At mindbodygreen, we're always talking about inflammation. Whether it be reducing inflammation in the gut with supplements like L-glutamine or making a savory turmeric sauce to put on everything, the words "inflammation" "anti-inflammatory" and "inflammation-fighting" are everywhere.
And when you start learning about the causes and triggers of inflammation, it can begin to feel a little overwhelming. How do you know if you're suffering from it? Do you absolutely need to get a bunch of fancy tests or pay out-of-pocket to see an integrative medicine doctor?
It's always a good idea to work with a professional, especially if you have a chronic health concern. But if that's not in the cards for you (or your bank account) at the moment, these three tests are a great start for determining whether or not you might need to incorporate a few extra anti-inflammatory foods and supplements into your daily routine.
Here's how to know if chronic inflammation is a problem for you:
1. You have some of these common inflammation symptoms.
At the end of the day, most integrative and functional medicine doctors will agree that the best way to diagnose a state of chronic inflammation is by taking a close look at the symptoms each individual patient is dealing with. Do they suffer from frequent headaches? Have constipation or other gut issues? What about joint pain or chronic fatigue? These are all sign that your body is not quite equipped to handle all of the inflammatory triggers it's being exposed to each day and that it's in need of a little more TLC.
According to Marvin Singh, M.D., an integrative gastroenterologist, the common signs he looks for in his patients include "joint aches, rashes, fatigue, food sensitivities, bloating, fever, mouth sores, abdominal pain, bloating, allergies, brain fog, changes in bowel habits, muscular pains, obesity, hormone imbalance, among many other things." It's also not always obvious: "For example, you might think that carrying a little extra weight just means that you are overweight. And, yes, it does. However, it also means you have chronic inflammation because that extra weight is inflammatory. Meaning, the extra fat we carry, especially around our belly, is inflammatory, and higher levels of insulin are also inflammatory. These are all ingredients in the recipe for chronic disease."
2. Your C-reactive protein levels are high.
If you do go see a functional or integrative medicine doctor with concerns about chronic inflammation, one test they're bound to run is a C-reactive protein levels blood test. And thanks to technology, you don't have to actually see a doctor to know your CRP levels. At-home tests—like this one from EverlyWell or this one from DestinyWell—can evaluate your CRP levels, and it's all done from the comfort of your own home.
But should you really be doing these tests at home? According to Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., an integrative medicine doctor who treats patients suffering from chronic inflammation on a regular basis, these at-home tests might not be as comprehensive as you think. Because although she's all for patients taking charge of their health, these tests can be difficult to interpret. And if the result is positive, it can be hard for the patient to know what to do next. "CRP tests are a nonspecific test for generalized inflammation, but when it's positive, you have to do more investigation," she explained. "An integrative and functional medicine doc will ask questions, know the patient's history, and can attribute the inflammation to what's going on with the patient specifically. Inflammation could come from allergies, infections, decreased immune system, autoimmunity, or more."
In other words, testing your CRP levels on your own can give you an idea of your current state of inflammation, but there will likely be more questions to answer. If a patient has chronic inflammation, Dr. Gandhi will also run labs like ferritin (for generalized inflammation), homocysteine, and MPO (to assess cardiac inflammation), and CRP and ESR (for generalized inflammation, autoimmunity, and infections).
3. You have one of these illnesses.
Inflammation plays a big role in health and disease, so it's not surprising to learn that certain illnesses are directly tied to an overactive inflammatory response. If you have one of these conditions, it's a pretty glaring signal from the body that it's inflamed. So what conditions are we talking about? For starters, autoimmune disease—which is a group of dysfunctions in which the body's immune system starts attacking its own tissues, like in the case of ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto's disease, and multiple sclerosis—but also other pretty well-known inflammatory diseases, like asthma and arthritis.
It might even surprise you, however, to learn that inflammation is even closely tied to heart disease. According to Amy Shah, M.D., an integrative medicine doctor and mbg Collective member, "In the case of heart disease, it's thought that having inflammation actually triggers the immune system to deposit more inflammation-related cells, cholesterol, and debris into arteries."
So what can you do if you have chronic inflammation, confirmed by one of these tests or by an integrative medicine doctor? Some great places to start are to sleep more, avoid inflammatory foods—like processed carbs, added sugars, and alcohol—and invest time in daily mindfulness-based stress reduction like yoga, breathwork, body scans, or even journaling. That said, if you're having any serious symptoms that interfere with your life, it's time to consult a professional.
Gretchen Lidicker has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She's the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. A Kripalu Center for Yoga and Ayurveda-trained yoga instructor, expert bread baker, and farmers market fanatic, she believes that no day is complete without a good dance party.