Like gluten, inflammation is a scary word to many people. They aren’t quite sure what it is. They just “know” inflammation is bad, without quite knowing why.
The truth is more complicated. Not all inflammation is bad.
But pity the poor Google searcher, who can encounter definitions ranging from
“a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes redden, swollen, hot, and often painful” to “a defense mechanism that begins the healing process.” Can both be true? Yes. But how can you best manage inflammation?
It all begins with the two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. One is good, one is bad.
We have all had inflammation at some time. However, for some people it’s a daily struggle. So what’s the difference and how can we manage it?
A not-so-fun example of acute inflammation we have all experienced is stubbing your toe in the middle of the night walking to the bathroom.
Your toe becomes red, hot, puffy, painful and swollen. This is the body healing. It is bringing circulation to the area and your immune system is responding. Your body is producing inflammatory hormones. These help the tissue heal. In a few days the problem is gone, and you are ready to go.
Now, imagine if you stubbed your toe everyday, day long. That wouldn’t be so great. That would be…
Chronic inflammation, unfortunately, is something that man people deal with on a daily basis. While acute inflammation is good, living with chronic inflammation is a problem that can lead to chronic disease.
Most people “mask and manage” this by taking NSAIDs, using ice, or taking medication. However, the problem with this is it doesn’t address the cause. It just masks the symptoms.
When it comes to inflammation, you have two receptors: a COX1 and a COX2. One is the pain response, one is the healing response. The problem with NSAIDs and meds is it shuts off both. As a result, you don’t hurt, but you also don’t heal.
And all meds can have toxic side effects. They can be harmful to the liver and kidneys, tear up your gut and deplete minerals.
Management of Chronic Inflammation
Here is some general information, based on our experience as trainers and working with clients over the past two decades. The usual common-sense caveat applies: if you have a medical problem, you should seek medical advice. Don’t rely on popular blog posts, people with big biceps on Instagram, or Dr. Google.
Most, if not all, inflammation starts in the gut. Research is finding this more and more. Thus, changing your diet and removing sugar, processed foods, reducing alcohol and even coffee can help.
In addition, avoid some of the most common food allergens. They are soy, dairy, egg, tree nuts, wheat, corn and for some people, night shades. Include lots of fruits and veggies. These are high in antioxidants and they provide an anti-inflammatory effect.
Next, opt for non-processed starches like sweet potatoes, yams, quinoa, and brown rice. If you eat meat it should be organic, wild and non-processed. Most people find a huge improvement in their inflammation just by reducing their animal product intake. For example, several studies of people with autoimmune condition show dramatic and immediate improvement when participants move to a whole foods, plant-based diet.
You wouldn’t think sleep would help inflammation, but it does. When you don’t sleep enough or sleep poorly, your body can’t recover. Cortisol is elevated and blood sugar starts going up. All of this triggers an increase in inflammatory hormones. Your ability to handle carbohydrates (insulin sensitivity) goes down increasing chances of storing fat.
Sensible sun exposure is a great free tool for inflammation. Studies show low Vitamin D is linked to a host of chronic diseases.
For example, Vitamin D regulates over 900 genes. Start slowly. 15 minutes on your head, neck, arms and legs. Then gradually build up from there. The reason people get burnt by the sun is that thy get too much too soon. Moreover, they have a diet low in antioxidants. (That’s why fruits and veggies are so important.)
Sun exposure has been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce inflammatory hormone markers and it will help increase melatonin which helps increase serotonin. Sunlight also increases immune function. Get outside!
4. Omega 3s
These have been shown repeatedly in the literature to help manage inflammation. You can get these from fatty cold-water fish, flax and chia seeds, omega 3 supplements, walnuts or algae based supplements.
One word of caution: these are all blood thinners. So if you are on blood thinning medications work with your doctor first to avoid complications.
Also watch vegetable oils as these are high in Omega 6s. While we do need some omega 6 fatty acids they do increase one major inflammatory pathway. So reduce or eliminate vegetable oils and focus on the whole food fat. The biggest offenders are corn, canola, sunflower and safflower oils. These oils are usually found in processed foods which is why processed items are so inflammatory for most people.
5. Fasting or Infrequent Eating
If you are always eating and eating poorly your gut never gets to rest and is always inflamed. This spreads and causes systemic inflammation.
Studies show huge improvement in CRP (blood marker of systemic inflammation) by reducing your eating frequency and or fasting. Try eating only 2 to 3 meals a day in an 8 to 10 hour window.
Some people who have serious inflammation have had great results by simply doing water fasting only for a few days. In fact, water fasting is often recommended for several conditions when they have a flare up of inflammation: crohn’s, colitis, gout, gallstones, rheumatoid arthritis. Again: if you are on medications work with your doctor.
6. Support Your Gut
Aiding digestion helps everyone. Some easy tips here on your food
- Sprout, soak, and pressure cook grains and beans
- Steam, blend, and juice your veggies
- Eat your fruits raw and whole
- Broil, boil and bake meats
You can also take some digestive enzymes with each meal, but these are a band aid and shouldn’t be used long term. They help temporarily till you get things under control. It is usually the undigested protein molecules spilling out of the intestines getting in the bloodstream that causes inflammation. You can also seal up the leaky intestines (a.k.a. leaky gut) with a product called Restore.
7. Drink Up! (Water, That Is)
It goes without saying most people are chronically dehydrated and this leads to a host of problems. Drink clean pure water throughout the day. You can add a pinch of sea salt, sip slowly and this will help prevent constant bathroom trips both during the day and at night. It can also help prevent the fluid retention some people get from drinking too much water.
Exercise and movement help with a lot of things. It increases circulation, dopamine, moves the lymphatic system, aids digestion and lowers cortisol. Move as much as you can and avoid things that cause you pain! Find balance. Exercising too much or too intensely can also lead to increased inflammation.
9. Manage Stress
We all hear this and usually blow it off thinking: “How helpful can this really be?” The answer? It is crucial for several health markers. Stress which can come from emotional, chemical or physical ramps up cortisol which increases inflammation and suppresses the immune system. Over time this causes a lot of health problems. Find something you enjoy each day. Read a book, meditate, yoga, walk outside in the sun, watch a funny movie, spend time with your favourite people (and not venting about work!) Find something that brings you joy every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes. It will add up.
For some people this is going to sound pretty “woo woo.” But it has actually been shown to work in several small published studies.
Grounding simply means touch the earth. So, walking barefoot in your yard or sitting outside with your feet touching the earth. Basically, inflammation causes free radicals which are cells missing electrons, when you take supplements or eat foods with antioxidants you are taking in a substance that is an electron donor.
When the antioxidant donates an electron to the free radical it stops producing the oxidative (inflammatory) effect. And as crazy as it sounds research has shown when you ground to the earth you are picking up free flowing electrons. Several case studies have reported huge improvements in patients with inflammatory conditions simply by eating loads of fruits and vegetables along with grounding. You need to be “grounded” for at least 30 minutes for the effect to start working.
So now that you understand inflammation and how to manage it, you can start feeling better right away! Share this with anyone you feel can benefit!