4 Major Causes Of Inflammation We Don't Talk About Enough
Picture this: You eat well and exercise regularly, yet you still don't feel 100%. Maybe you immediately feel bloated after a well-balanced meal, or you can't seem to reach your exercise goals despite sticking to a consistent schedule.
If this sounds like a familiar scenario, you might be dealing with some emotional inflammation. As functional medicine expert Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., author of Gut Feelings, tells us on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, your anxiety, shame, and trauma can cause just as much inflammation as a diet full of ultra-processed foods.
Below, discover some common (yet sneaky) causes of inflammation Cole sees all the time in his patients. If you feel like you've hit a wellness plateau lately, his actionable tips below should help you cross the finish line:
According to Cole, you cannot expect to move forward with your health if you have unresolved trauma stored in the body. It's an incredibly common scenario: Some estimates suggest 70% of adults in the United States have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives—but so many of us brush those experiences under the rug.
"They know it wasn't good, but they don't realize what it did to their mitochondria. They don't realize what it did to their nervous system and their inflammation levels," says Cole. "People will just gaslight themselves and say, 'Well, I know people that have gone through worse than me.'"
Of course, healing your trauma takes intentional work. Start here for some tips to acknowledge and release stuck emotions.
When your body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode, it's impossible to truly reach your health goals. "Our body is a cellular library, and our thoughts, words, and experiences will be the books that fill up those cells," says Cole. So when you emotionally suffer, your body feels the effects, a concept Cole calls shameflammation.
"There's a lot of shame around chronic stress in someone's current life today," he notes. "Maybe they're not able to be present with their family because they're stressed, they're irritable and snapping at their partner, or not eating foods that love them back because they're running on the go." And that shame can affect your ability to stay healthy2, Cole adds.
Yes, managing stress is not a one-and-done venture, but do your best to soothe the everyday stress in your life. You can start with these expert-backed relaxation techniques.
Anxiety about your health
Look, the democratization of health and wellness tools is a very good thing. But with so much information at our fingertips, it's easy to become anxious and overwhelmed about your health.
"I see it play out in patients' lives all the time, the fear and anxiety around health," says Cole. "Especially [when] you felt fine until the stress of it all." Research has even documented what's known as the "nocebo effect3," when ruminating about a negative outcome can actually lead to that outcome—sort of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In short: You can actually worry yourself sick. "That's the power of our emotions on our physical health," says Cole. It's way easier said than done, but try not to fixate too much on various health "scores" and numbers—it's easy to fall into a tailspin.
Your social networks
"It's not just about foods that don't love you back; it's also about social media accounts that aren't loving your mental health," says Cole. Yes, social inflammation is very much real. "What we expose ourselves to also can impact our nervous systems and inflammation levels, and therefore our endocrine systems or hormonal systems," he adds.
Research has even shown that participants who used social media excessively had higher levels of C-reactive protein, which indicates chronic inflammation. That's not to say you can't even scroll through your social media feeds: "People should be vetting the people that they're following," Cole says.
Try to edit accounts you follow and only keep those that make you feel good. That way, "the algorithm hopefully can stop serving you things that are really not congruent with your wellness," Cole adds.
You cannot expect to achieve your health and nutrition goals if you don't address your emotional health—full stop. If you consider yourself a health-forward individual yet still don't feel 100% well, you might want to address the sneakier culprits above. "The body is amazingly resilient," Cole says. "If you just lean into these practices, the body will do a lot of the work for you."