Trying to decode the signals our bodies send us can feel like a giant puzzle sometimes. Why do we feel great some days and crappy on others? And what do those nagging symptoms really mean?
I know how frustrating this kind of uncertainty can be. You want (and deserve!) to feel great. And you can. It all starts with connecting the dots between your lifestyle choices—the foods you eat, how much sleep and exercise you get, the stressors you face on a daily basis—and your overall well-being.
Because the truth is, those internal and external influences have the power to nourish us, but they can also trick our bodies into thinking they’re under attack and send our immune systems into total chaos. That’s the root of chronic inflammation, which is exactly what I want to talk with you about today!
Over the past decade, I’ve renovated everything from my grocery cart to my makeup bag to my mind in an effort to upgrade my immune system. And as I moved from a stressful life full of fast food, toxins and bad boyfriends to a more balanced existence filled with plant-based nourishment, inner growth and conscious living, I started experiencing the perks—chronic inflammation decreased and my body started working with me to heal and rebuild.
Want to start connecting the dots in your own life? First, let’s learn about acute and chronic inflammation, since they play very different roles in our everyday health.
What is inflammation?
Acute inflammation is your body’s natural and helpful immune response to tissue damage. When you fall off your bike, the cut swells, reddens and feels… inflamed! These are all signs that your immune system is busy at work sending white blood cells to the site of your injury to repair the tissue. In this situation, inflammation is our friend—we couldn’t live without it.
Chronic inflammation is your body’s confused and damaging immune response to a barrage of environmental, physical and mental invaders, which come in the form of things like poor diet, toxic chemicals and stress. I’ve written about chronic inflammation in all of my books because it’s such a major (and often unrecognized) factor in our health challenges. It’s also the type of inflammation we’re focusing on today. Here’s chronic inflammation in a nutshell from my cookbook, Crazy Sexy Kitchen:
…There’s a silent (yet violent) kind of inflammation that can take place without you even knowing it. What you eat, drink, and think (stress!), environmental toxins, smokin’, booz- in’, and even a couch-potato lifestyle can create a fiery cascade of inflammation in your body. When your body hits an inflammatory overload, your defense system gets so overwhelmed and confused that it literally doesn’t know the difference between the invader and you. As a result, your well-meaning immune system turns on itself, destroying healthy cells, tissue, and everything else in its wake. It’s like when Al Pacino played Tony Montana in Scarface. He mows down everything in sight, yelling, “Say hello to my little friend!”
The dangers of chronic inflammation
Over time, chronic inflammation wears out your immune system, which may lead to chronic diseases and other health issues, including cancer, asthma, autoimmune diseases, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, osteoporosis and even (gasp!) appearing older than your years. Unfortunately, these challenges are often only treated with drugs and surgery, which may provide temporary relief from the symptoms, but do not treat the root of the problem. In addition, these drugs (and their side effects) sometimes only add to your health problems.
Could it be that many of the pills in your cabinet are just band-aids and that the key to health lies in your daily diet and lifestyle choices? That’s certainly what I’ve found to be true.
But I’ve got good news! There are plenty of simple practices you can incorporate into your daily life to fight chronic inflammation. Here are my top 5 anti-inflammatory tips to get you started.
5 simple ways to kick chronic inflammation’s butt
1. Eat more whole, plant-based, nutrient-dense foods.
Crowd out the foods that cause inflammation (refined sugar and flour, processed junk, animal products, etc.) by eating a beautiful cornucopia of whole, plant-based foods. Dark leafy greens, tomatoes, nuts, berries (cherries in particular), olive and flax oil, hemp seeds, turmeric (or more specifically, curcumin, which is a naturally occurring chemical with anti-inflammatory properties), and ginger are all anti-inflammatory powerhouses. Eating them on a regular basis will flood your body with the vitamins, minerals, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber and other goodies it needs to recover from chronic inflammation.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes with some of those inflammation-fighting ingredients:
- Turmeric Milk
- Classic Green Lemonade
- Antioxidant Boost Smoothie
- Tomatoes & Herbs
- Crazy Sexy Kale Salad
Oh, and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Proper hydration helps decrease inflammation and can even prevent it from happening in the first place, so drink up, buttercup!
2. Get down with your gut!
Your gut holds approximately 60-70 percent of your immune system, so it’s a great place to start if you want to reduce chronic inflammation. And if your gut is in bad shape, your immune system might be in some serious trouble. One easy way to start improving your gut health is by adding a high quality probiotic to your daily routine. The FloraMend Prime Probiotic from Thorne Research, Ultimate Flora from Renew Life and Jarro-Dophilus EPS from Jarro Formulas are some of my personal faves. And if you want more tips and resources to help you take care of your gut health, check out my post here!
If you’re experiencing prolonged bloating, gas or other digestive discomforts, taking digestive enzymes with meals can help you get more nutrition out of your food, as well as improving digestion and boosting your immune system. Check out my blog here for more info on digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics!
Another potential explanation for inflammatory symptoms could be leaky gut syndrome. This condition may occur if your intestinal lining is damaged, therefore allowing bacteria, undigested food and other toxins to literally “leak” into your bloodstream. The leak triggers an autoimmune response and a host of painful inflammatory symptoms. If you think you may have leaky gut, ask your doc to help you get a test done!
3. Find an integrative MD you trust, and work together to identify potential food sensitivities and chronic (or hidden) infections.
Speaking of doctors, finding the right one is a critical part of nipping chronic inflammation in the bud. A good integrative MD will take a holistic approach by looking at your habits and the way you lead your life, then helping you identify and address possible chronic inflammation triggers. Here are two in particular that they might be on the lookout for:
Food sensitivities: Gluten, soy, dairy, eggs and yeast are just a few of the common problem foods that might be wreaking havoc on your immune system every time you sit down for a meal. If you think you might have a sensitivity or allergy, start paying close attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. If your symptoms persist, fill your doc in on what you notice— they may suggest a blood test or elimination diet. You can find more info about food allergies and sensitivities here.
Chronic infection: Bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites—oh my! These guys could be hiding out in your body just under the radar and dragging your immune system down. If chronic infection is a suspect in your inflammation mystery, your doc may ask for blood work and/or a stool sample to analyze. Yes, your poop say has a lot to about what’s goin’ on inside, so listen up!
4. Relax and rest more.
Your body is hard at work repairing and restoring your glorious cells while you sleep. Most doctors recommend 7-8 hours of sleep per night. If you’re cutting corners in the snooze department, you’re cheating your immune system, which means it needs to kick into high gear in an effort to keep you well (hello, inflammation!).
Stress goes hand in hand with a lack of sleep and a laundry list of demands in our daily lives. Unfortunately, when you’re stressed out all the time, you’re also producing more of the hormone cortisol—inflammation’s BFF. You can reduce chronic inflammation by focusing on stress reduction, whether it’s through more sleep, yoga, meditation, long walks, less technology or a much needed vacation. You know I love to take every opportunity I can to remind you to take a chill pill!