Did you know that a simple blood test can save your life? The test I’m referring to is called the C-reactive protein test. It is used by doctors to measure the degree of hidden inflammation in your body.
Why is this important? Because almost every modern disease is caused by or affected by hidden inflammation, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, and dementia as well as arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and digestive disorders.
Not all inflammation in the body is “bad.” Anyone who has ever had a sore throat, a rash, hives, or a sprained ankle knows about inflammation. Most of the time, inflammation is a normal and appropriate responses of our defense system to infection or trauma. We need inflammation to survive.
The trouble occurs, however, when that defense system runs out of control, like a rebel army bent on destroying its own country. Most people are familiar with overactive immune responses and too much inflammation in common conditions like allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease or asthma. But few people know that hidden inflammation run amok is at the root of all chronic illness: heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer and even autism.
The real concern is not our acute response to injury, infection or insult, but the chronic smoldering inflammation that slowly destroys our organs, our ability for optimal functioning and leads to rapid aging. We may feel healthy, but if this inflammation is raging inside of us, then we have a problem.
As many people die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen as others do from asthma or leukemia. Stopping the use of these drugs would be the equivalent to finding a cure for both.
Common medical treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or aspirin), or steroids like prednisone, though often useful for acute problems, interfere with the body’s own immune response and lead inevitably to serious and deadly side effects. As many people die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen as others do from asthma or leukemia. Stopping the use of these drugs would be the equivalent to finding a cure for both.
So what is the best way to control inflammation while we’re still upstream? First, identify the triggers and causes of inflammation, and then help the body’s natural immune balance reset by providing the right conditions for it to thrive.
What causes inflammation?
If inflammation and immune imbalances are at the root of most of modern disease, how do we find the causes and get the body back in balance? Thankfully the list of things that cause inflammation is relatively short:
- Poor diet: mostly sugar, refined flours, processed food and inflammatory fats such as trans and saturated fats
- Lack of exercise
- Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites
- Hidden allergens from food or the environment
- Toxins such as mercury and pesticides
- Mold toxins and allergens
My job is to find those inflammatory factors unique to each person, to see how various lifestyle, environment or infectious factors spin the immune system out of control leading to a host of chronic illnesses. Carefully listening to a person’s story and a few specific tests help me find the cause in most people.
It is important to understand this concept of inflammation is not specific to any one organ or medical specialty. In fact, if you read a medical journal from any of the specialties you will find endless articles about how inflammation is at the root of the problem.
More often than not I find that the cause of a patient’s issues is the lack of communication between specialties; so often specialists are treating the downstream effects of inflammation, instead of addressing the cause, i.e. multiple problems that are really linked together by inflammation.
Let me give you an example. A while back a man who came to see me because he wanted to climb a mountain and wanted my help to get healthy. He was 57-years old and on about 15 medications for about five different inflammatory conditions including high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, colitis, reflux, asthma, and an autoimmune disease of his hair follicles called alopecia.
I asked him how he felt and he said “great.” I said I was surprised to hear that because I could see he was on so many medications. “Yes, but,” he said, explaining that everything was very well controlled by the latest medication given by the top specialists he saw in every field: the lung doctor for his asthma, the gastroenterologist for his colitis and reflux, the cardiologist for his high blood pressure, the endocrinologist for his pre-diabetes, and the dermatologist for his hair loss.
I asked him whether any of the specialists had stopped to investigate why he had five different inflammatory diseases and why his immune system was so pissed off — was it just bad luck that he “got” all these diseases, or was there something connecting all these problems? He looked puzzled and said no.
I then searched for and found the cause of his problems: gluten. He had celiac disease, an autoimmune disease related to eating gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats.
Six months later he came back twenty-five pounds lighter. He had regular blood pressure, no asthma, no reflux and no more colitis. He said he was having normal bowel movements for the first time in his life. And even his hair was growing back. He was off of nearly all his medications.
7 ways to avoiding inflammation
Once you figure out the cause of your inflammation and get rid of it, how do you live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle? Here is what I recommend. It’s disarmingly simple, but an extraordinarily effective way to achieve what I call “UltraWellness”:
- Eat a whole foods, high fiber, plant-based diet which is inherently anti-inflammatory.
- That means unprocessed, unrefined, real food and high in powerful anti-inflammatory plant chemicals called phytonutrients. Nothing full of sugar or trans fats.
- Get an oil change. Eat healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, avocados and omega 3 fats from small fish like sardines, herring, sable, and wild salmon.
- Exercise. Do I need to say more?
- Learn to actively relax to engage your vagus nerve, the powerful nerve that relaxes your whole body and lowers inflammation, by doing yoga, meditation, deep breathing or even taking a hot bath.
- If you have food allergies, find out what they are and stop eating them.
- Take probiotics (“good bacteria”) daily to help your digestion to improve the healthy bacteria in your gut which reduces inflammation. (Look for those that contain 10 billion CFU of bifidobacteria species and lactobacillus species. Choose from reputable brands.)
- Take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement which helps reduce inflammation.
Taking a comprehensive approach to inflammation and balancing your immune system will help address one of the most important systems of the body.
Inflammaologists: The future of medicine?
In the future we may no longer have specialties like cardiology, neurology or gastroenterology, but new specialists like “inflammaologists.” But by understanding these concepts and core systems, the basis of UltraWellness, you don’t have to wait.
This article was originally published on the site Dr Mark Hyman.