Understanding Inflammation & What It Means For Your Health
- Written By:Dr. Will Cole
Discovering your unique diet is important for optimizing health, but there is an even more important reason to intervene into the dietary and lifestyle habits that don’t serve you. There is a storm brewing. Clouds are gathering on the horizon and it’s coming our way. It is the storm of inflammation. The signs are already upon us. A shocking 60% of American adults have a chronic disease, and 40% have two or more chronic diseases. Today someone will have a heart attack every 40 seconds, cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, 50 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, and almost half the population of the United States has either prediabetes or diabetes.
Mental health problems are also on the rise. Around 20% of adults have a diagnosable mental disorder. Depression is now the leading cause of disability around the world. Around 1 in 5 American children ages three to seventeen (about 15 million kids) have a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder. Serious depression is worsening, especially among teens, with the suicide rate among teen girls reaching a forty-year high. Anxiety impacts more than 40 million Americans, and Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Since 1979, deaths due to brain disease have increased by 66% in men and a whopping 92% in women. One in 59 children are now on the autism spectrum.
Why is this happening? There is one underlying commonality between all these different health problems— one link that binds these atrocities. Every single one of these health problems is inflammatory in nature. Sadly, this is the age of inflammation.
Inflammation is natural and even healthy. When you are exposed to a virus or sustain an injury, inflammation is your body’s way of working to repair damaged tissue. Inflammation becomes a problem though when it never goes away once the threat subsides.
It’s this chronic storm of low-grade inflammation that contributes to these various health problems. Inflammation can be triggered by many factors including medications, toxin exposure, stress, and the most important, the foods we eat — or don’t eat — on a daily basis.
For each of us, every food we eat instruct our biochemistry. Every meal, every bite of food we take, constantly and dynamically influences how we feel. But because no one else is you, there are no hard-and-fast rules that will reveal one universal list of good and bad foods. The foods that work well for someone else may not be right for you and your unique biochemistry.
The same can be said for the level of inflammation in your body and the subsequent symptoms or health problems it manifests into. Inflammation is insidious, and it starts brewing in the body long before a specific disease becomes noticeable, not to mention diagnosable. By the time a health problem is advanced enough to be officially diagnosed, inflammation has typically already caused significant damage to the body. For example, to be diagnosed with autoimmune adrenal issues such as Addison’s disease, close to 90% of your adrenal glands have to be destroyed.
But it’s important to note that this inflammatory attack doesn’t happen overnight; it is the end-stage of inflammation. Inflammation has ultimately been brewing for years, with the gradual build-up of symptoms a siren call for help, before it destroys enough to warrant a diagnosis.
We all exist somewhere on an inflammation spectrum, from no inflammation to mild to moderate to diagnosis-level inflammation that has resulted in a disease state. This is why it is important to find out what foods YOUR body loves and what foods hates in order to drive-down inflammation. Studies estimate that close to 77% of inflammatory reactions are determined by factors over which we have at least some control — including our diets — with the remainder determined by genetics.
By focusing on inflammation, it is a sort of skeleton key to discovering bio-individual reactions to internal and external stressors. We are able to realize from focusing on this is that inflammation is upstream from symptoms, meaning that it can cause or worsen many symptoms. Therefore, resolving inflammation can in turn reduce or eliminate the cascade of symptoms downstream that the inflammation caused— multiple symptoms resolved with one attack plan.
Inflammation is also downstream to some trigger. A confluence of factors, such as food reactivities, stress, gut problems, infections (bacterial, yeast, or viral), mold or heavy metal toxicities, and genetics is often the driver of inflammation. Cooling inflammation often allows your body to fix the primary dysfunction on its own, resolving the symptoms naturally by eliminating their cause. Inflammation gets in the way of the body’s natural ability to heal. If you can discover your own inflammatory triggers (what is causing the inflammation in you) and where your inflammation resides, you can learn how to douse it at its source.
In understanding where inflammation persists in your body, you can then target your lifestyle changes to better reflect these areas. In my upcoming book, The Inflammation Spectrum, I deep dive into how to discover the areas inflammation manifests in your body and then exactly how to discover your individual food triggers and develop a dietary plan that works for you.
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com and locally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole is the author of the upcoming book, The Inflammation Spectrum in which he explores how inflammation exists on a spectrum within the body, the various systems it can affect, and how you can discover your individual food triggers to overcome chronic inflammation. He is also the author of Ketotarian in which he melds the powerful benefits of a ketogenic diet with a plant-based one.