by Dr. Will Cole
You may not think your stomach problems, skin breakouts, joint pain, and that extra weight around your mid-section have anything in common, but the one underlying process almost all modern-day health problems share is inflammation. You can’t see it on the outside, but inside the body the violent storm of inflammation can contribute to everything from brain problems like anxiety and depression to cancer to autoimmune conditions and even heart disease.
Chronic inflammation is bad news for your health, but inflammation in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It plays a vital role in healing damaged tissue caused from an injury, and it attacks things like viruses to minimize the damage they do. When inflammation becomes a problem is when it doesn’t subside after the injury is healed, the virus is vanquished, or whatever other threat triggered the inflammation is gone.
In cases of chronic inflammation the fire just keeps on burning, constantly triggering the immune system to respond even when there isn’t an emergency. Consequently, the immune system can become over-reactive, mounting an offensive against anything it encounters. A poor diet, toxin exposure, and stress are just a few things that can continue to perpetuate this never-ending storm of chronic inflammation, keeping the body in a state of constant and exhausting emergency.
Inflammation isn’t exactly cutting-edge news. It’s a common topic in the wellness world and the subject of many health articles. That’s because awareness about inflammation can dramatically improve symptoms. If that is you and you have started taking steps to reduce your inflammation, how do you know all your efforts are paying off? As a functional medicine practitioner, it’s my job to guide people to better health, and part of that is by helping people reduce inflammation. I’ve seen it happen time and again and I know what it looks like – in my years of clinical experience, here are some signs that you are finally winning the battle against inflammation:
1. Your lab results are in optimal range.
There are three labs I typically run to determine inflammation levels. These are handy measures of inflammation that can help you and your doctor monitor your progress. When you see your numbers going down, you know inflammation is going down, too:
- 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 digestion is working.
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 spreads throughout your whole body. When your digestive symptoms calm down and things start working again, that’s a great sign that your gut inflammation is abating. Specifically, look for the disappearance of symptoms like gas, bloating, and constipation. If you’re having at least two bowel movements a day that resemble snakes, that’s a sign that your gut, and inflammation levels, are on point.
3. Your skin looks awesome.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and when inflammation is out of control, it frequently shows on your face and body as acne, rashes, eczema, and more. Clear skin is a clear indicator that inflammation has begun to cool.
4. You can finally think straight.
When inflammation is out of control, it can damage your protective blood-brain barrier, leading to what we in functional medicine refer to as “leaky brain,” which commonly has symptoms like brain fog, concentration issues, and attention problems. This inability to focus will improve once inflammation subsides, relieving the oxidative stress in the hypothalamus of the brain.
5. Your weight is finally going down again.
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 and will become much easier to accomplish.
6. Your pain is alleviated.
If your joints and muscles are constantly stiff and achy, inflammation is most likely to blame. When you wake up feeling ready to take on the day and you can move more easily without pain and stiffness, it’s a good sign that your inflammation levels are back to where they should be.
7. You are in a better mood.
An overload of inflammation can trigger an inflammatory-autoimmune response against your brain and nervous tissue, which can cause increased feelings of anxiety and depression. As your brain becomes less inflamed, you may find that these symptoms flare much less often and your mood improves noticeably.
8. Your immune system is stronger.
If you find yourself battling every virus that goes around, it’s likely due to an inflamed and 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, making you more vulnerable to colds and the flu. When inflammation is under control, you’ll find yourself making it through cold and flu season unscathed.
9. You want healthy food.
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,” always searching for your next fix of sugar, refined carbs, and other junk. Lowering inflammation gets you off this roller coaster. Since inflammation can mess with blood sugar, its absence helps your body naturally regulate blood sugar levels the way it should. As a result, you’re not hungry or angry, but calm and in control. Food that builds your health will start to sound more appetizing, and you’ll be able to walk away from the next temptation that comes your way.
10. You are brimming with energy.
Who says being in a state of constant exhaustion is normal? Society may tell you to work hard and play hard, but when the cost is inflammation that messes with your brain-adrenal communication and spikes cortisol, the result can be adrenal fatigue. When inflammation subsides, your stress management system starts working again, and exhaustion will give way to energy. No more need for that extra cup of coffee because your afternoon slump is history.
11. You actually sleep well.
As well as causing exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and other inflammation-induced hormone problems like leptin resistance can throw off your normal circadian rhythms, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep at night. By reducing inflammation, you’ll be able to sleep through the night and wake up fully rested.
12. You don’t have any deficiencies.
Your body needs nutrients in specific ratios to properly perform its necessary biochemical functions, including inflammation regulation. These days, many people suffer from nutrient deficiencies – especially of vitamin D, K2, and magnesium. I see this all the time in my practice. With better nourishment and complete nutrition, inflammation levels are more likely to subside. You’ll notice better overall health, too.
13. You’ve found your Zen.
One of the most notorious contributors to inflammation is stress, which works with inflammation in a feedback loop: The more stressed you are, the worse your inflammation, and the worse your inflammation, the more stressed you get. Break the cycle by managing your stress through techniques like meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing. This will reduce inflammation, which will further reduce stress, and that feedback loop will finally be moving in your favor.
14. You’ve discovered what foods work for you.
There are no good or bad foods – each person is different and has different food reactivities. While some foods are inflammatory for most people (I’m looking at you, sugar!), even so-called healthy foods can cause problems for some people, and foods that work for one person don’t always work for the next. Underlying food intolerances can lead to chronic inflammation and other allergy-like symptoms, but once you’ve uncovered your food intolerances through a process like my elimination diet and take those foods out of your diet, inflammation will start to subside.
15. Your blood sugar normalizes.
Your body uses glucose as fuel and with the help of a hormone called insulin, that glucose from food moves into your cells. But a lot can go wrong with this system. Insulin resistance is a condition in which cell receptors are blocked due to inflammation. Insulin can’t get the glucose into the cells where you can use it, and this causes glucose in your bloodstream to go too high. This can lead to pre-diabetes and even full-blown diabetes over time, further worsening inflammation. When inflammation finally begins to subside, blood sugar can begin to normalize. The cell receptors can regain function and pre-diabetes or even diabetes symptoms can subside, too.
16. You are a master of your own DNA.
Certain genetic impairments such as the MTHFR gene mutation can inhibit an important process called methylation. Methylation is like a biochemical superhighway in your body that governs your hormones, detoxification, and inflammation-regulating pathways. When it is inhibited, inflammation can be the result. Once you know if this is a factor for you, you’ll be able to support healthy methylation through diet and supplementation changes, restoring methylation and reducing inflammation.
17. You’re in the mood again.
When inflammation is high, it can affect all of your hormones – including the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Imbalance in the sex hormones can really decrease sex drive in both men and women. Many people just assume low libido is a normal part of getting older, but once you bring down inflammation, you might be surprised at how in the mood you suddenly feel. Plus, having more sex also helps decrease inflammation. There’s a prescription for you. I’d call that a win-win.
Healing inflammation isn’t a one-and-done process; it’s more of a lifelong journey, because bodies will always need inflammation and there is always a risk that can become chronic again. That’s why it’s a great idea to keep track of these 17 signs that your inflammation-fighting efforts are actually affecting your health in a positive way – and these can also be a barometer to warn you when you may need to step up your flame-dousing efforts again.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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