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Have you ever wondered, “What exactly is inflammation, do I have inflammation, and how can I handle it?”
Maybe you have some of these symptoms?
If you checked yes to any of these, then read on.
What Happens with Acute Inflammation?
Inflammation is our normal defense and repair mechanism. It is our first and most important stage of healing. This is why you do not want to take non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, within the first five days of an injury, if at all. We have five classic signs of inflammation: heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function. The damaged cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals increase blood flow, causing swelling. They also attract the white blood cells called phagocytes that "eat" the damaged cells. We have all these white blood cells rushing to heal the area, which will happen within the first four to five days after an injury. Think of the classic ankle sprain. This is a great example of acute inflammation.
What Happens with Chronic Inflammation?
Chronic inflammation, however, can present a little differently. With chronic inflammation you can start to have a loss of tolerance in that particular area. For example, you sprain your ankle and it just does not seem to be getting better. You’ve stayed off it and gone to physical therapy, but it still doesn’t seem to be healing and keeps getting aggravated. You begin to have a local loss of tolerance. Now let’s say your ankle starts getting better, but then all of a sudden you get a shoulder injury and perhaps follow that with a cold. This would indicate systemic inflammation, which will lead to a systemic loss of tolerance. Perhaps you’ve been there? That’s when it doesn't become an ankle or shoulder injury anymore; it's an inflammation issue. It means that your body is having a very difficult time regulating inflammation, it cannot manage it, and it is losing tolerance, so things just continue to happen. This is really when it becomes a yellow light, a warning, if not a red light.
We want to remember that nearly 90 percent of human disease is linked to inflammation. That means anything from cancer to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's to eczema and GI issues. All of these things are linked back to inflammation. When you begin to have these diagnoses from a doctor or you've self-diagnosed, you want to really be thinking, “Is this a skin/GI/shoulder issue or is this an inflammatory issue?” Essentially, it's most likely going to be an inflammatory issue when there are multiple signs, symptoms, and conditions present.
Things That Contribute to Inflammation
We have five main categories of inflammatory triggers in our body.
1) Food: As it relates to food, we can have adverse food reactions that are frequently overlooked as a major contributor to a whole host of medical conditions. Foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, and soy can cause an immune reaction.
2) Bugs: This could be things like parasites or ticks. Infections can cause on ongoing immune reaction.
3) Toxins: We are exposed to internal and external toxins on a regular basis. An internal toxin could be intestinal bacteria, yeast overgrowth, infectious disease, glyphosate, medications, stress, emotions, or food. External toxins include heavy metals, herbicides and pesticides, BPA, mold, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs). For example, yeast overgrowth is an infection that needs to be cleared out if that is contributing to inflammation. Herbicides and pesticides are the two biggest offenders, because they are everywhere. Don’t forget our cleaning chemicals and skin-care products. Women use an average of 168 chemicals on their bodies before they leave for the day. Men use an average of 87 chemicals, which can include deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, and colognes.
4) Trauma: A lot of people think of trauma such as rolling your ankle or hurting your shoulder. That is physical trauma, but we can also have emotional trauma. Stress is one of the biggest inflammatory mediators for the body. Lastly, we can have chemical trauma.
5) Hormonal dysfunction: Whether you have a thyroid issue, insulin resistance, or perhaps even decreased estrogen or testosterone, just to name a few examples, this can contribute to increased inflammatory signaling in your body.
The greater the amount of inflammatory triggers you have, the greater inflammatory response you can have. So, if you have hypothyroidism, you consume a lot of sugar, and you have a great deal of stress, then your risk of systemic inflammation is extremely high.
Decrease Inflammatory Triggers
After you have identified which inflammatory triggers are impacting you the most, focus one at a time on each.
If you have an infection or parasite, this will be imperative in treating appropriately. Depending on what may be happening, nutraceuticals, antibiotics, antifungals, and antimicrobials can all be very valuable.
First, identify your stressors and begin to incorporate different stress-reduction techniques in your life, whether that's mindfulness, meditation, breath work, yoga, or seeing a counselor or psychologist.
In addition to decreasing stress, identify potentially inflammatory foods. The elimination diet is the gold standard and is a more effective approach compared to the food sensitivity test in most cases.
Next, make sure you're getting enough sleep, but not just enough sleep: high-quality sleep.
Lastly, make sure that you are not putting too much stress on your body with your workout routines. If you do have systemic inflammation, think about adding some restorative work or changing your routine so that it's appropriate to support you in your journey of healing.
Healing takes time. It is a journey. It is not a quick fix, but once you can begin to recognize the signs, then you can begin to really start to make some changes in your lifestyle that can support you on this journey.
Arianne Missimer, DPT, RD, CSCS, RYT is founder and owner of the Movement Paradigm, www.themovementparadigm.com.