Let’s talk about inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to damage. It is the healing process. However, if we are constantly healing—constantly inflamed—something has gone wrong and the inflammation itself can cause even more damage over the long term.
You can directly observe inflammation whenever you get a cut or bruise or even a pimple. It is redness, warmth, swelling, pain, loss of function or any combination of these responses. In order to repair itself, inflammation must occur. After the healing process takes place, inflammation diminishes and then ends. This is the normal course of inflammation, and is called acute inflammation. It takes place internally as well, when your body is healing from damage, fighting a foreign object that is damaging the body, or fighting a substance that the body believes will damage it. Internally, one example of acute inflammation is seen in muscle soreness after exercise. This inflammation is beneficial, as it helps to build even stronger muscles as it heals. To fight bacterial or viral infections within the body and to start the healing process of tissues, acute inflammation is necessary.
Of tremendous concern, however, is chronic inflammation. It can occur both internally and externally. When the body fights toxins or strives to repair damage for a long period of time, inflammation will damage the body. Additionally, the body may develop unneeded inflammatory responses, leading to autoimmune diseases where the body attacks itself or harmless substances. The symptoms of chronic inflammation can be difficult to spot, so a blood test for some of the responses to inflammation may help, before inflammation-related conditions are apparent. Useful tests that indicate probable internal chronic inflammation include tests for C-reactive Proteins (CRP), elevated levels of insulin, elevated cholesterol levels and acidic saliva. When chronic inflammation has gone on long enough, conditions develop. These illnesses include the following medical conditions plus many others:
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Allergies, sensitivities and celiac disease
- Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
- Asthma, emphysema and bronchitis
- Atherosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure
- Crohn’s disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome
- Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes
- Interstitial cystitis and urinary tract infections
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and acne
The original cause of inflammation is imbalance in the body due to toxins (any unnecessary substance introduced to the body). The body has an amazing ability to compensate for the toxic deluge we throw at it, but eventually it gets tired of fighting, eliminating, neutralizing and healing. Eventually, our systems break down, causing either reduced responses or hyper-reactive responses to the toxins–even attacking our own body.
To regain health and to avoid inflammation-related health problems, the balance must be restored. The steps are simple to recite, yet healthy changes are very difficult once habits and addictions have developed:
Eat a healthy diet. STOP the bombardment of highly processed foods, sugars, starches, grains and trans fats. Increase intake of a variety of raw vegetables including leafy greens each day. Eat a wide variety of fruits. Seafood, walnuts, spinach, winter squash, beans and flaxseed oil will provide you with omega-3 fatty acids to help restore balance.
Exercise. Regular exercise will help eliminate toxins, regulate weight and decrease stress. Exercise helps tremendously in restoring balance in the body.
Quit smoking. Enough said.
Reduce stress. The “fight or flight” response that our bodies have to short-term stress is healthy and sometimes necessary for survival. However, the chemical changes in the body during long-term stress are toxic, damaging the body and causing inflammation. You may not be able to control much of the stress introduced to your body. However, it’s important to find outlets to release that stress. Consider meditating, praying, talking, exercising, reading, writing and laughing (watch a comedy; share some laughs with your best friend.). You may also be able to reduce stress by asking for help or reducing activities and responsibilities.
Get some sunshine! Finally, don’t forget to spend some time in the sun! Vitamin D deficiencies contribute greatly to inflammation and other health problems. There’s no substitute for exposing bare skin (without sunscreen!) directly to the sunshine for at least 30 minutes several times each week. And don’t forget for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, during the months of October through March the sun’s rays are not strong enough for our bodies to produce Vitamin D, so we need to store up enough in our bodies during the summer months. If you CANNOT get enough sunshine all year long, get your levels checked, and seriously consider taking Vitamin D3 supplements.
Inflammation is perhaps one of the most prevalent, but least understood conditions of our modern day life. So many vague and untestable symptoms present themselves, and it is not something that conventional medicine, which involves diagnoses and medication is good at dealing with. This is an area, however, where those specializing in holistic medicinal practices have seen great success, since the approach of nourishing your body and bringing it back into proper balance, not simply treating symptoms with medication (which can further upset your body) is the best way to deal with inflammation-related illnesses. If you are struggling with physical symptoms that do not seem to be diagnosable, find yourself a good acupuncturist, naturopath or other holistic practitioner and consider seriously how you are treating your body. Are you eating healthy, nourishing whole foods, are you getting adequate sleep, are you exercising, are there any other personal habits that may be contributing to poor health? It takes discipline and time to change your unhealthy eating and/or lifestyle habits, but the end result will be well worth it. It may even save your life.