4 Signs Of Inflammation You May Be Overlooking, According To Will Cole, DC, IFMCP
A leading functional medicine practitioner, Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, is an expert when it comes to analyzing the underlying factors of chronic disease. In his practice, he customizes health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems. And with this impressive résumé, it's no surprise he was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation.
When I sat down with Cole on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, I was so excited to hear details about his upcoming book, The Inflammation Spectrum. In this book, Cole educates readers on how people differ in terms of an inflammatory response, as well as urges us to discover how our bodies respond to certain lifestyle practices, both positively and negatively.
Another component Cole mentions is the fact that there are certain markers of inflammation that might look "normal" to the average eye, when really these signs can be crucial for diagnosing and treating certain inflammatory conditions. Here are four common signs of inflammation we may be overlooking, according to Cole:
1. Your thyroid imbalance
Although noticing when your thyroid is imbalanced may sound a bit complex, Cole offers an easy way to check in on your thyroid health—your eyebrows. According to Cole, hair loss in the outer third of the eyebrow (where the hair is the thinnest, toward the ears) is a marker of hypothyroidism.
"It's a sign in functional medicine to recognize a thyroid problem. There are hormonal resistance patterns," he says. That being said, this inflammatory issue can be noticed (and treated, for that matter) more quickly if people become aware of this eyebrow tip.
"It impacts so many things because every cell in our body has a thyroid receptor site," he states.
2. Your sleep hygiene
If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or suffer from sleep apnea, you may be experiencing low-grade, or sometimes even chronic, inflammation. Cole advises us to routinely assess our sleep and notice any imbalances that may arise in our sleep hygiene.
"Just one night of poor sleep will raise the C-reactive protein," he notes, referring to the protein in our blood that is linked to high inflammation levels. "We have to look out for it in patients, and people in general should be assessing it for themselves."
3. Your stress levels
As we know, stress definitely leads to inflammation in our bodies. However, Cole notes that it's actually these seemingly trivial stressors that are contributing to high levels of inflammation.
"It's about really looking at these low-grade chronic stressors," he says. "If you're constantly in that fight-or-flight sympathetic response, that leads to HPA-axis dysfunction, or what people call adrenal fatigue. We need to help our body out by centering itself."
What Cole means is we as a society are constantly stressed, to the point where the "normal" stressors of our day (being late for work) result in the same response in our nervous systems as a fight-or-flight, life-or-death situation. By acknowledging our stressors—even the ones we don't think are that bad—we can better regulate our inflammatory responses in our immune systems.
4. Your food intolerances
Backpacking off the stress conversation, sometimes our inflammatory response to stress can manifest in our food sensitivities, according to Cole.
"I see this phenomenon sometimes with patients when they're on a certain diet protocol," Cole notes. "And when they go on vacation, they would eat things that they never would eat when they're at home, and they don't have the same inflammatory responses."
What he means, is that when his patients are less stressed, perhaps while relaxing on a lounge chair during a tropical vacation, they might not react to certain foods they were previously intolerant to. Meaning, your food intolerances can have a significant impact on your stress (and therefore, your inflammation) levels.
"I think it largely has to do with people's relationship with their food when they're eating and their stress levels," he adds. Who knew!
According to Cole, there are quite a few ways to determine whether you're experiencing inflammation you might not have thought about, until now. Whether you check the fullness of your eyebrows in the mirror, track your sleep habits, or mitigate your stress levels, you'll be one step closer to pinpointing what's causing your inflammatory response. And even if you don't think you experience high inflammation, it may be worth your while to check in on these four commonly overlooked signs. You might be experiencing high inflammation levels without even knowing it!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.