“Chronic inflammation is fine. Until it’s not. And then it’s REALLY not.”
When it comes to inflammation and our immune systems, there are elements that are within our control – nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc. – and there’s those that are outside of our control – environmental toxins, air pollution, etc. All of these take a toll and add up over time. Think of your immune system like a bucket and each pro-inflammatory trigger is a drop of water in this bucket. Each micro trigger, over time, fills up our immune system bucket…until it overflows!
In this article, we’ll talk about how we can lessen the inflammatory load on our immune system “bucket.”
What is inflammation?
We are going to get a little sciency for a sec here. Bare with me.
Inflammation is a part of the immune system’s protective response to injury, foreign invaders, or destruction of tissues. It usually involves (to varying degrees):
- Your body’s release of proteins that signal for white blood cells, hormones, and nutrients to come fix the problem.
- Increase blood flow to the area resulting in redness and warmth. (Example: That heat you feel when you get a cut that gets infected.)
- A leak of fluid into tissues which results in swelling leading to pain.
The different types of inflammation
It’s important to note that there are two different types of inflammation. First, there’s acute, which is the type that is fiery, instant, very localized and goes away over time. This is our immune system do its job. I repeat…THIS IS A GOOD THING! Acute inflammation is our body’s life-saving response to a sprained ankle, infection, bee sting, stubbed toe, broken bone, etc.
On the other hand, there is chronic inflammation, which is the low burning embers sort of inflammation. It is constant and unrelenting; it doesn’t just go away. And the scary part about chronic inflammation is that you usually can’t feel it initially so it can go unnoticed and unresolved until it is apparent.
Research is finding that chronic inflammation is linked to a number of health issues such as:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
…to name a few…
So it’s really important that we do what we can to lower our inflammatory load. Otherwise, eventually, that bucket will overflow.
What about autoimmunity?
I bring up the topic of autoimmunity when talking about inflammation because many, many people are affected by autoimmunity and decreasing the amount of pro-inflammatory triggers we are exposed to can lead to successful management of these conditions. Autoimmunity is essentially when the immune system attacks healthy tissue or non-threatening substances because they are mistaken as a threat.
Some autoimmune issues you may be familiar with include:
- Hashimoto’s disease (hypothyroidism)
- Grave’s disease (hyperthyroidism)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Celiac disease
How to test for inflammation
There will absolutely be signs your body sends when you need to address inflammation, such as:
- Joint pain
- Skin issues – acne, eczema, blotchy skin, psoriasis
- Digestive issues – gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation
- Stubborn weight loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Brain fog
However, there are other more concrete measures that can put a spotlight on chronic inflammation. These include:
- Elevated fasting glucose
- High LDL cholesterol
- Elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) values
To elaborate on CRP, this is an inflammatory protein that is one the best ways to measure levels of inflammation in the body. Note, however, that it is non-specific so it will not tell you where or the cause of your inflammation. It does act as an effective red flag that more investigating needs to happen.
Talk to your doctor about getting your CRP levels tested and discuss the appropriate levels for you. In general, your risk is assessed using the following ranges:
- Low risk – below 1.0 mg/dL
- Average risk – 1.0-3.0 mg/dL
- High risk – above 3.0 mg/dL
- Very high risk – 5.0+ mg/dL
10 strategies for calming the fires
Good news, there is plenty you can do to lessen your inflammatory load. Check out the list of strategies below to start calming those fires today!
- Limit your sugar intake – Sugar is one of the most pro-inflammatory substances we can put in our bodies. Pay attention especially to added sugars. For help getting your sugar cravings under control, check out this article.
- Identify food sensitivities – On-going ingestion of foods that cause your body to have micro-immune response can, over time, lead to bigger issues. And considering that roughly 70% of immune system is housed in our gut, it is important to keep our GI system health to prevent that immune system bucket overflow. Work with a practitioner to strategic identify your personal food sensitivities.
- Eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods – Incorporate these foods into your meals and snacks on a daily basis: dark leafy greens, fatty cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), avocados, olive oil, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale, Brussels sprouts), berries, herbs and spices (turmeric, cayenne pepper, black pepper, ginger, rosemary, oregano, etc.).
- Limit pro-inflammatory foods – Highly processed foods (baked goods, crackers, cookies, chips, etc.), processed meats (sausage, lunch meats, hot dogs, etc.), and conventionally raised red meats all can drive up CRP. Do your best to stick to whole foods – veggies, fruit, sustainably raised and sourced animal meats and proteins, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.
- Eliminate trans fat – Food manufacturers have gotten sneaky with the trans fat. If one serving of a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, they can write ZERO grams of trans fat on the nutrition facts label. CRAZY, right?? So as a savvy consumer, you need to do yourself a solid and look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients label. This is an indicator that the food contains trans fat. And considering only 2 grams of this stuff per day can increase your risk of heart disease by 23%, it’s definitely worth watching out for! Be especially mindful of reading the ingredients of these common culprits of trans fat: frosting tubs, stick margarine, vegetable shortening, nondairy coffee creamers, microwave popcorn, and some fried foods.
- Take supplements strategically – Fish oil is one of the most effective and safest anti-inflammatory substances you can take. Consider taking a high-quality brand daily. Other worthwhile anti-inflammatory substances to include in your regimen include curcumin (turmeric) and probiotics.
- Take it easy on the booze – Alcohol drives up your CRP so try to keep to 1-2 drinks per day max. [Note: One drink = 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of liquor.]
- Get moving – Try for getting purposeful movement as much as possible. Interval training is a great way to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to time and efficiency.
- Get a hold on your stress – It is likely no surprise that stress drives up inflammation. Employ stress management strategies on an ongoing basis, such as surrounding yourself with positive people, reframing negative thoughts, practicing yoga, or practicing mindfulness and/or meditation. Talking to a professional can be extremely beneficial for navigating high-stress situations, trauma, or any other stress-inducing issues that you are not able to resolve on your own. Remember, there is only strength in the vulnerability of reaching out for support. So please ask for it!
- Lower your exposure to toxins – Not to use scare tactics or anything but…toxins are everywhere. They’re in the air, in the water we drink, in products we use to clean our house, in our toiletries, food, etc. The average women comes into contact with 168 chemical ingredients on a daily basis with her personal care products alone. 168 INGREDIENTS! That’s bonkers. And these toxins can add to our inflammatory load, especially when exposed to them day in and day out. While many of these we can’t control, there are many that we have the power to influence. For those that we can control – like cleaning products, food, and toiletries – try to make smarter decisions, choose options that have fewer ingredients and have ingredients that come from natural sources. And do your research on how those ingredients affect your body…be a savvy consumer!
Reach out if you would like to learn more about personal efforts you can make to lower your inflammatory load, especially as they pertain to specific conditions like autoimmunity, PCOS, metabolic disorders, etc.