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—and your overall well-being.
Because the truth is, our daily habits can nourish us, but they can also trick our bodies into thinking they’re under attack. This sends our immune systems into total chaos—the root of chronic inflammation. That’s 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—my chronic inflammation decreased, and my body started working with me to heal and rebuild.
Are you ready to start connecting the dots in your own life?
Before we learn about how to reduce inflammation, let’s talk about the difference between acute and chronic inflammation, and the different roles they play in our health.
What is inflammation?
Acute inflammation is your body’s natural and helpful immune response to tissue damage. For example, 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. What you eat and drink, the thoughts you think, toxins, smoking, booze and even being a couch-potato can all trigger a fiery cascade of inflammation throughout your body.
When your body hits 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 autoimmune diseases and other health issues, including cancer, asthma, heart disease, 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. These may provide temporary relief from the symptoms, but don’t get to 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 add to your day that will fight chronic inflammation. Here’s how to reduce inflammation in 5 easy steps.
How to kick butt & reduce inflammation.
1. Eat more whole, plant-based, nutrient-dense foods.
Certain foods can trigger an inflammatory response including processed foods that are high in refined sugar, flour and trans fats, fried foods, and animal products. The easiest way to clean up your diet is to add before you subtract. Crowd out the foods that cause inflammation by eating a beautiful cornucopia of whole, plant-based foods.
Build your next meal around anti-inflammatory powerhouses like dark leafy greens, tomatoes, nuts, berries (cherries in particular), olive oil and flax oil, hemp seeds, turmeric (or more specifically, curcumin, a naturally occurring chemical with anti-inflammatory properties), green tea, and ginger.
Eating these foods on a regular basis will flood your body with the vitamins, minerals, cancer-fighting phytochemicals, antioxidants, fiber and other goodies it needs to reduce inflammation. Here are a few of my favorite recipes to tap into those anti-inflammatory effects:
- 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 inflammation. 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 possible cause of inflammatory symptoms is leaky gut syndrome. This condition occurs when your intestinal lining is damaged, allowing bacteria, undigested food and other toxins to literally “leak” into your bloodstream. This kind of leak triggers an autoimmune response with a host of painful inflammatory symptoms. If you think you may have a leaky gut, ask your doc to help you get a test done!
3. Find an integrative MD you trust.
Finding the right doctor is a critical part of nipping chronic inflammation in the bud. A good integrative MD takes a holistic approach by looking at your habits and the way you lead your life. Then you can work together to identify and address possible chronic inflammation triggers. Here are two in particular that your doctor is 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 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 has a lot to say about what’s going on inside, so listen up!
And if doctors make you nervous, here are some helpful tips to face that fear and get the care you deserve. You’ve got this!
4. Get more rest and relaxation.
Your body works hard to repair and restore 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 inflammation by reducing stress. Get more sleep, try yoga or meditation, take long walks, use less technology, or take a much-needed vacation. You know I love to take every opportunity I can to remind you to take a chill pill!
5. Reduce toxins in your food, home and personal care products.
Your body’s alarm system goes off when you absorb toxic chemicals and pesticides through your digestive tract and skin—inflammation station, here we come! Luckily, there are some small, simple changes you can make to start protecting yourself right away. And please don’t feel like you’ve gotta throw out everything in your house and start from scratch—each and every baby step goes a long way.
First, check out EWG’s Clean Fifteen/Dirty Dozen charts before your next trip to the grocery store. It will help you prioritize which produce to buy organic (and when it’s OK to go with conventional). Those lists change yearly, so be sure to check back often. EWG also has you covered with their Skin-Deep database of non-toxic personal care products. Finally, I put together this resource to help you steer clear of yucky chemicals in your household cleaning products.
Remember, small steps lead to big change! That’s especially true when it comes to fighting chronic inflammation. Start connecting the dots to better health by trying one of these suggestions and see how you feel.
I bet you’ll start to notice a difference and want to build from there! Now, I’m about to go sip on my leafy greens, how about you?
Your turn: Do you struggle with chronic inflammation? Which one of these tips will you try? Or, if you have inflammation fighting tips of your own, tell me all about them!
Peace & immunity,