How To Tell If You Have Inflammation + 5 Things To Do To Fix It: A Doctor Explains
I still remember the day in medical school when I first understood the duality of the immune system. The same immune system that heals a wound from a car accident (or historically from an animal bite) is the same immune system that goes to the coronary artery of the heart and causes a heart attack. How can something be so good and then so bad?
It is now that I understand that the immune system has the power to do both—inflammation for good and inflammation that causes disease. So you might be wondering: Do you have inflammation in your body right now?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. The real question is: Do you have inflammation that chronic, low level, causing harm to your blood vessels, your muscles, or causing you to gain weight, for example?
If you have symptoms like headaches, bloating, joint pain, rashes, fatigue, weight gain, allergies, asthma, or mood issues—you are most likely inflamed. Sometimes inflammation can be "silent" or difficult to detect. The reason it is such a huge problem and why I'm telling you about it today is because it's the root cause of diseases like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and cancer.
Patients ask me all the time how to detect and calm their (bad) inflammation. My protocol is to first measure it with either a blood test, symptom store, or both. Then we go on to a host of solutions. Although it has to be personalized there are a few solutions that I have found immensely helpful in this arena. Here are just a handful!
1. Eat inflammation calming superfoods.
Food is the best lever for change in your inflammatory state. Eating more antioxidant- and polyphenol-rich foods can fight free radicals, which can calm inflammation. My favorite recommendations are green tea, and six to nine servings of green leafy vegetables like bok choy and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. Also omega-3-rich seeds, nuts, and oils. Lastly, other superfoods for inflammation include garlic, ginger, turmeric, pepper, and blueberries.
2. Eliminate fructose, white sugar, and white flours.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates spark inflammation by deregulating glucose and insulin, leading to oxidative stress. In short, insulin resistance triggers the inflammation cascade. My recommendation to patients when starting out: Use stevia for sweetness and sprouted grains for an occasional bread fix.
3. Do Inflammation-lowering activity.
In the past I was a glutton for punishment when it came to exercise. No pain, no gain, right? Actually, not right. Pushing yourself to the limit every day plus living a stressful life outside of that lead to chronic inflammation. For patients who do participate in heavy exercise we make sure to build in long and deep rest days.
4. Consider adding adaptogens to your diet.
Adaptogen refers to a plant's ability to adapt to its environment, to survive, and to adapt to exterior stress.
Adaptogenic herbs—such as rhodiola, ashwaganda, ginseng, phosphytidyl serine, and maca—help strengthen and stabilize the body, thereby mollifying the impact of stress. Adaptogens also improve the entire body's resistance to stress (not just a particular organ or system) and create balance and harmony in the body, helping to reduce chronic inflammation.
Stress is one of the top aggravators of inflammation. Making time in your schedule to include exercise, meditation, yoga, and moments of mindfulness really do make a difference.
5. Sleep and mindfulness are the secrets keys to a stronger immune system and lower inflammation.
Lack of sleep makes the body ripe for infection, while getting adequate sleep has an anti-inflammatory effect. A study from the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta found that short sleep durations and poor sleep quality are associated with higher levels of inflammation markers. In fact, individuals who reported six or fewer hours of sleep a night had the highest levels of inflammatory hormones and changes in blood vessel function.
Mindfulness is the newest component of an anti-inflammatory plan (yet, ironically, it is ancient). We are now finding out through brand-new studies that the immune system is directly connected to the brain—therefore lowering inflammation can treat diseases like depression and anxiety. This also gives more credence to the fact that daily mindfulness/meditation is anti-inflammatory.
This is not exhaustive—I have many more things that I would recommend for you—this is just a place for you to start on your journey!
Dr. Amy Shah is a double board certified MD with training from Cornell, Columbia and Harvard Universities. She was named one of mindbodygreen's Top 100 Women In Wellness to Watch in 2015 and has been a guest on many national and local media shows. She helps busy people transform their health by reducing inflammation and eating more plants, utalizing the power of the microbiome to help digestion, natural hormone balance and food sensitivities. She is an expert on intermittent fasting for women and has a 2 week guided group program.