Inflammation: What It Does and How To Stop It

Every single disease and symptoms can be linked to inflammation. Inflammation happens when the body mounts an attack on invading microorganisms or injured tissue. The blood vessels open up and white blood cells flow into the area to fix the damage.  The redness and heat comes from the increased blood flow. The influx of the cells causes swelling that takes up room and pushes on the nerves surrounding, often causing pain. This is a good thing. The body is doing its job and healing itself.

When is it a bad thing? When it is chronic and constant. In our modern society, we’re constantly ingesting and digesting inflammatory food, ideas, thoughts, actions. We know that foods like sugar, dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt), gluten (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut), factory-farmed beef, pork, package or prepared foods, corn, eggs, soy, certain nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant), citrus, and yeast (baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, and fermented products, artificial sweeteners, and alcohol cause spurts of inflammation in the body.

Then we get stressed out, which is the most common reason for primary care visits in the US. Stress can be anything: worrying about the past, worrying about the future, concerns about money, paying bills, our relationships, keeping our jobs, feeding our kids. Then there is the outside stress that we consume with the news, gossip, fights, television shows, movies, video games. But since it causes changes on the inside of our bodies, we aren’t always able to see it. Eventually what ends up happening is that our bodies mount little attacks over years. Maybe we gain weight or start losing our hair or have fungus on our skin or nails or have a little pain or numbness and tingling. Then we get full-blown diseases like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or auto-immune disease. That’s what happened to me. I was go, go, go, making the benchmarks that I thought would make me successful as a human being and then while in PA school, I got Ulcerative Colitis, an auto-immune disease of the colon. Bleh!

Here are some early symptoms caused by chronic inflammation (from SCD Lifestyle gurus) :

  • Ongoing, irritating pain in the body (like the joints or muscles)
  • Allergies or asthma (especially when they keep getting worse)
  • High blood pressure or blood sugar problems
  • Ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Constant fatigue or lethargy
  • Skin problems or red, bloodshot eyes

The longer we live with this chronic inflammation, eventually they lead to full-blown disease:heart disease

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohns
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Hypo or Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Psoriasis
  • Asthma, allergies, eczema

Once you get a disease or a diagnosis, then its time to take action. Don’t be like me and take years of side effect producing medications while continuing to eat, stress, drink and stress some more just like before my diagnosis. They say once you get the diagnosis, it is too late. I don’t believe this. I self-healed and you can too. Whether it is 1 week into your diagnosis, one year, or 10, it is never too late. The body wants to heal, you just have to give it the right tools.

The first step to removing inflammatory triggers is through stress-relief and self-care. Stress-relief, mindfulness and meditation helps build resilience, which allows your body and mind to react more calmly to seemingly challenging situations. This is a really difficult practice in our go, go, go society, but is absolutely imperative. A really easy way to do this is through elongating your exhale. That activates the vagus nerve to place your body into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the ‘rest and digest’ mode. Counting your breath so that you exhale longer than your inhale allows for this type of relaxation.

In practice, I teach this to patients, have them choose a relaxing essential oil from my toolbox, have them lay down, place their hands on their belly (sometimes I’ll adjust their hood or sweater or pillow to adjust the head so that it more naturally falls into parasympathetic mode), turn down lights and let them do this on their own. I leave them with the intention of decreasing stress enough that they can relax and the body can do what it needs to. My patients are busy, non-stop, single moms, overworked dads, underpain, overstressed, chronic pain, sleep deprived folks and usually they’ve never had more than 1 minute to relax. When I return after about 15 minutes, most of them are asleep or on the verge.

Just like that, they’ve learned a free tool that is always available to them whenever they need a break. Once you gain the ability to place your body and mind into a relaxing, stress-less place, then you can focus on self-care. Food is an easy way to raise your vibration, energy and practice self-care. Simply by eating nutrient-rich whole food you are taking care of your mind, body and spirit. I say food is the gateway drug to self-care because once you feel better and have more energy, the other steps towards taking control of your healing come naturally. Starting an elimination diet is key to getting your health in order. I outline it step by step starting with this post.

Part of the reseting the body and mind in the 4R routine is Reinoculation, which includes rebalancing your microbiome, the ecosystem in our body. We have more bacteria, viruses and fungus than we have cells. Introducing a daily ritual of eating or drinking probiotics is another way to boost your energy, help your skin, decrease pain, clear your mind and create an overall sense of well-being. This can be done through kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, escabeche. Just taking two teaspoons of the food probiotics or drinking a cup of probiotic-rich beverages, you’ll do your body and mind good. One spoonful of probiotic foods have the same amount of beneficial bacteria as a bottle of capsuled probiotic. Add this to your everyday and you’ll be amazed at the results.

Dr. Hyman, Functional Medicine doctor who runs the Cleveland Clinic Center for FM says all chronic disease, even aging, is considered an inflammatory process. That means if you live an anti-inflammatory life, you’ve found the fountain of youth. Like everything else, I recommend weaving a small part of this whole health program into your life. If you’re wanting to target stress, then add a morning guided meditation or relaxation breathing exercise to your day. You could also do the food part by trying a 3-day juice cleanse. If you have a question or are confused about where to start, I always say check-in with the healer within. Try stillness, a walk, meditation to see where that leads you and just make the choice to take that first step.

You can either dedicate your life to making appointments, going to others to ‘fix’ you and take medications or you can dedicate your life to self-health, self-care, nurturing the healer within and doing the work to prevent disease. Both take time and dedication, but the choice is up to you.

I hope you choose health and at least try the path away from the inflammation generation. Your body and mind and loved ones hope you do too.

photo by: twobee

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