One of my favorite things about being a holistic nutritionist is working with clients from all walks of life. Their symptoms, food preferences, lifestyle choices, and health goals all differ, and each of them is wonderfully unique in their own way. Getting to the root of their health problems is like a different puzzle that I am eager to solve each time I meet someone new.
However, there is one common thread that I tend to see in new clients dealing with health issues. It is also the first thing I like to tackle because, when left unchecked, it can lead to autoimmune disease, DNA damage, and, eventually, the development of serious chronic illness. In fact, this common thread was a major contributor to the development of Hashimoto’s in my body years ago. Can you guess it? What I want to talk about today is inflammation.
Contrary to popular belief, inflammation can be a good thing in the short term. Known as acute inflammation, this is your body’s response to injury, infection, or allergies and manifests as swelling, redness, or pain. Acute inflammation can be highly protective and even speed up the healing process.
Like stress or pressure, however, too much of a good thing can lead to problems. Chronic inflammation alerts the body to synthesize harmful cells, such as free radicals, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and inflammatory cytokines in excess. What’s more, chronic inflammation tends to be sneaky initially, so many people go years without knowing where their symptoms are coming from. Some general but common signs of chronic inflammation include fatigue, brain fog, and chronic pain. Since these symptoms may accompany anything from long-term stress to a virus, lab work often must be done to rule out other issues.
Lab tests that can identify chronic inflammation
- C-reactive protein (CRP): The gold standard in most hospitals for identifying chronic inflammation, CRP is an inflammatory protein that binds to damaged tissue in an effort to alert the body’s immune system.
- Interleukin-6 (IL-6): IL-6 is like CRP in that they are both pro-inflammatory proteins. Although the test may not narrow down the specific cause of your symptoms by itself, a result showing high levels of IL-6 is indicative of chronic inflammation.
- Genetic Testing : Specifically for that of what is called an MTHFR mutation. In recent years, researchers have found that MTHFR gene polymorphisms (the most common being 677>T and 1298A>C) can contribute to systemic inflammation, as they can interfere with the body’s utilization of essential methylation nutrients such as vitamins B12 and folate. Knowing if you have one of these mutations can help determine the need for supplementation to prevent systemic inflammation.
- GI Mapping: Your gut is home to trillions of microbes, so it makes sense that this delicate balance of good and bad bacteria can get out of whack sometimes. Chronic inflammation can be caused by gut dysbiosis, leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability), SIBO, yeast overgrowth, parasites, and much more. Testing your gut can be an impactful way for healthcare practitioners to get a better picture of your overall health and determine the root cause of your symptoms.
Ways to calm inflammation, naturally
1. Clean up your diet
Cleaning up your diet doesn’t just mean living off juices and salads, even though I do love a good juice! It also means identifying your triggers and avoiding them. What is right for your body may not be right for the next. That being said, it can be challenging to identify trigger foods. I recommend keeping a food journal that includes your inflammatory symptoms and what time of day you felt them. Reviewing this after a couple of weeks can really help narrow things down!
2. Find your preferred method of exercise, and stick to it
Even small amounts of exercise can do wonders for calming inflammation. Whether you love a long run or prefer 20 minutes of gardening, anything that gets your heart and body moving each day will make a difference.
3. Improve your sleep hygiene
Both lack of sleep and poor sleep are closely tied to chronic inflammation. This is especially true for us women! Aim to get at least 7 hours each night (although eight or nine doesn’t hurt!) Aside from amount, examine your sleep hygiene. Do you stop using screens before a certain hour? Do you keep your bedroom dark and cool? Doing these things can improve your sleep quality immensely.
4. Try supplements
Many different supplements on the market today can help calm inflammation, whether it be in herb, mineral, or vitamin form. My general go-to’s for inflammation include Turmeric Curcumin, Elderberry, Ionic Zinc, and Medicinal Mushrooms. When choosing supplements on your own, always do your due diligence when it comes to any new supplement by ensuring proper safety and testing standards.
5. Get back to the basics
What do I mean by basics? Functional tasks like eating and breathing may feel unconscious, but we often forget how to do them correctly. If we’re honest, how many of us are chewing each bite of food 32 times? It may seem tedious, but it can make a huge difference in your health. The digestive enzymes in your saliva mixing with well-chewed food is a vital part of the digestive process. Additionally, being more present and relaxed when you begin a meal is huge for your gut. Doing a few rounds of deep breathing before dishing up can stimulate your vagus nerve (you know—that gut-brain connection?), thereby lowering inflammatory signals and doing your digestive system a world of good.
Acute inflammation can be lifesaving, but chronic inflammation is what we want to avoid. While some health issues may indeed be genetic, so many of our symptoms are within our control—if we can get to the root of the problems. If you are having trouble finding the cause of your symptoms or suspect you are dealing with chronic inflammation, book a 1-on-1 with me today! I can’t wait to begin working to solve the puzzle that is your health.