Have you recognized some of the symptoms of chronic, low-grade inflammation in yourself?
If you haven't read my last two articles on inflammation, click here for a description of chronic inflammation and click here for my article on the symptoms of chronic inflammation.
So, what causes chronic, low-level inflammation?
Sometimes, you can point to a specific event, or cause of your inflammation. More frequently, chronic inflammation develops over time.
Most of the causes fit under the umbrella of our modern lifestyles, but I'll break them out into three main categories, that fit many of the causes.
It's important to understand what can cause low-level, chronic inflammation, so that you can begin to treat it by making changes in your lifestyle.
The three main causes of chronic, low level inflammation are stress, damage to the digestive system, and toxic overload from environment factors.
Do you really have a tiger running after you?
Stress is a major cause of inflammation.
According to the Annual Stress Survey by the American Psychological Association, 75 percent of women experience severe or moderate stress and 40 percent report physical problems related to stress.
I'm sure we can all relate to feeling stress.
When stressed, the adrenal glands (the two small glands that sit on top of each kidney), produce adrenaline.
Adrenaline causes your heart rate to go up, your respiratory passages to dilate, your blood vessels to constrict, causing your blood pressure to go up.
Your immune system mobilizes germ-fighting cells, and inflammatory messenger chemicals called cytokines to protect you in the case of injury or infection.
Our body's response to stress was evolutionarily advantageous, initially. If we were facing danger, our bodily systems would go into protection mode so that we could get away from danger.
Your body directs energy away from any functions that aren’t needed in the immediate face of danger, such as digestion and reproduction, temporarily affecting your gut and hormone balance.
This is fine in the short term, but chronic stress causes our bodily systems to be out of balance.
Stress also increases levels of insulin and cortisol. This can affect both your blood sugar levels and how you sleep. Not good!
Did you know that 90 percent of diseases can be traced back to an unhealthy digestive system or gut?
Why is the digestive system so important?
On a basic level, the gut is where we take in and process all aspects of food...everything from the enzymes that appear the moment we smell food cooking, to proper digestion and assimilation of the nutrients from the food we eat.
The gut plays a much larger role than just digestion.
The gut also helps develop the immune system from birth, is the largest endocrine organ, secreting over thirty hormones, and is also known as the second brain.
The gut contains more neurons than the spinal cord and while it's in constant communication with the brain in your head, it can operate independently of the brain.
You can start to see why there might be a connection between gut health and disorders and diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, ADD and ADHD, depression and more.
Think about where you feel stress our nervous energy. Yes, usually in your stomach. When we're nervous, we have "butterflies in our stomach."
So what does that have to do with chronic inflammation?
80 percent of our immune system resides in the gut. The gut is like a gatekeeper, determining what gets in and what should be kept out.
This is why our diet has a huge impact on our immune system. Remember, when your immune system is out of wack, you can get into a state of chronic inflammation.
Common foods in our modern diet increase inflammation.
What you put into your body can either help or hinder your immune system.
Processed foods, especially those your grandparents or great grandparents would not have recognized as food tend to promote inflammation.
They often contain the wrong kinds of fats which increase inflammation, such as trans fats, and too many Omega-6 fatty acids compared to Omega-3’s. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as corn, sesame, sunflower, canola and safflower, along with margarine all increase inflammation, as well.
Too many refined sugars and grains, can cause inflammation in the body, as well as insulin resistance and weight gain.
Food chemicals such as MSG, trigger several different inflammatory pathways, and also damage the liver. MSG is just the tip of the iceberg. Most processed food has additives such as artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Talk about foreign invaders!!!
Many medications are also pro-inflammatory, especially those that are supposed to reduce inflammation, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. They damage the intestinal lining. When the small intestine lining is damaged (called leaky gut), proteins and other molecules pass through and are released into the body causing an inflammatory response.
You may recall that the reason I became interested in all of this in the first place was my son's behavioral changes after he came off of a heavy duty course of antibiotics treating a staph infection in his femur.
It was a completely appropriate use of antibiotics, and I wouldn't make a different choice even knowing what I know now. But, the combination of the antibiotics and the rounds of acetaminophen and ibuprofen he was taking, as the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him, really did a number on his digestive system.
The good news is that the digestive system can be repaired!
Next week, I'll talk more about the anti-inflammatory effects of food!
Our modern environments are toxic.
Environmental factors contributing to chronic inflammation include second hand smoke, pollution, pesticides and herbicides, heavy metals, and chemicals and airborne irritants.
When our bodies come in contact with these toxins, they have an immune response, which causes inflammation.
Unfortunately, some of these toxins are unavoidable at this point in human history, but we can try to limit our exposure to pesticides and herbicides by buying organic produce and keeping chemicals out of our yards.
The Environmental Working Group is a non profit that has a lot of information on toxins in our environments and also consumer information on food, cosmetics and home products.
These are the main causes of chronic, low-level inflammation.
Next week I'll share some of the ways you can reduce chronic inflammation.
I'll give you a hint: many of the ways to reduce chronic inflammation involve repairing and optimizing the health of your gut.
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Hi, I’m Crystal!
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