Inflammation is a normal process by which your body sends signals and starts a repair process. Think of a scraped knee after a bike wreck. It swells and gets red and then it starts to heal up over the next several days to weeks. This is an amazing phenomenon that we take for granted because we see movies portray super fast healing and lose the awe of what our own bodies have been designed to do - self heal.
Now let’s work our brains a little. Acute inflammation as described above is healthy and helpful but too much of a good thing or too “long” of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. It continues to be discovered that “chronic inflammation” is behind almost everything from heart disease to stroke to alzheimer's and various cancers. Chronic inflammation is bad news. Several mechanisms that should be turned off after a short time stay turned on. Stress responses persist and inflammation damages the body in a vast number of ways. Basically any medical condition will be worsened if this is the case. Osteoarthritis of the joints will speed up like pouring fuel on a fire. Autoimmune diseases will continue to flare more frequently and with a greater intensity. The inside of your vessels will be frayed and harmed like taking sandpaper to them causing plaque to build up and increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Cognitive decline can perpetuate as well.
Chronic systemic inflammation will wreak havoc on your immune system as it taxes it persistently. It can cause antibodies to start to build against the wrong things (like self) and autoimmune diseases can be triggered if there is a genetic predisposition. This usually occurs after a chronic stress has destroyed your healthy adrenal balance and therefore depleted your body of SigA (your body’s first line of defense - your linemen). This loss of your defense mechanism will lead to a leaky gut barrier system, food that is not fully broken down getting into the bloodstream prematurely and causing your immune system to freak out. “Leaky gut” or increased “intestinal permeability” is being implicated as one of the most critical, preventable and healing triggers of autoimmune disease. Because 70-80% of your immune system lines your intestines, can you see how this could affect everything?
So with that foundation, here is a summary of some hidden sources of inflammation you really want to find and correct for your long term health:
HPA Dysfunction - (Aka Adrenal fatigue or adrenal burnout). This is number 1 because it’s usually the first system to fail with any chronic stress on the body. The adrenal glands make cortisol which is one of the most important hormones to regulate inflammation. Hence why we give steroid (cortisone) shots into chronically inflamed joints. If you test your adrenal glands and find that you are in HPA dysfunction, you likely have a significant inflammation problem that could show itself in a vast number of symptoms including: fatigue, weight gain, joint pains, cognitive decline, blood sugar imbalances, sleep/mood issues, digestive complaints... you get the point.
Food allergies and sensitivities - This is listed second because it tends to occur once the adrenals have been compromised, gut barrier systems are offline, and leaky gut has allowed undigested foods into the circulatory system. Foods eaten often will then often develop an immune response that occasionally can be discovered with elimination diets but often has to be found on lab testing because symptoms can be delayed as long as 3-7 days after ingesting the food. This makes it hard to link symptoms (depression, fatigue, rash, bloating, constipation) to the food. If you don’t find these foods and remove them, while your functional medicine practitioner is helping you heal your adrenals and restore your barrier systems, there will be a chronic inflammatory response occurring leading to high risk of the above mentioned health consequences.
Intestinal Pathogens - This can be in the form of bacterial infections, yeast infections or even parasitic infections! WHAT!!!! So my studying under Dr Dan Kalish is rocking my world. I’ve used conventional lab testing for years and looked relatively often for parasites having yet to find one. Little did I know how hard parasites are to find and most labs miss the vast majority of them. I even started using a specialty lab that I thought would be more likely to catch them but even they have proven to be insufficient and have low sensitivity. However, the good news is that there are at least 2 current labs that are much more accurate at detecting bacterial and parasitic infections in the digestive tract. Would you definitely have digestive issues if you have a parasite? Nope. Up to 50% of people with pathogens in the belly have ZERO digestive symptoms. Why and how does someone get a parasite? Well the most common cause is 3rd world traveling and drinking contaminated water but this can even occur in those who have not traveled outside the borders but have a compromised barrier system. Sensing a common theme here??
Toxin overload - We live in a toxic world. Little did I realize this until I started doing some reading in this area. Even young children are exposed to hundreds of endocrine disrupting chemicals before the age of five. We live in a plastic world which is a modern phenomenon and the majority of our drinking water, make-ups, deodorants, skin lotions, and foods are filled with chemicals that disrupt our body’s normal functioning and can often lead to a host of problems especially if our natural detox pathways are hindered. Why would they be hindered you ask? Well let’s backtrack again. When the adrenals dysfunction, mucosal barriers are compromised, digestive health is impaired, and the liver is overtaxed and bombarded with toxins losing it ability to properly remove toxins at the rate they are coming in. Throw on top of that any genetic mutations that you were born with like MTHFR that may further this problem and we now have issues including chronic inflammation.
These are some of the most common sources of inflammation in the body and they typically all play in together and can be a vicious cycle and difficult to get out of without assistance identifying and correcting. If you suffer from any of the symptoms of chronic inflammation or you have a strong family history of diseases that could be related to chronic inflammation, please come visit us next month when we open or find a local functional medicine practitioner to test these systems for you. Your family physician will be able to get a general idea of your inflammation with some lab parameters like a C-RP (c-reactive protein) or ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and may be able to locate an underlying cause like H.pylori, Ebstein Barr Virus, celiac disease, uncontrolled blood pressure or blood sugar and help you correct these. Start here always and then seek out some functional lab testing to see if further protocols are needed to get your inflammation under control.
Steward your life well