Unresolved inflammation is associated with several widely occurring chronic diseases including arthritis, autoimmune disease, cancer, obesity, dementia, periodontal disease, diabetes, and atherosclerosis. These chronic diseases affect 125 million Americans.
The presence of inflammation is what makes most people aware that something is wrong in their body. Anyone who has had a rash, sore throat or a sprained ankle is familiar with the body’s inflammatory response including pain, swelling, redness and heat in the affected area. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system. When your body incurs an injury or foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses, a specific chain of events is put into action and your body mobilizes white blood cells and inflammatory chemicals called cytokines to protect you. This is a normal inflammatory response to an acute injury or infection. However, if your immune system shifts out of balance, the inflammatory response can become chronic and unresolved, resulting in smoldering inflammation and tissue damage. The presence of chronic inflammation, which is sometimes referred to as ‘hidden inflammation,’ can exist for years and remain undetected until disease states become apparent.
Inflammatory disorders often have their origin in the gut. Damage to the gut’s lining, also called leaky gut syndrome, can lead to the absorption of partially digested food particles, bacteria, molds, chemicals, medications and other toxins. When the body senses these foreign invaders, it mobilizes white blood cells which attack and engulf them. This sets off a cascade of events which lead to the release of cytokines. IgG food and chemical allergy testing, also called delayed hypersensitivity reaction testing, can be useful in identifying potential allergens provoking your immune system and leading to inflammation. Once these are identified, removing them from your diet or environment can greatly reduce immune reactions and help lower your body’s inflammatory burden.
Several other factors have also been shown to contribute to inflammation:
- High-sugar foods, refined flours, processed foods, all of which promote bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine;
- Trans fats and fats high in arachidonic acid (dairy and animal fat);
- Food allergens which lead to the above mentioned inflammatory cascade;
- Insufficient fiber: Fiber pulls out toxins from the intestinal tract acting like a broom to sweep them out;
- Insufficient phytonutrients from brightly colored fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants that quench inflammation including kale, spinach, blueberries, green tea;
- Lack of exercise and elevated amounts of body fat can result in increased inflammation; exercising reduces inflammation and improves insulin sensitivity;
- Insufficient vitamin D increases inflammation, promotes autoimmunity, and expedites progression of osteoarthritis;
- Toxin accumulation has been scientifically linked to elevated states of inflammation;
- Heightened states of prolonged stress promote immune system suppression and can promote inflammation.
Natural ways to reduce inflammation:
- Focus on eating a healthy diet. Reduce fried foods, refined grains, sugar and gluten-containing foods.
- Get plenty of Omega-3 fats from high quality, cold water fish. New research has shown that the body utilizes Omega-3 fatty acids, mainly EPA and DHA, to form special chemicals called SPMs (specialized pro-resolving mediators). The potential of SPMs to support resolution of the body’s natural immune response is an exciting breakthrough in anti-inflammatory therapies. SPMs are now available as a dietary supplement and a natural treatment for chronic inflammation.
- If you suffer from an inflammatory-related condition, consider getting IgG food allergy testing to determine if this is playing a role. It will also help establish whether or not your gut lining is damaged and if you have leaky gut. If food allergy testing is not an option for you due to cost, consider a low-allergy diet. Low-allergy diets, also often called elimination diets, generally exclude gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats); dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream); corn; nuts; night shades( tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes); and yeast( baker’s and brewer’s).
- Exercise regulates pro-inflammatory stress hormones, initiates deep breathing, and generally helps to detoxify the body. Also, if your waist size is more than half your height, you are at risk for higher inflammatory burdens.
- Take a daily probiotic (good bacteria) to help with digestion and support your gut flora.
- Consume high quality herbs and spices including cloves, ginger, rosemary and turmeric.
Persistent long-term use of over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory agents has caused numerous safety concerns. Potential side effects include adverse effects on kidney function and gastric ulceration. Determining whether or not your body is suffering from hidden inflammation can be extremely important for your long term health and wellness. Simple blood tests including C-reactive protein, VEGF, Myeloperoxidase, and a CBC can help identify underlying inflammation.
Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group (760) 345.7300.
Sources: The Institute for Functional Medicine; website 2015; 2) PubMed website