5 Signs Your Inflammation Isn't As Under Control As You Think
Inflammation is at the root of most diseases, and many people aren't aware of the fact that the gut is the biggest potential source of inflammation in the body. Think of chronic inflammation as a smoldering fire that takes time to put out and your poor gut health as the lighter that sparks the flames of that inflammation. What starts in the gut can eventually affect nearly every organ in your body. But, like the silent embers of a low-burning flame, inflammation is not always obvious to the person it controls.
Sometimes the signs of chronic inflammation are completely obvious. Fatigue and pain are massive warning signs that something is wrong with your body and you need to heal. But the signs of chronic inflammation are not always so obvious, and sometimes inflammation can linger indolently for years before symptoms start to appear. In other words, once you experience the signs of inflammation, you have accumulated enough damage within your body to cause noticeable problems.
As a medical doctor who specializes in functional medicine and gut health, my approach to inflammation is all about getting to the root cause. My job is to connect the dots to help patients heal their guts and their bodies.
Looking at inflammatory markers from a functional laboratory perspective is one way to uncover the smoldering inflammation that might not be immediately obvious to you. But I also see everyday warning signs among my patients they may not connect with inflammation.
Here are five signs your inflammation may not be as under control as you think:
1. You just can't seem to lose those last 10 pounds.
Inflammation can hold your fat cells hostage, putting the brakes on reaching your ideal weight even when everything else, including sleep, exercise, and diet, seems to be on point. Chronic, low-grade inflammation1 also increases your risk for obesity-related diseases, including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. A vicious cycle ensues: High insulin makes you put on more body fat in your midsection. Body fat increases inflammation, which then forces your body to hold on to more fat.
For many patients, I find that food sensitivities like gluten and dairy are major culprits causing inflammation and weight loss resistance. Even though a person is dutifully avoiding sugar and processed foods and eating an overall healthy diet, they might be eating the wrong foods for their specific body! I'm talking about fat-free yogurt, whole-grain anything, and soy foods like tofu. Once we eliminate your food sensitivities, your inflammation starts to dial down and you can finally lose that stubborn weight.
2. You struggle with a mood disorder.
I have patients who often feel blah. Sometimes they are achy or "a bit down," they struggle to find the energy to get them through their day, and when they get home they are rarely in the mood for sex with their significant others. Does this sound like you? Researchers have found an association between fatigue, pain, and depressive symptoms. "Inflammation could be a common link2 between fatigue, pain, and depression," researchers in one study concluded.
As it turns out, a lot of these mood disorders are linked to poor gut health. An inflamed gut means an inflamed brain, and an inflamed brain is an unhappy brain. Fixing mood disorders like anxiety and depression often begins by fixing the gut. You need the right amounts of digestive enzymes to digest your proteins properly into amino acids—the building blocks of tissues but also the building blocks of happiness-promoting neurotransmitters.
3. You're stressed out—often.
Managing inflammation demands that you manage stress. To many of my patients, stress is the elephant in the room no one talks about and people often fail to recognize. Being constantly on edge or otherwise in the "fight-or-flight" mode can fuel the inflammatory fires, which messes with your gut and brain axis. Why is this? It's because when you are stressed, your body produces more catecholamines (alarm signals), and they mess with everything from the balance of "good" and "bad" bugs in your gut microbiome to the "leakiness" of your intestinal lining. When your gut lining becomes leakier, it allows a harmful product of bacterial death in the gut—endotoxin—to enter the circulation and light up your immune system. Therefore, stress can exacerbate any and all of the symptoms of inflammation you may be experiencing in your body.
Ever notice you feel more achy when you're stressed? Researchers argue that about 75 to 90 percent of human diseases are related to an overactivated sympathetic (stress) nervous system. Another vicious cycle ensues3: Stress fuels inflammation, which then fuels more stress created by the uncomfortable symptoms patients want an end to. My patients often tell me their condition stresses them out! So, inflammation plays a critical role in the development of stress-related diseases. To turn it back around, I tell patients that to take control of their inflammation and heal their gut, stress management is a necessity, not a luxury.
4. You suffer from uncomfortable bloating.
Bloating is the most common complaint I see, but underlying that bloating is a gut microbiome in disarray. Inflammation is a key factor in dysbiosis (or a gut imbalance favoring "bad" bugs over "good" ones), and what happens in the gut affects the entire body and even your brain4. Take leaky gut, which is the link between gut health and systemic illness. "Leaky gut" is not a diagnosis but a process, a description of the underlying pathology of numerous diseases that we treat yet have failed to find a cure for. It is a condition in which connections between the cells that line the inside of the intestines (known as tight junctions) become looser, allowing larger molecules (such as partially digested food particles) to pass through the gut wall. Your immune system is constantly patrolling the gut border for anything it does not recognize in order to prevent an all-out invasion. As the immune system encounters these escaped particles, it attacks. And in individuals with a genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases, this increased load on the immune system leads to the type of dysregulation that becomes an autoimmune disease.
5. You get sick easily.
Between the rounds of antibiotics to "nip that cold in the bud," eating the wrong foods that feed those bad gut bugs, the toxins you are exposed to in your environment, and the resulting dysbiosis, over a period of days to months you develop other gut issues, such as leaky gut. This spells disaster for your immune system. About 70 percent of the immune system5 lies all along the gut lining, so gut problems can make us more susceptible to getting colds and other illnesses more often. Add to that the constant onslaught of foods you eat that you may be sensitive to (in other words, that you develop an immune reaction to) or are simply by their nature inflammatory, and your gut is the sight of a chronic, raging battle. When the immune system does not recognize partially digested protein molecules getting through this hyperpermeable gut, it attacks.
You might not even be aware of these food sensitivities because they don't react in the same way as allergies. Instead, they can manifest as seemingly gut-unrelated symptoms including hives, allergies, chronic sinus inflammation, headaches, mental fog, memory problems, and chronic migraines. When your immune system is overwhelmed by a battle along your gut lining, it cannot pay attention to other respiratory viruses and bacteria as effectively. To calm the immune system and fix inflammation, you have to heal the gut by finding out what's creating an imbalance and then healing it by avoiding the wrong foods and repairing the gut barrier.
Any of these signs and symptoms are red flags that inflammation isn't as much under control as you wish. Identifying the underlying culprits and then healing them often requires time and patience, but taking the time and effort to do so is well worth it because inflammation that is left unchecked will sabotage your health and happiness.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Cornell University before attending the University of Miami School of Medicine and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show and ABC and is the author of Happy Gut: The Cleansing Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain. Dr. Pedre is a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is certified in yoga and medical acupuncture.