Chronic inflammation can play a major role in the development and progression of disease. If the cause of inflammation is not identified and treated properly it can have deleterious effects on the body in general and can lead to premature aging. A functional medicine approach is to identify the root cause of inflammation so it can be treated accordingly.
The first step in addressing chronic inflammation is that your physician must make sure that you are not suffering from CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome), as CIRS treatment is entirely different from inflammation due to other causes.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural process whereby the body fights irritants and offending agents and is an essential part of wound healing. It occurs at the very basic structural level of the human body which is the individual cell. Many cells, mainly different sub-types of white cells, are called into action to protect the body from harm and fight the invader, which is infection and foreign proteins.
Inflammation (in most cases) cannot be seen because it is happening deep inside the tissue. Often the first sign of inflammation is only when we have it on or near the skin in the form of swelling, redness or itching that we begin to take notice of it.
Symptoms of inflammation may include tiredness, headaches, stiffness, abdominal pain, chest pain, joint pain, mouth sores, skin issues, weight gain or inability to lose weight, fever, rashes and even depression.
How Inflammation Causes Damage to the Body
The skin, which is the largest organ of the body, not surprisingly, can suffer as a result of inflammation and this can translate into outwardly visible signs of aging such as wrinkles, sagging and pale skin. Changes can also be seen in hair and result in thinning hair, changes in texture or hair loss.
But, the most damaging part of inflammation is that it affects vessel physiology in a negative manner. It may cause changes in the blood vessel walls, including thickening, weakening, narrowing or scarring. These changes can restrict blood flow, resulting in organ and tissue damage. It also helps cholesterol to deposit in the arteries rendering them rigid, poorly responsive to tissue demands and setting the stage for blood vessel blockage, which can affect more than one organ.
Factors That Contribute to Inflammation
Several factors contribute to inflammation, but many are reversible and avoidable factors that can be modified with lifestyle changes.
Stress: Stress is a totally underestimated factor by western medicine and should not be minimized. Constant surges in the levels of stress hormones, which are largely catabolic, can lead to depletion of essential elements, vitamins and minerals. Lack of sleep or impaired sleep often accompanies high stress levels and complicates matters further by depriving the body from sleep, which is the natural healing phase when the body repairs itself. The answer here is not prescribing anxiolytics or anti-depressants- but helping one learn to manage stress.
Poor Diet: A poor quality diet that is low in vegetables and includes processed food, meat originating from hormone-treated animals, unhealthy fats, refined carbohydrates, high sugar, artificial sweeteners and food additives and chemicals will increase inflammation.
Family History: Autoimmune Disorders and Chronic Inflammatory Disease such as ulcerative colitis, familial Mediterranean fever and cryopyrinopathies (a group of autoinflammatory diseases) should be a flag that we are dealing with something that can be ameliorated to a great degree if worked on diligently and early enough.
Chemical Exposure: Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants, smoke, chemical agents, biological agents and volatile organic compounds (VOCs such paint, formaldehyde) as well as Ultraviolet light from too much sun exposure.
How to Reduce Inflammation
Get checked! If you suspect chronic inflammation and you are sure you are leading a healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, stress management, eating healthy and getting a fair amount of exercise then you should consult a functional medicine physician as there is probably an unaddressed cause for your inflammation.
Make sure you are eating a healthy anti-inflammatory diet. A good example is the Mediterranean diet, which has plenty of whole grains and fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) from every part of the color spectrum; monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocados; and good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Take the appropriate supplements to reduce inflammation. Take high quality vitamin and mineral supplements that contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E and alpha lipoic acid. Boswellia and Curcumin are supplements that possess great anti-inflammatory properties.
Avoid stress, go to bed early and get up early to reset your biological clock. Keep the bedroom dark and cool and free of electronics for better sleep. If you need help, please consider natural remedies like chamomile tea and melatonin.
Exercise: Be a regular exerciser, preferably outdoors in the morning before 11 AM to avoid the excessive Ultraviolet B light of the sun. This way you will have plenty of fresh air and will build up your own Vitamin D Level. Vitamin D is sometimes called a hormone due to its effect on every cell in the body, yet the deficiency of Vitamin D prevalence is underestimated by many physicians.
If you think you have inflammation your best plan of action is to consult a functional medicine practitioner as a workup for inflammation requires detailed and differential testing that helps to identify the root cause of your inflammation. Subsequently you will be on the appropriate treatment protocols to help you reduce inflammation and recover, and slow down the disease and aging processes.