The term inflammation is used so frequently, but I wonder how many people really understand its meaning, and even more importantly, its ramifications on our bodies and brains. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, in his blog dated February 2, 2015, he said “it’s important to realize that chronic inflammation is the source of many, if not most diseases, including cancer, obesity, and heart disease, which essentially makes it the leading cause of death in the U.S.”
Inflammation is the body’s immune reaction to various triggers: allergies, infections, toxins (including environmental), injuries, and accidents, to name a few. Inflammation is our body’s defense mechanism (much like fever) to try to heal itself in response to an attack or trauma; it’s a healthy response to a trigger.
Acute external inflammation is easily recognized, as it can be identified by 4 telltale signs:
All 4 symptoms need not be present in an acute inflammatory response; any one of them indicates the presence of inflammation. For example, most people, when bitten by an insect, react with redness, swelling, pain, and heat. Applying ice immediately and then intermittently will help reduce the swelling, and there are natural remedies to help soothe the affected area (my choices are doTerra lavender essential oil & calendula homeopathic first aid remedy). Proper treatment will accelerate the natural healing process and reduce the duration of the inflammatory response.
Hidden Signs of Inflammation
But there’s a more subtle or “silent” type of inflammation, which is internal, and not as easy to recognize. When the immune system is continually activated, it sets off a chain of reactions in the body that ultimately leads to a chronic inflammatory response, and if left untreated, becomes systemic and has a greater chance of causing more serious diseases including all autoimmune diseases (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis), cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many more.
Some common signs of internal inflammation are:
- Muscle & joint pain
- Poor digestion (bloating/gas)
- Irregular bowel movements (constipation/diarrhea)
- Excessive mucous in nose & throat
- Skin rashes
- Brain fog
- Low energy levels
Many people do not realize the above signs are indicators of inflammation because most of the time they are not outwardly visible, and they don’t connect the symptoms with an inflammatory response of the body. Identifying internal inflammation and its causes are more complex than external and acute inflammatory responses, and I’ve learned that there’s never only one causal factor; there are always multiple factors.
Causes of Hidden (Internal) Inflammation
Health coaches, particularly those trained in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, are very skilled at recognizing and identifying underlying causes of inflammation, and more importantly, how many of these are connected and overlap. The main culprits (this is not an exhaustive list) include:
- Pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi)
- Hormone imbalances/dysfunction
- Chemicals & environmental toxins
- Subluxations/spinal misalignments
- Poor detoxification
- Excessive exercise
It is essential to understand that food is the largest contributor to the “silent”, chronic inflammatory response, which is why I offer and recommend food sensitivity and gut health testing as a staple in my practice. This is ground zero to identify low grade inflammation in the body. Food sensitivity can inflame many organs, glands and tissues in the body, and if the blood-brain barrier is crossed, brain inflammation will result and cause additional dysfunction. Multiple studies have shown that chronic brain inflammation is a key underlying factor in all neurodegenerative diseases, and substantially increases the risk of developing such diseases as alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), parkinson’s, and others.1,2,3 Schedule a FREE consult to learn how you can benefit from food sensitivity and gut testing.
Lifestyle Changes to the Rescue
The good news is that lifestyle modifications and changes can be most beneficial in reducing and managing inflammation in the body and the brain. By identifying the culprits and making the necessary adjustments in diet, sleep schedules, exercise, stress reduction and supplementation, you can support your body and give it the tools it needs to function properly. Since immune function directly induces the body’s inflammatory response, customized lifestyle modifications that support a healthy immune system are essential for reducing and managing the body’s inflammatory response. Identifying the risk factors that drive inflammation, along with lifestyle changes, may help you avoid more serious health problems down the road.
There are some fantastic herbal spices that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and support healthy immune function:
These can be added to foods (my favorite way because they really enhance flavor) or taken as supplements. These herbs are also available as essential oils. I only recommend the doTerra brand because they are third party tested and have been proven safe for consumption in small amounts. You can also use the essential oils topically (always blending with a carrier oil like coconut, olive, jojoba or almond oil) and aromatically, which are additional ways to experience the benefits of these amazing herbs.
Cryotherapy is a great new treatment that early studies have shown a reduction of systemic inflammation in athletes.4 More research is being done on this new therapy, and thus far, preliminary studies on people with arthritis and injury induced inflammation look very promising for decreased inflammation and pain management.
Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts that discuss how DRESS (diet, rest, exercise, stress reduction, supplements) modifications can help you reduce and limit inflammation, as well as help bring balance to your mind, body and spirit.