We’ve all had a splinter or stubbed our toe and seen what happens as a result…the area hurts, it gets red, and swells up. Those symptoms are inflammation at its finest. Those symptoms are our body’s way of beginning the healing process. Those symptoms are signs that the immune system has turned on and is ready to fight invaders to prevent infection. That’s the good part of inflammation…the white knight coming to the rescue; it’s called acute inflammation. Acute inflammation’s evil step-sister (no offense to amazing step-sisters out there!) is chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is…well…chronic. It is always there. Whereas acute inflammation is a natural process that we don’t control, chronic inflammation is within our control; we can turn it on or off with our lifestyle and nutrition choices. Before we get into what we can do to stop chronic inflammation, let’s take a closer at what it is and what problems/issues it causes.
Chronic inflammation is also called silent inflammation. It starts slowly, and we likely don’t even know it is there until it has accumulated enough to start causing problems. Those problems can first appear as fatigue, weight gain, achy joints, and depressed mood. If left unchecked, the chronic inflammation can progress to:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chron’s disease
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- autoimmune disorders
- rheumatoid arthritis
- heart disease
Now that you are sufficiently scared (I was too when I first learned about the connections between chronic inflammation and some serious, major diseases), let’s talk about how this whole ugly thing gets started.
Let’s go back to the future and visit Hippocrates. He nailed it when he said…
In a healthy gut, food comes in, gets broken down, goes to the intestines, nutrients are absorbed, and the waste leaves your body. Sounds pretty simple, right? It is when all is working well. But, thanks to perceived and real stress from the Standard American Diet, antibiotics, and blood sugar dysregulation, this process can break down in a number of ways. I’ll cover digestion in more detail in a future post, but for now, know that stress causes the cells of the intestinal lining to separate. When this happens, proteins from food that are supposed to stay on the inside of the intestines, leak out into the body and bloodstream. The immune system tries to be the white knight and come in to attack the foreign invaders as it does with a splinter. Good job, immune system…right? Eh, not so much. Because the gut is leaky, the next time you eat something, guess what happens to the proteins that go through your intestines?? Did you say that some of those proteins get through the intestinal lining and into the body and blood stream and the immune system attacks them again? If you did…DING, DING, DING…you are correct. This chronic leaking of proteins into the body (called the oh-so-technical Leaky Gut) leads to chronic inflammation. Now you can see why our main man Hippocrates was spot-on with his assessment of where disease begins.
Are we doomed to living a life with a gut that looks like a sieve? Heck no. We can take back our health and heal inflammation with simple (yes, really) lifestyle and nutrition upgrades. Stay tuned to learn all the important details to heal in Part 2.