Inflammation: Key to unlocking the disease code
Almost a decade ago, on February 23, 2004, an issue of TIME magazine appeared on the shelves with the front cover featuring a silhouette enrobed by flames accompanied by the large, block letters, “The Secret Killer: The surprising link between INFLAMMATION and heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases”. I can remember back then that “inflammation” became everyday talk within households. Now, we simply can’t turn in any direction within the health community without being reminded of its importance. If inflammation is truly the bedrock of so many diseases, we should know how to recognize it and what we can do to put out the internal fire.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to realize that we are inflamed – the classic symptoms are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. We may exhibit all of these symptoms after an acute injury, or perhaps we notice just some of them if we have an underlying chronic infection. Back to the title of the TIME magazine article, inflammation could even be “secret” or non-apparent: we may not know we are inflamed until we have a blood test or a practitioner evaluates symptoms we have been having. A newer term, “inflammaging,” (the combination of “inflammation” and “aging”) has been used to refer to continual stress on our immune system in which the body is less able to adapt to over time. The result of these long-term insults is low-grade inflammation into our aging years, which can further accelerate aging – it’s a vicious cycle.
Inflammation and the Fire Element:
Of course, there are many possible meanings of inflammation. From a traditional medicine perspective, inflammation connects to an imbalance in the fire element. Why are we as a societal collective, with increasing rates of chronic disease, lacking harmony with this element? What are we doing to ignite our fire and keep it blazing out of control to the point it leaves us burnt out and brittle? What are we inflamed or angry about? From a solar plexus chakra perspective, the fire element is the catalyst of transformation. Are we feeling overwhelmed in our ability to transform the massive influx of inputs in our daily lives? If we are trying to increase our fire of transformation, yet only able to assimilate a limited amount, we may find ourselves feeling frustrated and volatile with no time to express and process how we feel.
One solution to reducing inflammation could mean living in a way that is harmonious with our inherent natures, consistent with our body type, stress type, sense of purpose, and need for activity and interaction with others. There are some fascinating research findings about lifestyle habits that can help to reduce markers of inflammation in the body:
Brush your teeth regularly and floss:
Studies are showing us that poor oral hygiene is associated not just with low-grade inflammation, but also cardiovascular disease. If we have a painful tooth or red gums, these signs of inflammation could be telling us something about our cardiovascular system.
Exercise to the level of comfort rather than distress:
When we are untrained and unfit and try to be the weekend warrior to make up for our sedentary week, we might be pushing our limit. Excessive exercise or over-exertion can create oxidative stress in the body (which goes hand-in-hand with inflammatory processes), so the more we tailor our activity to our bodies, the better.
Examine what you are angry about:
When it comes to inflammation, what emotion seems to carry a similar energy of heat and pain? For many, it may be anger. In fact, there are some studies that would suggest a link between anger or hostility and inflammatory markers as well as cardiovascular risk. Emotional regulation – not holding anger in or impulsively venting – leads to more favorablehealth outcomes. Working with a trained professional to help you through the anger may be helpful in allowing your feelings to be expressed in ways that feel safe.
Try meditation, mindfulness, and prayer:
Mindfulness-based practices like meditation and overall spiritual wellness have anti-inflammatory effects. They are sacred pauses within our day that allow us to recalibrate, reassess, and develop a more balanced response to stressful events.
Maintain a positive attitude:
Individuals who tend to be pessimistic often have greater levels of inflammatory markers. Being optimistic, maintaining a positive attitude, and being grateful are all inexpensive, effective ways to ensure that your body stays calm, cool and collected.
Eat foods with high anti-inflammatory potential:
Last, but not least, as a nutritionist, I can confidently tout that nutrition is important for decreasing inflammation. Some of my favorite cooling foods and spices include wild salmon, organic blueberries, cruciferous vegetables, sweet potatoes, turmeric, ginger, kale, and nuts.
My favorite anti-inflammatory shake recipe:
SPICED ALMOND-COCONUT SHAKE (Serves 1)
o 1/2 cup of almonds or ¼ cup almond meal (preferred)
o 8 ounces of coconut water (the kind with no added sugar)
o 2 Medjool dates
o 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
o 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
o 1/2 teaspoon of ginger powder
o 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla powder
o A pinch of nutmeg and cloves
o 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (make sure it’s melted before including into blender)
Mix all ingredients together in a blender and blend for 30-45 seconds or until almonds and dates are finely distributed throughout the liquid.
Overall, with all the talk on inflammation, we need to remember that it is a warning sign from the body, a calling to address physiological and maybe even psychological issues to get our lives back on track and in balance. Approaching it in a variety of ways through an anti-inflammatory lifestyle may allow us to turn down our internal heat and heal from symptoms and chronic diseases.