Let's Talk Inflammation

Pain, swelling, redness, heat; the four cardinal signs of inflammation. Sound familiar? At some point or another you’ve probably experienced all of these symptoms. A sprained ankle, a bug bite, some poison ivy. Inflammation is the body’s protective mechanism, it is our natural defense system. When it senses foreign invaders, like a splinter or indigestible food, it sets off a cascade of events to protect you. Inflammation is one of our main mechanisms for removing metabolic wastes, debris, damaged cells and foreign agents. It allows our system to ward off bacteria, fungi and viruses. Acute inflammation is necessary. It is a means for survival. It is the chronic inflammation that starts to get annoying.

When the body becomes chronically inflamed, it starts damaging healthy tissue. The fire that your body kicked on to fight against foreign agents never gets put out. The immune system shifts, starts working in overdrive and the inflammation runs rampant. Chronic inflammation contributes to a range of problems, none of which are enjoyable. Pain, achy joints, weight gain, lethargy, acne. The list goes on.

So let’s say you hear me loud and clear. You feel the symptoms; you are gaining weight and you don’t know why, you feel tired all the time, you have a ruddy complexion, your digestion is off and you can’t get through the day without your fix; candy, cookie, chocolate, caffeine, whatever your guilty pleasure. The causes of inflammation are all around you. And they find their root in your daily choices; in your grocery basket, in your relationships, and in your sleep and work habits. I’m afraid it’s true my friends, you are the cause. But hey, you are also the cure.

So now what? Ayurveda teaches, when diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.

Make a point to invest in your immune system. Learn to increase the efficiency of your inflammation response when it’s deemed necessary, and avoid the triggers causing chronic conditions. So, the good news and the bad news. The bad news is chronic inflammation is triggered by numerous factors, and most of us don’t even realize because many times it begins in our gut. We think, hey, in the grand scheme of things, what is a little constipation, bloating or gas? How bad can it really be? Or, more commonly, how easily can we ignore or suppress it? The good news is most inflammation triggers are within your control.  

Because many of us have inflammation in the gut and don’t even realize it, in order to reverse the cascade of events, we need to first heal the gut. Pay attention to the tiny discomforts and unroot them. Observe. Learn. Listen. Become aware. Let me provide you with some launching points.  Common food triggers include hydrogenated oils, processed sugar, alcohol, food additives, fried foods, animal fats and fast foods. Now I’m not saying never eat baked goods and cheeseburgers. I’m just saying eat (maybe eat less and less often), enjoy (because, why else?) and listen. You may find that the cheeseburger with fries isn’t as enjoyable when you see it planting seeds for inflammation.

Here are 7 tips to avoid inflammation:

  1. Breathe

    Boost your body’s parasympathetic activity. Learn to rest and digest. Identify the fight or flight response, and put it in it’s place. Give your body the chance to return to safety after an inflammation response. I practice Bikram Yoga, we do an asana, stress the body for a short period of time and then rest for 20 seconds. It is brilliant. The whole idea is to remind the body that the fire is necessary, but it must know its limit. When we allow it to run rampant, it becomes destructive to healthy tissue and leads to all too common autoimmune disorders.
  2. Meditate.

    Meditation is the first and last medicine. Time and time again meditation has been seen as effective pain reduction. When the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant, stress levels fall immediately, magically. With activation of the sympathetic nervous system, our fight or flight response, that tells us to run from tigers and bears, takes blood from our digestive system and internal organs and sends it to our arms and legs so we can fight and run. All too often, the body remains in fight or flight and blood never returns to the internal organs so digestion results in discomfort.  
  3. Probiotics.

    Take a daily probiotic. This is a great way to start to shift your focus towards gut health. Flood your gut with healthy bacteria. A healthy gut is naturally rich in a diverse supply of microorganisms that help the body carry out its functions. Stress, poor food choices, antibiotics and pesticides are seen to diminish the diversity of healthy bacteria that grow in our gut. Keep your intestines diverse with helpful bugs and find a good quality probiotic to take daily. *Note this is especially important if you have just completed a round of antibiotics to repopulate the intestinal walls that have just been stripped of their good and bad bacteria.
  4. Turmeric.

    Cook with it, season with it, smear it on your face. Turmeric has been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years to support healthy joints, liver function, intestinal health, bile flow, fat metabolism and even mental clarity. It’s active ingredient, curcumin is an antioxidant that provides the spice with it’s anti-inflammatory properties. It’s pungent, bitter flavor adds flavor and color to mundane dishes.   
  5. Food allergies.

    Experiment with unknown food allergies. Let me forewarn you, this one requires discipline, self-control and patience. Experiment with eliminating potential inflammation triggers from your diet for 3 weeks at a time. Then re-ad the foods and see how your body reacts. Think of yourself like a science experiment, changing only one food at a time so you can determine the culprit.
  6. Sleep.

    Sleep we give the body time to repair. Without good quality sleep acute inflammation can turn chronic. The immune system becomes compromised and stress levels rise. Not to mention when we are tired we are much more inclined to reach for fast, fatty, fried food and sugary, caffeinated drinks.  
  7. Move.

    The relationship between exercise and inflammation is far from straightforward. Any exercise, with the exception of walking, has the potential to cause inflammation. So, let us keep things simple. Just walk. Go for a short walk after meals. This helps promote digestion and increases metabolism. It helps assimilation of nutrients and can aid in weight loss. It helps avoid instances of overeating and feelings of heaviness and lethargy. It also allows time for you to feel the after effects of your meal.

Above all, pay attention to how you’re feeling. When you’re feeling off, there is a reason. There is also remedy. It just sometimes takes time to learn what that remedy is. Relax and learn. In healing, there is a sweet spot where the magic happens; perfect health is not just the absence of disease, but a state of total mind-body-spiritual bliss. I think it’s worth working for.