Jim is a 45-year old white collar accountant working 60-hours a week. He’s married with three kids and in the last year, Jim hasn’t been feeling like himself. He picked up a spare tire and found it harder to get out of bed every morning. He always felt tired and kept thinking he needed to make a Doctor’s appointment.
On Wednesday’s, Jim usually came home to an empty house and cooked a loving dinner for the family. This Wednesday, when his wife got home with the kids, something seemed off.
The front door was wide open and when they walked in, dinner wasn’t ready. They paused in the foyer, paralyzed by the sinking feeling something was wrong. Heart beating faster, throat tightening up, Jim’s wife slowly peeked into the living room.
There lay Jim’s lifeless body, collapsed before he could reach the couch.
Panic. Tears. 911.
But it was too late. Jim was dead from a massive heart attack that ended his life too early. How could this have happen?
Every action contributes to health or promotes disease
Actions that promote disease create chronic inflammation, which is correlated with just about every disease known to man(1). In 2004, Time Magazine called inflammation “The Secret Killer” and each day we make choices about this so called “secret killer,” just like Jim did. For example, every food we choose to eat, every pill we take, the time we decide to go to bed, the city we choose to live in, the job we choose to have… each one contributes to chronic inflammation or helps calm it down.
So every choice we make about our health boils down to this: Pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory.
Working 100-hours a week at a stressful job with no sleep? Pro-inflammatory.
Eating a high-carb, low-fat diet filled with grains and sugar? Pro-inflammatory.
Drinking a few beers a night? Pro-inflammatory.
Taking Fish Oil? Anti-inflammatory.
Getting 8 hours of sleep? Anti-inflammatory.
Avoiding all grains (especially gluten)? Anti-inflammatory.
Years of making pro-inflammatory choices add up to chronic inflammation…
Chronic inflammation is like a fire raging inside you
Inflammation is a normal immune response in your body. It’s usually our friend. Think of it like the first responder to the scene of the injury. Pain, swelling, redness, and warmth are all signs inflammation arriving at the site and helping your body with the healing process.
Acute inflammation is a brief inflammatory response to an injury or illness that only lasts a few days, here’s a few examples where it helps:
- Injury (twisted ankle, broken arm)
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Sun burn
But chronic inflammation is when things go south.
Inflammation becomes chronic when it stops being an acute response and remains a constant low-level physiological response. Think of it like starting a small camp fire meant to keep you warm that doesn’t get put out and grows into an out of control forest fire, burning 100,000 acres.
Chronic inflammation is when your body no longer has the ability to turn off the inflammatory response and it starts damaging healthy tissue in your body. It could damage the intestinal lining in your gut and cause digestive problems, it could damage the arteries in your heart and cause heart disease, it could damage your joints and cause rheumatoid arthritis.
At that point, too many pro-inflammatory choices have created a monster.
Signs you have chronic inflammation
The red flag for Chronic inflammation comes when a disease associated with it shows up, like heart disease, cancer, or autoimmune disease like MS, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease or Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you already have one of these conditions like I do, the pro-inflammatory choices have already had a profound impact in your life.
Take Tom, he’s a high powered executive for a fortune 500 company, working 80-hours a week for the past 15 years. He’s got three kid at home and a busy life outside of work. Lately, he’s become 30 pounds overweight and started feeling fatigued. The last few weeks he’s noticed blood and mucous in his stool and he’s worried it’s going to start affecting his ability to do his job.
Then there’s Annie, she’s a stay at home Mom with three kids, two of which are home-schooled After long days teaching her two oldest boys, she still gets up 2-3 times a night to feed her 4-month old daughter. Not only that, but in the evenings she helps out with the youth group at Church. She’s completely exhausted, losing too much weight, and recently got diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She’s worried about being able to raise her kids.
Some of the symptoms both Tom and Annie might have seen coming earlier in life are things like:
- Ongoing, irritating pain in the body (like the joints or muscles)
- Allergies or asthma (especially when they keep getting worse)
- High blood pressure or blood sugar problems
- Ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (constipation or diarrhea)
- Constant fatigue or lethargy
- Skin problems or red, bloodshot eyes
If you think you have signs or symptoms of chronic inflammation, you can get testing done to find out if you’re dealing with the “secret killer.”
Ways to Test for Chronic Inflammation
There isn’t a single silver bullet test for chronic inflammation. But there are a series of tests that, coupled with your history, can give you a picture of the levels of inflammation in your body.
Here’s 6 common inflammatory markers you can ask your Doctor to test for:
- Elevated High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (HS-CRP)
- SED Rate
- High levels of Homocysteine
- Elevated Ferritin in the blood
- Elevated HDL
- Elevated Monocytes can be a secondary indicator of inflammation
- Elevated Blood Glucose is a leading indicator of inflammation
If the combination of these tests indicate you have signs of chronic inflammation, you need to focus on making anti-inflammatory choices from here on out.
This is life or death. Pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. The real problem with chronic inflammation is that it’s not short-term gratification. It’s easy to pick the inflammatory choices and rationalize that it’s not a big deal. But the bottom line is: these pro-inflammatory choices add up over time until one day, chronic inflammation is the reason you have IBD, or heart disease, or RA, or even the reason you’re dead.
In the next article in this Inflammation Series, I’ll reveal our “Bathtub Theory” and 15 factors that contribute to chronic inflammation so you can make the best anti-inflammatory choices possible.