Chronic inflammation is a major root cause of pain, sickness, and disease in your body. One of the most important medical discoveries of the past two decades has been that the immune system and chronic inflammation are involved in not just a few select disorders, but a wide variety of mental and physical health problems that are debilitating. In todays article, I review the Root Causes of Chronic Inflammation.
Chronic inflammatory diseases have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today, with more than 50% of all deaths being attributable to inflammation-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, Thyroid Disease, Depression, Dementia, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions. You would be hard pressed to find any disease that doesn’t involve chronic inflammation or immune system dysregulation.
If the cause of the Chronic inflammatory cycle is not identified and broken, the body simply cannot heal. Once Chronic inflammation gets going, free radicals and oxidative stress cause damage to the tissues and organs at the cellular level.
Get Control of Inflammation
So, if you want to get control of your chronic health problem, you need to do three things.
- Find out What’s causing your Chronic inflammation- Determine the Cause
- Follow an Anti-inflammatory diet and
- Test and monitor your inflammatory markers during treatment.
Chronic Inflammation Major Root Causes
In order to achieve optimal health, its important that you identify the root causes of inflammation. You may have one or two of these things going on in your body or you may have all of them. If you continue to struggle with inflammation something is missing. Somehow, Someone, Somewhere has missed or overlooked a few important pieces of your health puzzle.
#1. Diet and Food Sensitivities/Intolerance
For many people one of the reasons for ongoing Chronic inflammation can come down to what you eat, don’t eat or in some cases, food allergies or food sensitivities. Have you ever heard the saying one man’s food is another man’s poison? Food even if it is healthy, can cause inflammation when you have a food sensitivities/intolerance or food allergy.
If you still suffer with a chronic health problem, despite eliminating inflammatory foods, then it’s important to consider testing for food allergies and food sensitivities.
Food allergies and food sensitivities cause inflammation because they are seen as a threat within your body. Food intolerance and mucosal inflammation are deeply related because when you gut mucosa becomes inflamed, tolerance can not be established.
When your body encounters foods you are sensitive to or allergic to, even if they are healthy foods your body goes into attack mode. Mast cells, eosinophils, mucosal lymphocytes, and epithelial cells are cells that become activated when inflammation develops.
Initially the inflammation is good, but when your body is being barraged with these foods day in and day out, you stay in this perpetual state of inflammation which becomes chronic and this chronic inflammation causes mucosal intolerance. In other words, your body begins reacting to all kinds of chemicals in the foods you eat and you now become hyper reactive to the foods you eat.
How Certain Fats Cause Chronic Inflammation
Some times foods, certain fats cause inflammation because they upset the delicate balance of eicosanoids in the body. Eicosanoids are hormone made from the kinds of fats we eat. We all know about the benefits of eating fish. That’s because fish are high in omega 3s. We all have also been brainwashed that eating red meat is bad because red meat has saturated fats and saturated fats are bad. This is not entirely accurate.
But what is true is that the kind of fats we eat on a regular basis influence the balance of certain eicosanoids.
If we eat a lot of the wrong kinds of fats or too little of the good fats, we may make too many of the so called “bad” proinflammatory eicosanoids, and when this happens we produce too many inflammatory hormones. When I say bad eicosanoids or “bad fats”- this is relative term. You need a balance of both “good” and so called “bad”( saturated fats) eicosanoids.
A bad fat that is truly a bad fat and a fat that should be avoided are Trans fats. The founds found in Red meat are not bad fats.
Another way food can cause inflammation is a bit more obvious. If we eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, and drink sugar like so many American do with soda and fruit juices, you will cause spikes in your glucose levels. Every time you drive up your glucose levels your body need to make and release another hormone called Insulin.
You may remember I talked about Insulin as a hormone and how it drives inflammation in a previous article and video.
You see, certain foods were never designed to interact with our biology, in other words, we were never designed to eat them- but we do eat them and we eat too much of them.
We were never designed to eat trans fats, processed meats, farm raised fish, refined carbohydrates, unhealthy factory produced vegetable oils, food additives, and artificial sweeteners, and sports drinks that are fluorescent orange, yellow and blue.
Ok….so you may be saying, Dr Hagmeyer I’ve already eliminated all of that but I’m still inflamed.
If you have already made changes in your diet, consider this next area of your health that may be driving chronic inflammation- your Gut.
#2. Gut Microbiome, Leaky Gut Syndrome and Bacterial Overgrowth
This may be a problem with your Gut Microbiome, it may be a Leaky Gut it may be Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), it may be Fungal overgrowth (SIFO), or it may be some other gut problem.
The gut microbiome plays a major role in regulating inflammation. The gut microbiota contains bacteria, fungi, archaea, and protozoa and can be altered by what we eat, our hormones, medications, stress and toxins we encounter.
The bacteria in your gut can promote intestinal immune maturity (Trusted source) and protect you from disease causing pathogens (Trusted source) or it can be the source of inflammation.
When our microbiome changes for the worse, these changes in the gut microbial composition result in chronic inflammation and metabolic disease- that can be this may be heart disease, Cancer or autoimmune problems (Trusted Source)
There is growing evidence that dysbiosis of the gut microbiota is associated with the pathogenesis of both intestinal and extra-intestinal disorders. Intestinal disorders include inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and coeliac disease, while extra-intestinal disorders include allergy, asthma, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.
If you suspect you have SIBO or fungal overgrowth you can visit my website and look for the section that says “quizzes” take the SIBO quiz to assess your risk.
A few month back, I did a video of the importance of Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) in the gut and I talked about the importance of these microbiota metabolites- If you haven’t seen that video- I suggest you go back and watch that video- because if you have an unhealthy gut- one of the most important things you can do to improve your microbiome is get your gut to make more SCFAs. My video goes into great detail about how to do this and why its so important.
Another scenario that can cause Chronic inflammation in the body is something called Leaky Gut.
The lining of the gut, or intestinal barrier, regulates what molecules pass through to the bloodstream. This lining, surprisingly, is only one layer of cells thick with tight junctions to allow only certain things to pass. You can see that in this illustration below.
Leaky gut syndrome is a condition in which these one layer of cell lining becomes damaged and lose the ability to regulate what will pass on through and what gets blocked from passing.
This damage is due to many different stressors, in some cases the immune system attacks the tight junctions and in other cases, it’s the food we eat or the medications we have taken in the past or present.
This leaky gut then triggers a bout of inflammation which often leads to things like food allergies, autoimmunity, histamine intolerance, and reduced nutrient absorption.
People with leaky gut often initially experience symptoms such as gas, bloating, indigestion, brain fogs, diarrhea or constipation as well as multiple autoimmune disorders. If you suspect leaky gut use my leaky gut quiz to assess your risk.
Another cause of Chronic Inflammation has to do with Infections.
#3. Chronic Infection and Inflammation
Chronic infections result from a variety of pathogens. These include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and yeast.
The most common viral infections linked to chronic inflammation include things like hepatitis, herpes, Epstein-Barr virus.
Other infections include those people who struggle with Chronic Lyme disease, Lyme Coinfections and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome or CIRS.
Sometimes the infections are also in the gut. If you suspect chronic inflammation is tied to your gut symptoms, a great place to start is with a functional stool test something like the GI MAP stool analysis or CDSA.
So those are four areas that are very often at the root cause of chronic inflammation, and we have a few more areas I want you to be aware of.
The next area worth considering as a root cause of chronic inflammation is Toxins-This is a broad category because toxins can fall into a few different categories- Right?
They can be Environmental, or they could be toxins produced in body- Endotoxins.
#4. Toxins and Chronic Inflammation.
Let’s face it the world we live in is becoming increasing toxic. As we continue to dump more and more toxins into the world we live, these toxins are having an adverse affects on many systems of our bodies. The first thing these toxins are doing is initiating inflammation. There are two main toxins our bodies deal with day to day.
Environmental toxins (or xenobiotics) are found outside the body- These are the toxins in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the products we put on our body, and in the water we drink.
Some other example of toxins include our household cleaners, our medications, heavy metals, work environment.
Some of us have had a lot of dental work and our bodies are being exposed to the chemical found in our retainers, and our filling and the crowns. While most people are aware of the mercury found in fillings, many dental labs use hundreds if not thousands of chemicals which have never been seen by your body.
Long-term exposure to these environmental toxins can cause inflammation throughout the body by producing inflammatory mediators. Repeated exposure to these toxins overwhelm our Liver detoxification system and ultimately becomes another reason we experience chronic inflammation.
In some people they experience daily brain fog, headaches, migraines or fatigue from these toxins, others may feel the effects showing up in the muscles and joints in the body, other may break out with skin conditions and hives.
There are several blood tests that can help determine the level of inflammation in your body but they can also guide you and your functional medicine doctor to the degree of inflammation and how you are improving. If any of these markers are elevated, I recommend retesting within 2-3 months depending on their levels.
Traditional medicine treats the disease in the organ of the body rather than looking at what is driving or causing the inflammation and where the inflammation is originating from.
This is why people who have chronic disease never get well with the allopathic drug-based model of care. What good is taking a steroid or anti-inflammatory if you diet is loaded with inflammatory foods, or your gut microbiome is a mess, your insulin levels are elevated, you have a leaky gut.
Majority of Americans are dying slowly with a chronic disease which is why I wanted to do this video for you.
So, there are three more Root causes of Chronic inflammation I want you to know about. Blood Sugar Fluctuations, Chronic Stress Response or HPA axis Dysregulation and Poor Antioxidant reserves.
5. Blood Sugar and Chronic Inflammation
I’ve talked about blood sugar already when I talked about Insulin, so I will just briefly remind you that if you have chronic inflammation and you are diabetic or insulin resistant you need to make this a top priority.
In a study published in 2014 in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Hu and his colleagues found an association between a high-sugar diet and a greater risk of dying from heart disease. Over the course of the 15-year study, people who got 17% to 21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed 8% of their calories as added sugar.
“Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Hu.
So you may be wondering to yourself, How many people struggle with too much sugar? Again studies from the CDC show that 1 in 3 people have insulin resistance or are prediabetic and don’t even know it. That is a frightening statistic because early testing can easily detect this an prevent it if proper eating habits are implemented.
If you think or suspect that blood sugar may be a culprit in your chronic inflammation- I also have a blood sugar quiz on my website. There are about 15 or 20 questions that pertain to problems related to blood sugar.
If you take my blood sugar quiz and you find yourself at high risk for blood sugar problems, you need to follow up with more specific testing. Your Functional medicine doctor will know the best tests for you. We see many of our patients get their blood sugar under control within a 3-9 month window. The key is early detection.
Let’s talk about stress and chronic inflammation because this is another one that needs to be high up on the priority list of things that need attention.
6. Chronic Stress- HPA axis Dysregulation
Chronic stress affects the body in so many ways. It’s not just anxiety and depression that are linked to stress. Stress induces and changes our behavior towards doing certain things that may be destructive.
Stress can cause us to make poor eating choices or develop poor eating habits. Stress can alter one’s desire to want to exercise, stress because it effects our pleasure and reward centers within the brain, can cause us to lose our enthusiasm and desire to succeed. Here’s something else that’s interesting. Long term stress whether it is an actual stressor or a perceived stress-will also cause inflammation.
- Oxidative stress and free radical production
- Activates the sympathetic Nerve System causing Fight or Flight
- Stress activates transcription factor nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), and other pro-inflammatory cytokines
This is why I said earlier that addressing stress or perceived stress is also at the top of the list of things that deserve attention right away in a person with chronic inflammation.
In my office, I often find myself talking with patients about the connection between the inflammation caused by stress and the digestive system.
You see……Stress activates the “fight or flight” response in the brain which in turn slows down or in some case shuts down the digestive system.
At certain times of the day, you are either “Resting and Digesting” which is controlled by the parasympathetic nerve system and Vagus Nerve, or you are in that Fight or Flight mode where cortisol and adrenaline are surging through your body.
As you can imagine, you don’t want to be in a Fight/Flight mode during digestion- but that’s where so many of you who struggle with digestive problems are.
Chronic stress has been linked to numerous digestive disorders, motility disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, acid reflux, bacterial overgrowth, and gut infections.
How To Help Yourself When You Have Gut Problems and Inflammation
#1- Check out the article I did on Vagus Nerve Exercises and start implementing those exercises daily
#2- Make sure you are strictly following an anti-inflammatory diet if you have SIBO then a Low FODMAP diet
#3-Get checked for problems related to the Adrenal system in your body.
#4- Make sure when you sit down to eat any meal, that you are blocking that time away from stressful events of the day. Don’t sit down for lunch after you just had an argument after you just had an argument with your boss or your kids or your spouse.
#5- Work on sleep hygiene. Poor sleep habits are known to cause inflammation. Numerous studies on the effects of sleep loss have shown that mediators of inflammation are altered by sleep loss. If sleep is a major problem for you, check out the video on Insomnia- 6 Overlooked Areas Causing Your Sleep Problem and How To Fix Them.
7. Poor Anti-Oxidant Status and Inflammation
Oxidative stress leads to a state of low antioxidant status. Remember oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) (Free radicals) and your body’s ability to produce/consume or recycle antioxidants. It’s a story of supply and demand.
The end result of oxidative stress, poor anti-oxidant status is chronic inflammation.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet coupled with the right supplements can boost your antioxidant status and reduce inflammation.
My favorite supplements to increase your anti-oxidant levels will be things like NAC, Liposomal glutathione, Grape Seed Extract and alpha lipoic acid and the supplements described in this article.
As your body’s most abundant antioxidant that also recycles other antioxidants, glutathione protects against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
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