Why Are We So Inflamed?
During my long career as a chiropractor (37 years and counting), I’ve seen my share of people in pain. Low back, upper back, neck, headaches, joints, extremities (arms, legs, wrists, hands and feet, etc), hips…and on and on.
I have worked on people with my hands and all the techniques and technology available, including chiropractic alignments, Frequency Specific Microcurrent, ultrasound, hot/cold therapy, CranioSacral Therapy, massage, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) and more…
I’ve taught people how to stretch, how to sit, how to stand, how to move. I’ve referred them to acupuncture and massage therapists, as well as personal trainers, such as Pilates instructors.
All of it has been effective in varying degrees with diverse patients.
But there is a HUGE piece of this conversation beyond all the physical work…
…and it may be the most important piece of the puzzle.
INFLAMMATION is the missing puzzle piece…and it’s getting worse.
I’m noticing more and more people don’t get better like people used to.
People aren’t healing the way they should. I see less resilience, more time injured, and higher levels of pain from injuries that wouldn’t have been as severe in years past.
There is such an underlying base level of inflammation that when they get injured, people’s “flare” is acute, dramatic, and often incapacitating.
I find that I can physically work on someone and get them out of immediate pain, but if this core issue is not addressed, then all I’m really doing is applying a band aid.
We are pre-inflamed.
My “boots on the ground” experience shows me that this has gotten much worse over the years: people are already inflamed on an everyday basis.
People are in pain of all kinds, anxious and/or depressed, and much more medicated (both over the counter and prescription) than ever before: nearly 70% of American adults – 131 million people – are on at least one prescription.
The number of people suffering from autoimmune conditions is off the charts, said to be rising at a rate upwards of 3-9% per year for the last 40 years. Millions of people in the developed world are diagnosed and suffering from one or more autoimmune disease: asthma, lupus, myocarditis, arthritis, Hashimoto’s, irritable bowel…
Worst of all, children have also joined this statistic, suffering, diagnosed and medicated as well (45% of kids aged 0-19 have used a prescription drug in the last 30 days).
(An interesting fact is that over 50% of people with an autoimmune condition don’t realize that they have it. I see this often in my clients as we use functional testing to reveal their underlying status of health.)
I am concerned, to say the least.
What is inflammation? What causes it? What makes it worse? What can you do to control it?
First, to define it (courtesy of The Cleveland Clinic):
What is inflammation?
When your body encounters an offending agent (like viruses, bacteria, allergens or toxic chemicals) or suffers an injury, it activates your immune system. Your immune system sends out its first responders: inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells).
These cells begin an inflammatory response to trap bacteria and other offending agents or start healing injured tissue. The result can be pain, swelling, bruising or redness…inflammation also affects body systems you can’t see.
Inflammation is a natural mechanism that is designed to protect us, and help us heal – without it we could not function. There is a purpose for inflammation. In our bodies, inflammation acts like the first responders who rush into disaster zones, and who keep the perimeters of our democracy safe from invaders.
“Good” inflammation is known as “acute inflammation.”
But when acute inflammation goes overboard it is NOT good. This is your body overreacting. The overreaction can be difficult to control and lead to grave consequences (remember the cytokine storms associated with COVID-19 deaths?). It’s like an army that does not stop fighting, or whose fighting is way out of scale with the threat – everything gets trampled and damaged in the fight…not just the threatening element.
“Bad inflammation is “chronic inflammation;” it’s inflammation that has gone on too long, become entrenched, and now taken on the form of many different conditions.
It’s your body sending inflammatory cells even when there is no outside danger. It’s your body going beyond the threat of a pathogenic invader, and attacking itself. EVERY autoimmune condition – like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s Disease, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Grave’s Disease, ALS, myasthenia gravis, arterial sclerosis, and many more – has chronic inflammation as an underlying root cause.
(I will talk about acute inflammation later in this post, and give you strategies to cope with it in case of injury, but we will dive first into chronic inflammation.)
As discussed before, acute inflammation is a vital player in our bodies. It’s good, and necessary. But chronic inflammation…no. Chronic inflammation is a killer.
But what has caused chronic inflammation to take off like wildfire in the last 40 years?
Well, what has changed in these last 40 years?
No mystery – it’s how we live.
It’s what we eat and how we eat. It’s what’s in our food, water, and air. It’s what is in the myriad of products absorbed through our skin every day.
It’s the toxicity of petroleum products that swamp our every moment: plastics, prescription drugs, chemical crop fertilizers.
It’s how we move and how much we move (or do not move) in a day. It’s how connected we are (or are not) to a community. It’s how much we sleep (or do not). It’s how much time we spend in nature (or not). It’s the content of material we consume with our minds.
It’s the ever-increasing smog of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) that bathes and pierces our bodies.
It’s how fired up our sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system is, compared to how activated our parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest, feed and breed”) is on a regular basis, from all of the above.
The most important concept to grasp is that inflammation is a response; it tells us there’s a threat. Moreover, it is both that critical warning system, and its attempt to fight the threat. If there is inflammation, then whatever is coming into the body – be that food, poison, stress, habits – whatever is happening is dis-harmonious to what we actually need. We are out of BALANCE.
This is such a huge topic that I could create a whole semester’s course on it…I probably should. We are living out of balance for the way we were designed, and we are paying the price for this – we live in the first generation predicted to live shorter lives than our predecessors. And even when we do live longer, we live sicker.
There is evidence all around us…so many “studies”…
We know – and every policy maker who votes to allow or disallow chemicals in our lives knows. We are not living right.
It’s so clear that we are inflamed…sitting at the bonfire that is ourselves on fire.
What can we do to control this chronic inflammation?
First and foremost, we must understand and accept that neither good health nor bad health just “happens” to us. We create our health, on a daily basis, with all our choices, both big and small, which are way more powerful than any genetics we were born with. And there is no magic pill or potion – it’s OUR responsibility to get and stay healthy.
The Daily Dozen
Here is a core set of habits I call “The Daily Dozen” (credit to my mentor, Sachin Patel, for his inspiration by eloquently writing his own). Incorporating these into one’s daily life goes a long way to creating health:
- Time outside (unplugged)
- Joyful movement
- Adequate hydration
- Healthy bowel movement(s)
- Adequate sleep
- Healthy relationships
- Real food, especially lots of organic vegetables (more detail below)
- Mindful practice (mine is prayer and meditation)
- Intermittent fasting
- Attitude of Gratitude
Maintaining a healthy percentage of body fat is important, as fat is pro-inflammatory.
By Fitness Level
Athletes 14-20%. Fitness 21-24%. Acceptable 25-31%. Obese 32+%.
29-39: 21-32%. 40-59: 23-33%. 60-79: 24-35%
By Fitness Level
Athletes 6-13%. Fitness 14-17%. Acceptable 18-24%. Obese 25+%
29-39: 18-19%. 40-59: 11-21%. 60-79: 13-24%
Decrease Toxic Load
In addition, it’s important to decrease our toxic load by filtering the air inside our homes, filtering the impurities out of our water, checking the toxicity of our personal products, and eating the highest quality foods that we can, both plants and animal products.
Test to Know Where You Stand
I also think it is vital to assess how inflamed each of is currently. I do this using Physical evaluation and Functional lab testing, such as the following (potentially others as well, depending on each person’s particular needs):
- OmegaCheck (Omega 6:Omega 3)
- C-reactive protein (hs)
- Liver enzymes
- CBC with differential
- Chem panel
- Uric acid
- Sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Cardiometabolic Profile
Based on these test results, I guide my clients in correcting underlying inflammation – preferably before there is a presentation of autoimmune condition or disease process.
Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet: Cut Out These 7 Foods
The importance of diet cannot be overstated in its role in inflammation. What we eat and drink constitutes millions of input data to our health.
Read labels. Do not assume that just because you find it on a grocery store shelf, it’s safe (even if it’s called “healthy”).
**Special note: please wean your kids off the following foods and do not consume them while pregnant. It’s disgusting how many foods targeted at kids contain MOST of the following ingredients…
This is a basic list. I could go on, but eliminating these 7 will take you a long way:
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS): Usually a GMO product. Creates a particular triglyceride (G3P) that is an inflammatory molecule. Sets your body’s signal to store fat, so that you store more fat – and fat is inflammatory.
- Sugar: highly addictive, highly inflammatory, highly caloric. Often GMO-sourced. Neurotoxic.
- Grains: Overwhelming majority of people genetically likely to respond with inflammation to consumption (HLA-DQ markers). Often GMO.
- Dairy: Even when produced from the tiny minority of dairy cows not treated with antibiotics and fed organic grass instead of non-organic, non-GMO grains, still inflammatory for most people.
- Alcohol: Neurotoxic. Highly caloric. Effects brain dehydration and cognitive “fog.” Addictive for many.
- Seed oils: High in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which makes them very unstable in the body, creating free radicals and oxidative damage, and inflammation. Also, often highly heated (fractionated), and often rancid.
- Canola (rapeseed)
- Rice bran
- Processed foods: Basically, food that has been altered by man. Food produced in a factory, not grown on a farm: Fruit leather vs. fruit. Lunch meat vs. an actual roasted chicken. “Food” that survives on a shelf for years without rotting. Artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners. Fast food, manufactured with profit as its goal, not your health. You get the picture.
That’s what NOT to eat. What should you eat?
- Eat real food – as described above, food from farms, not factories..
- Drink fresh water (from glass or stainless steel, not plastic).
- Meals prepared with intention and eaten in peace.Take your time, and give thanks.
- Eat organic, even if it’s more expensive – often it’s not, and it is even less expensive than illness that results from improper fuel.
- Eat “50 in 30” – 50 different plant-sourced foods every 30 days to create a diverse and strong microbiome. Because I know this can be tough to do in a modern life, I developed my Solutions Greens for a delicious GRASS-FREE way to get your greens.
- Eat the super foods, rich in polyphenols, like berries, herbs and spices, greens, and all the foods that represent the beautiful colors of the rainbow. Here again, my Solutions Greens can help you get these into your diet.
What About Acute Inflammation?
When you are in pain from an injury or illness, you may be doing all of the above and yet still hurt. If you are not doing all of the above, start there. You are a multi-factorial being; your injury/illness is multi-factorial, and your healing will be as well, so get your food, water and habits in order.
Also use “RICE,” which stands for “Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation.” Meaning, if you have an injury, you can address it with these modalities for relief.
- Rest as needed, but do not get sedentary. For most people I see, it is not about telling them to move less because they want to return to Cross Fit or Zumba or surfing, than it is about reminding them to maintain at least a gentle level of mobility: walking, stretching (not to pain), gentle yoga, even some dancing or gardening. Get off that couch as soon as is prudent, and keep your mobility…mobilized.
- Ice is a great tool I see mostly underestimated as a relieving therapy. It’s fantastic! I recommend alternating it 10-20 minutes on and off throughout the day on your injury. The body will send heat from the injured part to the surface skin to try and warm it, drawing out the heat (the “flame”) of the inflammation.
For ice massage, freeze water in a disposable cup and then peel back an inch or so to reveal a “massage popsicle.” This is great on the neck, knees, jaw, elbow which have those nooks and crannies to get into. Again, alternate 10-20 minutes on and off.
If you have access to an ice bath, or cryotherapy facility, these can be especially great. Beyond addressing the specific injury by increasing circulation and reducing inflammation, benefits are far-reaching. Awareness is increasing as research shows the benefit of cryotherapy in overall immune support, mental health, healthy fats regulation, and more.
What about heat therapy? Typically, I recommend heat on tightness rather than a fresh inflammation. A “flame” doesn’t need any more heat!
- Compression can feel really good for an inflamed body part, and I send patients to the good old drug store for readily available compression braces for low back, knees, neck, etc.
It’s good to remember to use compressive therapy tools as a temporary measure. For an ongoing situation, see your provider and get to the root of the issue to resolve it. Chiropractic is great. Acupuncture, physical therapy and corrective massage can all play synergistic roles. **Please do NOT settle for prescription muscle relaxers – demand correction (and be willing to do your part), not just management of symptoms. For muscular tightness and spasms, I suggest magnesium loading with special types of magnesium.
- Elevation is appropriate for injuries in your extremities to get that stagnant blood out of the injured part, back into circulation, and to draw fresh healing blood into it.
What about nutrition for acute inflammation?
Most importantly, keep your gut healthy, because it is the interface between the outside world and the inside world of YOU. It is THE most important source of your immunity and your healing.
Avoid all the inflammatory foods mention in detail above (remember, food is your most important supplement!). Fuel your miracle machine properly.
In addition, I frequently suggest a few other supplements.
I often use selective pro-resolving mediators to help support the immune system as they help “clean up the mess” after the body has done its job of mobilizing its innate inflammatory response to address its injury. I like to recommend THIS for post-surgical recovery (or any chronic inflammation, really), and keep it stocked in my clinic, although I don’t sell it online in my store, SolutionsMethodHealth.com.
Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) is well-documented to dial down inflammation. Quercetin, boswellia, rutin, trans-resveratrol, ginger and specific proteases can also be very powerful. I combined all of these into one powerful formulation for inflammation, my own Proteo DeFlam.
In addition, always HYDRATE. On a regular basis, I recommend drinking half your body weight pounds in ounces of pure water, but in case of acute inflammation, drink a lot more: even a gallon a day is not too much for most people in that case.
Going Forward: Inflammation’s Role in Our Future
Unfortunately, inflammation is going to play a bigger and bigger role in all of our lives in this modern world. We will need to stay increasingly proactive in our habits, diets, and nutritional supplementation. We need to decrease the “inflammatory load” as well as we can on a daily basis to stay ahead of chronic illness, by eating aggressively well, drinking pure water, maintaining healthy emotional hygiene, sleeping right, moving right, thinking right, and doing all the things we know we should.
If “normal” means how most people are, then the last thing you want to be in a sick world is normal! Be fierce, be weird, and be independent! Never stop learning, never stop improving, and be willing to throw out old ways of thinking.
In Functional Medicine, there is an old saying: “Thank your illness; it’s keeping you well.” If you find yourself suffering from either acute inflammation from an injury or illness, or chronic inflammation, in the form of an autoimmune condition or disease, look at it as an opportunity to turn your health around.
They say the two best times to plant a tree are 20 years ago…and today: it’s never too late (or too early) to improve your situation.
Seize your opportunity right now as a wake-up call to take responsibility for yourself in every way, especially your health.
If it’s time to get to the root of your health issues and you know you need an expert guide, please reach out. If you want to know if you are already inflamed, and just how inflamed you are before it erupts into an autoimmune condition, I can help. I am here to serve.
If someone you care about needs to read this, please share. Help me get the word out about inflammation; the stakes couldn’t be higher.
Yours in health,
Dr. Wade Binley