One of the great things about having been in practice for more than three decades is to finally see some changing trends that align more with what I’ve been talking about since the very beginning.
Gluten sensitivity is a perfect example.
When I first began talking about eliminating gluten from the diet to address persistent symptoms, so many people doubted me.But many, many women who took this one simple step saw some amazing changes; their thinking became clearer, energy returned, and pounds disappeared.
These days, everyone’s talking about it, and the explosion of gluten free options available in grocery stores, restaurants and even bakeries illustrates how popular this one simple strategy for managing health has become.
Inflammation is something I’ve been interested in for years as well. As a functional medicine practitioner, I’ve been carefully following the research.
And in the past few years there have been several studies suggesting that chronic inflammation lies at the root cause of many of the health issues women ask me about most: osteoporosis, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and the skin disorder, psoriasis.
In fact, many of the complaints and diseases we as a culture associate with aging can be attributed to chronic inflammation. Could it be that this is why some 75-year-old women need the assistance of a walker and others are able to slip into a pair of sneakers and walk with ease?
At my clinic I’ve been talking to women about inflammation and the effects it has on disease and aging for a long time. More importantly, I’ve been teaching women how to identify and control inflammation to maintain good health. The very issues most women are concerned about have root causes in inflammation.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
We all need a small amount of inflammation in our bodies to maintain good health. This is known as acute inflammation.
For instance, with an allergic reaction or infection, our bodies are programmed to identify infectious or dangerous substances and trigger the appropriate response needed to repair any resulting damage.
When our bodies are working smoothly and properly, the release of these pro-inflammatory compounds when needed is done easily and efficiently. When the threat has been addressed, anti-inflammatory compounds are released and our bodies return to a balanced state.
When the body’s pro-inflammatory immune cells continue to be stimulated, chronic inflammation arises. When these excess immune cells continually circulate in our systems, they can damage healthy areas, including joint tissue, blood vessel linings, pancreatic tissue, and on and on.
As with many health conditions, chronic inflammation has a number of root causes that create an ongoing inflammatory response in the system. Chronic infection, parasites, exposure to irritants and toxins, autoimmune disorders, damaged cells, recurring acute inflammatory episodes, poor nutrition and oxidative stress can all be behind chronic inflammation.
Diseases due to chronic inflammation are ranked by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the greatest threat to human health. Prevalence of diseases associated with chronic inflammation is steadily rising. In 2014, more than half of all Americans had at least one chronic condition.1
Some of the most common diseases associated with chronic inflammation include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and joint disease, allergies and asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Although anyone can develop chronic inflammation, there are a number of factors that increase risk, including age, obesity, poor diet, smoking, imbalanced (low) levels of sex hormones, stress, and sleep disorders.
How do you know if you have inflammation?
Inflammation is complex to decipher since it can present in so many different ways. Below are some of the most common symptoms which can be associated with low grade chronic inflammation:
- Skin outbreaks
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches and pains
- Unexplained weight changes
- Dry eyes
- Frequent infections
- Fuzzy thinking
- Chronic Exhaustion
- Depression and anxiety
- Acid Reflux or other GI symptoms
Many women first feel the effects of inflammation during their perimenopause and menopausal years. These times of major hormonal shifts seem to have a profound effect on inflammation for some women. This could explain why women suffer more than men with autoimmune diseases. Estrogen tends to be an anti-inflammatory agent.
While there are tests for certain inflammatory markers, like so many conventional tests, the “normal” range for these is often far too broad. While they are valuable when a problem is severe, they are less useful in identifying an ongoing, low level of inflammation that can nonetheless cause big problems.
The good news is that I have plenty of information about inflammation right here at Marcellepick.com – and plenty of time proven solutions to offer.
Strategies for Managing Chronic Inflammation
So many of the factors that increase risk of chronic inflammation are within our control. That’s really good news! It means we have the power to do something about it.
I know that certain dietary and lifestyle changes will help calm some inflammation. There are also a wide range of dietary supplements which can help. The following strategies will help get you started towards a life without chronic inflammation.
Research supports the idea that one of the most effective things you can do to manage inflammation is maintain a healthy weight. Of course, I know this is easier said than done, and to complicate matters, chronic inflammation can be the reason you can’t lose weight! Working with a professional to find the right eating plan for you can make a world of difference.
Most adults require at least 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep per night to function at their best. Sleep is when your body rests and repairs damage, so it’s important to make it a high priority. Start by setting a bedtime and sticking to it – every night, even weekends! This will help you maintain the proper circadian rhythm to support quality sleep.
Eating a healthy diet is really the best gift you can give your body.
When dealing with inflammation, there are some specific foods to eat – and some to avoid. Try adding high-alkaline foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein and high quality fats to your diet. Stay away from fried foods, which make digestion difficult. Avoid anything processed – the chemicals and additives are so hard on your body! It’s best to stay away from refined sugars and grains as well.
It’s also important to eat regularly throughout the day to balance hormones. When you eat three meals and two snacks at specific times, you’ll fend off cravings and your metabolism will be better regulated.
Caffeine, alcohol, and gluten can all cause trouble with inflammation. It’s best to consume these in strict moderation, if at all.
Remember how I said people are finally talking about things I’ve been interested in for years? Omega-3 fatty acids – more commonly known as fish oil – can help calm inflammation. The conventional medical world is finally discussing this.
That’s great news — finally people are paying attention to the pieces of the puzzle that can revolutionize health care as we gain greater understanding of certain functions and disease states in the human body. Consuming foods rich in these Omega-3s, or adding a fish oil supplement, can make a big difference.
It’s essential to avoid the wrong kinds of fat as well. As helpful as Omega-3s are, trans-fats are just the opposite. These aggravate inflammation, so eating them sparingly is best.
Again, I realize this is easier said than done. But if your body is sending you signals that you aren’t treating it right, breaking habits like this can be the key to changing how you feel. If quitting on your own doesn’t work for you, seek out professional help.
Stress is everywhere, so it must be addressed if you’re going to feel better. It can come from both physical and emotional trauma, so examining both is crucial.
You may be hanging on to emotional stress from long ago, and processing this old trauma may require help from a professional. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT, also known as tapping) has worked wonders for many of the women I have worked with.
Some ways to let the stress of daily life go include yoga, meditation, and exercise. But it’s critical that whatever you choose, you enjoy it. If you don’t, it’s not likely to become a habit and you’ll revert to your old, stress filled ways. Carve out at least half an hour every single day to do something just for YOU!
Exercise reduces stress by increasing endorphins, natural chemicals in your body that can boost mood and relieve pain. Regular movement also helps your body detoxify naturally and boosts metabolism, which can reduce inflammation. Just as with stress reduction, you have to find exercise you love to make it stick. It all counts – so if you don’t like formal classes, throw yourself a dance party in the living room instead. Just move!
Attend to your gut
Your gut impacts every aspect of health. When your gastrointestinal system is out of balance, your body can’t absorb the nutrients it needs. Malnutrition increases the risk of inflammation. To boost levels of the good bacteria that keep your gut healthy, eat plenty of fiber, add fermented foods and drinks to your diet, decrease red meat consumption, and add a high quality probiotic to your daily regimen. Avoid use of antibiotics as much as possible, since it can impact not only the bad bacteria it’s meant to eliminate, but the good gut flora as well.
Support your body with natural supplements
In our crazy world, your body can need more support regardless of your healthy eating and stress relief efforts. If inflammation has been a problem for an extended period of time, you may need to try some targeted support to get back on track. Because every situation is unique, I recommend working with a functional medicine practitioner to talk about the best supplementation recommendations for you. You can’t go wrong starting with a high-quality multivitamin complex in the meantime.
You don’t have to be ruled by inflammation
Understanding the root causes of chronic inflammation allows you to take action. You might start with testing for specific markers that help your health care practitioner examine your unique situation to develop a plan of care for keeping inflammation at bay.
- Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD