Author: Lily Mazzarella
If you are a person in the world these days, a person who speaks to other people, or walks through the vitamin section in your supermarket, who turns on a computer or glances at magazines in the dentist’s office, it is likely you know what a buzzword “inflammation” has become.
So it may be news to you that inflammation is a necessary and healthy physiological process: if we can’t inflame, we die. It’s a process with a purpose: to contain threats locally (think, dirty splinter or bacteria-enveloped animal tooth piercing the skin), and to heal and protect damaged tissue (think, self- heal from an injury or surgery, say, with use of ibuprofen, has been shown to be counterproductive.
Our bodies are smart. There is redundancy built in to the inflammatory cascade—that is, we have many, many ways to inflame, multiple biochemical avenues to land us in a painful, hot, swollen state—which, to me, indicates the evolutionary/survival advantage of a robust inflammatory response.
But this acute, life-saving form has been hijacked by the excesses of our modern environment and food supply, and now we are inflaming with impunity in the long term—sometimes “invisibly.”
In a strange twist of physiological fate, we now understand that chronic, unresolving inflammation is at the root of many of our modern scourges: cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, migraine, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, asthma & allergy, diabetes, abdominal weight gain, and even depression.
And there is “inflammation fall-out”: this costly process creates “detritus” that the lymphatic system must somehow clean up, and that registers to us as bloat, fatigue, brain fog, and aches & pains. The cost rises as we self-medicate with caffeine, sugar, and NSAIDS.
Before we get too caught up in this grim picture, I want to let you know why the Summer Cleanse is near and dear to me. There was a time when I was so inflamed that my CRP level—a marker of inflammation, which should optimally be below 1.4—was consistently in the double digits. My eczema and gut inflammation were so severe that I became vulnerable to infections, and adrenal exhaustion. I have experienced firsthand the depression, insomnia, and hormonal imbalance that comes with inflammation run amok.
Eventually I got control of my inflammation by changing my diet, using anti-inflammatory botanical medicines, and healing my gut. I was able to regain my health, an incredibly empowering process. (And, for the past many years, my CRP levels have been undetectable). I have gone on to study inflammatory conditions and functional nutrition, and to guide hundreds of people through this process.
Let’s Start Here: WHAT DOES INFLAMMATION LOOK LIKE?
THE BRAIN Fuzzy thinking, memory lapses, and learning/attention on difficulties are common complaints across all ages in my practice. These woes can be a result systemic inflammation irritating and inflaming the brain. This occurs via direct communication from the gut and liver, as well as recently discovered lymphatic channels that bathe the brain.
THE GUT Reflux, gut pain, gallbladder troubles, irritable bowel, bloating—many people don’t know what it’s like to live without these symptoms. Stress, NSAIDS, flora imbalance from too much sugar or antibiotics, inflammatory foods, medications and excess alcohol all inflame the gut.
THE WAISTLINE Inflamed guts and livers, high stress, and high insulin and blood sugar levels contribute to deposition of our least favorite kind of fat. “Belly fat” is dangerous, easy to get, and hard (but not impossible!) to lose. This kind of fat is the result of inflammation and various forms of stress, and is also pro-inflammatory itself: belly fat secretes pro-inflammatory cytokines that inflame us further. The Summer Cleanse targets this kind of weight.
THE BONES Inflammation stimulates osteoclasts, our cells that normally break down bone. Our bones are in large part collagen, which is weakened by inflammation. Also, inflammation is an acid-forming process; a very inflamed body may need to pull minerals from bones to keep our blood pH in the narrow, slightly alkaline range the body requires. Over the past 10 years I’ve seen increasing number of premenopausal women diagnosed with osteopenia, or even osteoporosis.
MOOD Anxiety, depression, irritability….states we think of as “just how things are” could be a result of inflammation. We’ve known for a while that depressed people have higher inflammation markers—but recent research indicates that in a subset of people, inflammation is a causative factor in depression. Several exciting studies suggest that Curcumin, an anti -inflammatory extract from turmeric, is effective in treating major depression, especially in a subset of people with atypical depression.
THE LIBIDO An inflamed system doesn’t have resources left over for sex. And the low energy, pain, brain fog, hormonal imbalance, and gut issues that occur with inflammation do not paint a sexy picture.
SLEEP Who CAN sleep these days? Sleep problems are in the top 3 complaints at Farmacopia, and a large part of my private practice. Trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep, is often inflammation-related: histamine and certain inflammatory cytokines can provoke a wakeful, irritable state— even when you feel exhausted. One of the most satisfying pieces of feedback I get from clients on anti -inflammatory diets is how much better they sleep!
SKIN Blotchiness, rosacea, flushing, eczema, psoriasis, rash, pimples, acne and “premature aging” all have inflammatory underpinnings. When my clients ask (semi)jokingly “Is there something for my wrinkles?” I answer, seriously, “Yes! An anti-inflammatory diet!”
ENERGY If you Google “why am I” the first searches to auto-fill are “so tired?” or “Tired all the time?” Fatigue is one of the key symptoms of chronic inflammation. Constantly managing the costly process has consequences.
LIVER Between 1/3-1/5 of American adults and 1 in 1-10 American children have fatty liver disease that is unrelated to alcohol use. The culprits? High dietary sugars, poor quality fats, and inflammation in the gut that lead to abnormal intestinal permeability. This allows proinflammatory LPS (bits of bacterial and fungal cell wall) to land at the liver, with an inflammatory cascade ensuing. See our Spring Cleanse to learn how an over-burdened and irritated liver perpetuates—and amplifies—systemic inflammation.
COLLAGEN AND BLOOD VESSELS Inflammation is the enemy of collagen, complex structural protein that occurs in many forms throughout the body. We’re MADE of collagen—it lines our blood vessels, one of the reasons the cardiovascular system is so hard-hit by inflammation. Collagen makes up our bones, cartilage, eyes, skin…. Inflammation weakens and “shreds” collagen, which is the source of many of the disease states we associate with inflammation. [See our blog post on Is Inflammation Aging You? The Secret Collagen Annihilator]
HORMONES PMS, breast swelling and tenderness, breakouts, cramps, cyclic irritability and sadness can all improve when inflammation is reigned in— sometimes quite dramatically. Decongesting the lymph system, as we do in the Summer Cleanse, is a game-changer for bloat and breast swelling. Menopausal women may be especially susceptible to inflammation as estrogen levels fluctuate, then drop—resulting in joint pain and inflammation. Hot flashes, insomnia, and irritability in perimenopause are all worsened by “hot conditions.” Inflammation creates static in our systems, which want to communicate harmoniously, symphonically, really, via scores of messenger molecules like hormones, neurotransmitters, and prostaglandins.
JOINTS We used to think that osteoarthritis (OA) was simply due to “wear and tear.” Now we understand that the breakdown of cartilage, changes in the subchondral bone (the bone below your protective cartilage), and pain in joints has inflammatory underpinnings. Joint pain is one of the main reasons for frequent NSAID ingestion—which is more problematic than we’ve been led to believe. Curcumin (from Turmeric), Boswellia, and other potent botanicals are gaining popularity as NSAID alternatives. While I’m a proponent of all these herbs, an anti -inflammatory diet is the foundation for joint health.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have an inkling that unhealthy inflammation is taking a toll on your body. Download our free Summer Cleanse guide to find out how inflammation can show up in your body, where it comes from, and what we’re going to do about it!