off?
Chronic inflammation, however, is a different story. Because you can’t see or actually feel this type of inflammation, it’s often referred to as the body’s “silent fire”—which makes perfect sense, because the word “inflammation” derives from the Latin word for “to set on fire.” Chronic inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system doesn’t shut off for some reason and begins to burn out of control, like a fire that can’t be extinguished easily. It just keeps producing immune cells, leaving your body in a constant state of alert. And the body remains in a constant state of stress.
When the immune cells can’t find an injury or illness to repair, they eventually attack healthy cells, damaging your tissues and organs. This is when you start to have noticeable problems! This damage has been linked to a slew of diseases and disorders, including asthma, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, ulcerative colitis, allergies, some types of cancer and even Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, you can’t see low-grade, chronic inflammation and squash the silent fire ahead of time. It is easy to think that living with the symptoms of chronic inflammation is merely how you are SUPPOSED to feel. It isn’t until the damage is done that you really start to step back and notice; even then you may not immediately link it to chronic inflammation.
THE INFLAMMATION MYSTERY
Around 30 A.D., Celsus, a Roman physician, first identified the signs (and purpose) of acute inflammation. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research on chronic inflammation didn’t see much headway until the second half of the 20th century. Regardless, there are still a number or unknowns on the chronic inflammation topic. According to Michelle Petri, MD, the actual triggers and how inflammation occurs are still not well understood — it’s a combination of genetics and environmental and hormonal factors.
So, while it’s widely accepted that chronic inflammation can either cause or advance many diseases and disorders, the main question that needs to be answered is how it does that!
Did you know that chronic inflammation can cause digestive issues? You bet it can! A study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that “inflammation, regardless of its location or extent, sends many local and systemic signals, which in turn may cause changes in the intestine.” Chronic heart failure, the study reported, is also “associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers.” So, even though we may not know exactly where it is coming from, it is super important to keep tabs on how your body is holding chronic inflammation in order to keep your ticker ticking and your gut from not gurgling so much.
And, in a 2017 interview with the American Association for Cancer Research, addressing the correlation between chronic inflammation and cancer, molecular biologist Michael Karin said, “When inflammation goes on for a long time, it can stimulate the growth of cancer cells. This chronic inflammation also inhibits people’s immunity, suppressing the ability of the immune system to recognize cancer as foreign and reject it.”
EXTINGUISHING THE FIRE
Although it’s somewhat difficult to detect the “silent fire” of chronic inflammation, the body offers a number of clues if you’re paying attention.
Excess inflammation in the body can cause weight gain (especially in the belly), mental fog, and an overall ‘blah’ feeling. It can also lead to fatigue, digestive issues, depression, sleep issues, and random aches and pains. This is only to name a few!
It is important to consult with your doctor if you suspect that you are dealing with an inflammation issue. A doctor typically diagnoses through a series of questions and by running certain blood tests. It is recommended that you ask for a blood test to check for C-reactive protein, or CRP for short. This measures the chronic inflammatory response.
After a diagnosis can be reached, then you can start to pinpoint specifics on how to lead an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and nutrition plan. The digestive tract is a primary target for making changes — 80% of the immune system is located within the gut, and gut microbes can drive inflammation.
There are four main goals of an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan:
- Keep blood sugars balanced
- Eat the right types of fats
- Consume anti-inflammatory phytochemicals
- Promote a healthy gut flora
It may sound complicated, but the good news is is that if you make a few small changes, for even a few minutes each day, you can drastically lower inflammation levels in the body.
UN-JUNK YOUR DIET
Here are some anti-inflammatory eating tips that can help you ward off chronic inflammation:
- Load at least half your plate with vegetables and fruits at every meal.
- Get anti-inflammatory phytochemicals from flavonoids in raw cocoa, tea and berries; carotenoids in yellow and orange vegetables, such as carrots; and anthocyanins in red fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, raspberries, red peppers and red apples.
- Layer in plant proteins, like legumes and some eggs (and some non-plant proteins like poultry or fish, if you consume them).
- Get rid of processed grains and move towards whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, and quinoa.
- Enjoy healthful fats, such as olives and avocados and their oils.
- Snack on raw nuts and seeds.
- Eat fermented foods daily, like unpasteurized sauerkraut and kombucha.
- For supercharged nutrition, consume berries, leafy greens, matcha, mushrooms and brassicas (such as cauliflower) daily.
- Eliminate refined flours.
- Lower your overall sugar intake (even from natural sugars like date pastes and maple syrup).
- Avoid concentrated sources of omega-6 fats from oils like soy, canola or corn.
- Supplement with vitamin D, probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids.
Silencing the inner fire doesn’t have to be super challenging, but it does take an effort to change some of your lifestyle habits. Let’s get started today!
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Author Credit: Lisa Truesdale
Lisa Truesdale is a health freelancer writer, editor, proofreader and blogger.
Art Credit: New Hope Network