...And What It Means For A Healthy Midlife
So I struggled with how to keep this post super simple (and short!) because inflammation has become one of those words that people toss around so much but most aren't sure what it really means. How to condense something so important into bite sized chunks that make such an impact, people "get it," and begin to make changes in their own lives to address it? This is my stab at it.
Inflammation is the body's response to injury or infection. Inflammation is actually a good and necessary thing. It means your body is working to heal you when it has been hurt by acute trauma like an infection or bee sting. It can look and feel like heat, swelling, pain and/or redness. If you've had a sore throat or broken a bone, you've experienced acute inflammation. The swelling, redness, soreness, are all the body's healthy response to your injury and attempt to, well, make you better, get you whole again.
When inflammation becomes chronic you have another can of worms to deal with. Think of chronic inflammation as acute inflammation with no "off" switch. Many things may cause hidden chronic inflammation in an individual and one person's trigger is another person's no biggie. It's tricky and can be very frustrating.
So, you might ask, what causes the body to reach a state of chronic inflammation? If there's no acute injury, infection, or known cause, what are we missing? Good question. Primary examples of possible causes for chronic inflammation include:
1. An untreated cause of acute inflammation, such as an infection or injury
2. Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites
3. Long-term exposure to irritants, like air pollution or industrial chemicals
4. Smoking, alcohol and chronic stress
5. Lack of exercise
6. Poor diet that includes too much refined sugar, processed foods, trans and saturated fats.
7. An autoimmune condition
8. Chronic stress
Do you see the thread? It's long term, slow simmering, untreated injury to the body. Either by feeding it poorly over time, not treating an injury or virus over time, living with stress to varying degrees over time, smoking, alcohol, not moving your body...do you see that? It's consistent wounding to the body, in one way or another and likely for most of us, a combination of the aforementioned. Essentially, polluting the body or neglecting the body over time will contribute to and raise your chance of developing chronic inflammation and the thing is, you may have no idea that something is "wrong" until you develop a condition or disease that is the body's way of screaming loudly for help. Now, and this is important: not every person who develops a condition or disease has ignored their body and abused it in one way or another. There are plenty of people out there who may be genetically predisposed to an autoimmune condition, for example (my hand is raised), who live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle full of organic foods and daily exercise and stress management techniques and no alcohol, no smoking, blah blah. It happens. Likewise, there's always someone in the room ready to tell you about their grandparent who lived to 102, smoked a pack a day and enjoyed a two-finger shot every night before bed. I know. I know. But those people are outliers. The point is, acknowledging that chronic inflammation is a precursor to so many diseases and conditions people live with is important. Similarly, recognizing that there are daily adjustments you can make that will impact your level of inflammation and with consistency, tamp those levels down. Yay! And not to push too hard but these lifestyle changes are things you should be doing anyway! So, it's unlikely there's anything you're gonna think of that you don't already know you should be giving more attention to: eating more plants, exercising at least 20 minutes a day, drinking more water, eliminating or reducing refined carbs, eliminating or reducing alcohol, eliminating smoking, eliminating or reducing poor quality oils, eliminating or reducing cured and processed foods. You see? You know this stuff already!
For some, chronic hidden inflammation can lead to any number of diseases including:
2. Heart disease
4. Type 2 diabetes
7. Autoimmune or any number of neurodegenerative diseases
8. Non-alcoholic-fatty liver disease
9. Kidney disease
10. Depression. Yep. Even the brain can suffer from chronic inflammation.
These are all the heavy hitters. We know that the risk of developing any of these conditions increases the older we get (asthma may be the one exception) and that's why it's so important that we try to live a lifestyle that tempers inflammation and the development of chronic inflammation as much as possible. This is possible.
To Decrease Inflammation You Need To:
2. Find ways to manage stress, specifically by engaging the vagus nerve, the nerve with the most authority over your mind and body wellness. This is the longest nerve system in the body, reaching from your cranium to your abdomen. That "butterflies in the stomach" feeling when you're nervous? That's the vagus nerve at work. This nerve is the reason we have a "mind-body" connection and it requires assistance to relax itself. The vagus nerve impacts the parasympathetic (rest & digest) and the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. It also plays a big role in how our immune system functions and how well we recover from stress. Unresolved trauma also impacts the functionality of the vagus nerve. Interestingly, and importantly, chronic stress weakens the vagus nerve and the body will begin to function as though there is a chronic threat. Some common stress management techniques include: yoga, meditation, mindful breathing, stretching, prayer, guided imagery, breath focus, tai chi....you get the idea.
3. Learn which foods you may be allergic to and cut them OUT for good.
4. Reduce or eliminate poor quality oils like: corn, vegetable, grapeseed, canola
5. Reduce or eliminate refined sugar and refined flour
6. Cut back on alcohol. I'd love to say cut it out altogether, and you should, but that may not be a reality for you at this time, or ever! Oh, and no more smoking! Totally OUT for good.
7. Cut out foods/drinks that include artificial colors and flavors. Yes, soda, diet soda, out.
8. Cut out grain-fed meats and processed meats as much as possible, if not entirely for a time.
9. Follow an anti-inflammatory diet for up to three months, preferably this becomes a lifestyle change.
9. Take a really good probiotic (as well as eating pre and probiotic foods) to help reduce inflammation in the gut. I have linked a couple in my "Never Go Without" Supplements Post (Dec.8, 2020).
10. Sleep! Time to restore, repair and lower the hormone cortisol. Do more of this! And I'll be sharing more on sleep soon.
Ladies, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I know first hand how a poor diet and high stress can catapult you into chronic illness. When I was diagnosed, I was also told that I have a blood marker that shows I am predisposed to any and all autoimmune conditions. It was already brewing in me, but two years of intense stress pulled the trigger. Prior to my diagnosis I was in terrible pain, unmotivated, migraine ridden and on high alert at all times. It was awful and I felt like crap. Life stressors unplugged me from a desire to take care of myself. I didn't care what I ate or if I exercised and I wanted to be left alone in my bedroom. Getting my diagnosis was a real moment for me. I said, "Enough." Enough with the drama around me, enough eating what I knew was garbage, enough not taking the time to exercise. I knew I could do better and I couldn't pretend I didn't know how to get started. So, I did. Step by step, everyday was a new day to dive deeper into taking care of myself. Every day was a new day to cleanse myself, eat real foods that nourished me, take 30 minutes to move my body, take ten minutes to get quiet and centered.
I put my health first. All of my health: mental, physical, spiritual, because it's all connected, dontcha know. And my RA is under control. But I have to commit to doing what it takes. Do I get lazy about it sometimes? Yup. And if I get lazy for two days in a row, I regret it. I can't say it's ever worth it, but sometimes I just indulge and eat the garbage. Even though I know better! You know why? Because I'm human and some days I just want to do what I know I might regret later. Such is the human condition, right? But, here's the thing for real...I want to feel good! I want to feel great for as long as I can and that means committing to doing what it takes everyday. Feeding myself REAL, actual food, supporting with supplements, exercising and putting my mental health first.
I want this for you too! I know how much stress can make us suffer and I don't want any of us suffering! I don't want us developing diseases because we felt so crappy and stressed we gave in to eating foods that do nothing for us but increase inflammation. What a crappy wheel to be running on. We know better, we just need to help nudge each other, you know?
Take it easy, Gals, xo.