Chronic Inflammation – What’s our gut got to do with it?

In the first article in this series we introduced how chronic inflammation can impact our health and function. Low levels of consistent inflammation in the body have been linked to pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Research has found that in some cases lowering the chronic inflammation has resulted in decreased severity of those conditions. In this article we will discuss how our digestive system, ie our gut, can be involved in chronic inflammation, and ways to improve our gut health as a means to decrease our chronic inflammation to affect pain and improve our overall health.

Our first article discussed how the immune system is responsible for creating inflammation. To review, inflammation is a normal response within our body that helps us protect ourselves from “foreign invaders.” But there are times when that inflammation persists, or continues to be created, when there is no real threat. Persistent, or chronic, inflammation is what leads to pain and can contribute to the numerous health conditions listed above. 70% of our immune system lives within our gastrointestinal (GI) system, as that is one of the easiest ways for “invaders” to enter our bodies. If our GI system is not healthy, our immune system can be compromised and chronic inflammation can result. An irritated GI system also leads to food intolerances and/or allergies, which further flare up our immune system further and create more inflammation.

Signs of GI irritation and/or food intolerances –
Runny/stuffy nose
Sinus congestion
Chronic cough
Difficulty breathing
Abdominal cramping
Muscle and/or joint pain
Decreased energy
Difficulty sleeping
Skin sensitivities/redness
Chronic headaches
These responses can be immediate, but they also can be delayed, which makes it harder to determine if your food intake is related to your chronic inflammation.

What to do to make your gut happier –
The first line of defense is to stop eating foods that irritate your GI system. Below is a list of common foods that irritate the GI system. For some people knowing the food culprits can be obvious, you may get any of the symptoms above within a few hours of eating it. But for others this reaction can be delayed. If you believe you may have food sensitivities, keep a food journal with what you eat as well as how you feel. Track GI symptoms as well as pain levels, mental alertness, overall energy levels, etc, as all those items can be related to chronic inflammation. You may be able to see patterns with food consumption and worsening of GI symptoms, pain, or energy levels. If you believe a food may be linked to chronic inflammation, try removing it for at least several weeks and see how you feel. For people with more severe symptoms, it is recommended to remove all possible food irritants and slowly add them back in to your diet as way to assess your sensitivity to food.

Corn (including corn syrup!!!)
Soy products

Eat foods that are anti-inflammatory. Consuming more omega 3 fatty oils and less omega 6 fatty oils is a great example.
We discussed this in depth in our last article. Other foods such as tomatoes, green leafy vegetable, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, and fruits can help calm intestinal irritation.

Consume fermented products such as cultured yogurt, kombucha, kefir, or kimchi. These help balance the amount of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria in your gut. The balance of bacteria in our intestinal system can become out of balance with poor diet, use of antibiotics, chronic stress, lack of sleep, and exposure to environmental toxins. Restoring this balance helps your body digest food better and calms the inflammatory response in your body.

Probiotics also can help restore the proper balance of “good” to “bad” bacteria within our intestinal system. If your system is missing some essential “good” strains of bacteria, consuming probiotics can help restore them. However, the strains available in a given probiotic may or may not correlate to strains you may be missing in your intestinal system.
Aloe juice is known to soothe the GI system. It contains a lot of vitamin and minerals and many anti-inflammatory components. You can scrape it from the inside of an aloe vera plant or buy it at the store. (word of caution, if you have onion or garlic sensitivities or allergies you may also be sensitive to aloe. You should also consult your doctor before consuming this if you are pregnant or wish to give it to children).  Try tea! Both black, green, and some herbal teas have been shown to calm the GI system.

Dr. Heather Sieler is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion

Taming Pain: Lessons from the Trenches, 4th edition, 2018.
Gut Protocol: Self-Care from the Inside, Out

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