Inflammation is our body’s normal and natural response to any injury or attack on our immune system.  This can range from the soreness after catching your hip on the corner or the counter to the redness surrounding a mosquito bite or the flush on your neck from alcohol.  Inflammation that resolves itself is normal and not worrisome.  However, many suffer from chronic low-level inflammation at the cellular level that can cause serious problems if left untreated.  This type of inflammation is known as a “silent killer” and can develop without pain leading to obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.


There are a wide variety of causes of inflammation that can compound upon each other overwhelming your system and leading to health issues.  Each of us has a baseline for the capacity to handle these causes which can be based on genetics and our daily routines. When you have several factors, all putting stress on your body, it can be difficult to be healthy.


What causes chronic inflammation?

Causes of inflammation can be categorized into two types of factors, acute (you know the exact cause) and general (causes from lifestyle, habits, or environment).


Diet is a critical factor affecting the baseline of your system.  Certain foods cause significant stress on our system and when eaten repeatedly over long periods of time, chronic inflammation can develop.  Sugar, refined grains (such as bleached flour), and gluten are difficult on our bodies and often are packaged in one product such as cereal, cookies, or even healthy seeming things like crackers.  For many people, dairy and red meat can be inflammatory causing stomach aches or poor bowel movements.  Alcohol is harsh on our system and regular consumption can make it difficult to heal and return to our best baseline.  It’s helpful to know what foods serve your unique body and the ones that do not.


Stress is a huge factor that can limit our ability to deal with inflammation.  Usually, stress doesn’t show itself as a specific, acute issue.  A stressed body is already working extra hard to maintain balance allowing other factors to cause greater harm.  Environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, secondhand smoke, heavy metals, and other chemicals such as household cleaners can cause inflammation.


Acute causes are ones that you can readily identify.  Physical injuries such as infections, cuts, and other trauma as well as illnesses ranging from heart disease, Crohn’s, Lupus, or obesity are key factors that can unbalance your system.  Some of these issues are temporary or can be treated through medication.  However, if you have a persistent illness such as arthritis or Celiac disease, then your lifestyle choices will become an even more critical component to avoiding chronic inflammation.


What can I do about inflammation?

Before addressing acute causes of inflammation, giving your system the ability to heal inflammation and raising your capacity to deal with the above factors is critical.  Regular exercise such as daily walks and working out three days a week for 30 minutes is a huge step to reducing the likelihood of chronic illness, reducing weight, and building your strength.  Other activities that help your body and mind such as meditation and yoga can promote mental clarity and reduce stress.


Mindful eating is critical.  Avoid foods that cause you stress such as sugary beverages, breads, alcohol, and known intolerances.  If you know that a certain food, such as ice cream, makes you feel poorly, eliminate it.  Introduce foods that are nutrient-dense and help inflammation such as leafy greens, ginger, or green tea (and even small amounts of tasty ones like sweet potatoes, or a little cleanly made dark chocolate).


Being aware of how your body feels after you eat or encounter stress is important to understand the factors that cause your body’s inflammation.  Then you can change habits or diet to improve your ability to handle inflammation and feel better every day.