by William Cole: Inflammation underscores so much of what we cover here at mbg—
it’s the root cause of not only preventable diseases but also the gut dysfunction many of us experience daily. So for 10 days, we’re doing a deep dive into inflammation, giving you everything you need to know: the basics of what inflammation is, how to know if you have it, and what you can do to control it. Follow along here, and to learn even more, check out our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Vincent Pedre, M.D.
Inflammation is the underlying factor in almost all modern-day health problems. Although these conditions might seem unrelated on the outside, inside the body this violent storm of inflammation is contributing to everything from brain problems like anxiety and depression, to cancer, to autoimmune conditions, and even heart disease.
While chronic inflammation is bad news for your health, in certain situations, inflammation plays a vital role in healing damaged tissue like when you get a virus or sustain an injury. The problem occurs, though, when inflammation doesn’t subside after the threat is gone and when our immune systems and inflammatory response are constantly being triggered. The foods we eat, our toxin exposure, and stress are just a few things that can continue to perpetuate this never-ending storm of inflammation.
The wellness world is no stranger to inflammation. If you have read any health article, you’ve probably heard it mentioned at least once before as more and more people are starting to see how taming inflammation can dramatically improve their symptoms. So, if you’ve taken this to heart and started taking steps to reduce your inflammation, how do you even know if all your efforts have been worth it? As a functional medicine practitioner, it’s my job to guide people to better health, and part of that is through lowering inflammation. In my years of clinical experience, here are some of the ways to tell that you’ve (finally) won the battle against inflammation:
1. Your labs look great.
Running labs is the surefire way to know exactly where your inflammation levels are. These are the three tests I typically run on my patients to assess where they stand and see the amount of healing that still needs to be done.
- CRP: This test looks at both C-reactive protein and another pro-inflammatory protein, IL-6. Optimal Range: < 0.5 mg/L
- Homocysteine: This is an inflammatory amino acid that has been linked to autoimmune problems, heart disease, and blood-brain barrier destruction. Optimal Range: < 7 Umol/L
- Ferritin: This is considered to be an acute phase reactant and a sign of inflammation when high. Optimal Range: men: 33-236 ng/mL; premenopausal women: 10-122 ng/mL; postmenopausal women: 10-263 ng/mL
2. Your gut is balanced.
Your microbiome contains trillions of bacteria that affect your overall health. SIBO, yeast overgrowth, and other bacterial imbalances can lead to a compromised gut lining and inflammation that spread throughout your whole body. If you aren’t suffering from gas, bloating, or constipation—and you’re having at least two bowel movements a day that resemble snakes—it’s a sign that your gut, and inflammation levels, are on point.
3. Your skin is clear.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and when inflammation is out of control, it can rise to the surface in the form of skin problems like acne, rashes, eczema, and more. Clear skin is a sign that inflammation has begun to cool down.
4. Your mind is clear.
When inflammation is out of control, it can end up destroying your protective blood-brain barrier, leading to what we call in functional medicine “leaky brain” and symptoms like brain fog. This inability to focus will improve once inflammation subsides and the oxidative stress in the hypothalamus of the brain is relieved.
5. That extra weight is finally coming off.
Inflammation can throw off your hormones and slow your metabolism, leading to weight gain and weight loss resistance. Once inflammation is reduced, weight loss will be a by-product of optimal health.
6. You’re pain-free.
If your joints and muscles are constantly stiff and achy, inflammation is most likely to blame. But if you wake up feeling ready to take on the day, it’s a good sign that your inflammation levels are where they should be.
7. You are no longer depressed or anxious.
An overload of inflammation can trigger an inflammatory-autoimmune response against your brain and nervous tissue, and that can cause increased feelings of anxiety and depression. As your brain becomes less inflamed, you may find that these symptoms flare more and more infrequently.
8. You don’t get sick as often.
If you find yourself battling every virus that goes around, it’s likely due to a damaged gut. Since close to 75 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, when your microbiome is out of balance and inflammation runs rampant, it can weaken your immune system. When inflammation is under control, you’ll find yourself making it through cold and flu season unscathed.
9. You no longer crave junk.
Always craving junk is a major sign that something is off with your health. Inflammation messes with your hormones and blood sugar, leaving you in a state of hanger and always searching for your next fix. Lowering inflammation gets you off this roller coaster and helps you naturally regulate blood sugar levels. As a result, you’re able to walk away from the next temptation that comes your way.
10. You have more energy.
While our busy society may say otherwise, being in a state of constant exhaustion is anything but normal. Inflammation can seriously mess with your brain-adrenal communication, which can lead to elevated cortisol levels and eventually adrenal fatigue. When inflammation subsides, this communication becomes clearer, and you will no longer need that extra cup of coffee to beat the afternoon slump.
11. You get uninterrupted sleep.
On that same note, adrenal fatigue and other inflammation-induced hormone problems like leptin resistance can throw off your normal circadian rhythms, making it difficult to sleep at night. By reducing inflammation you’ll be able to sleep through the night and wake up fully rested.
12. You aren’t deficient in any nutrients.
Your body is designed to work on a specific ratio of nutrients to properly perform its necessary biochemical functions, including regulating inflammation. Nutrient deficiencies—especially of vitamin D, K2, and magnesium—are not uncommon today, and I see them all the time in my practice. Once deficiencies like these are corrected, you’ll begin to see an improvement in your inflammation levels and overall health.
13. You’ve found your Zen.
Stress has been implicated in almost all health problems through its role in increasing inflammation. By working to manage your stress through meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and other techniques, the fire of inflammation will quell and stress will begin to melt away.