I’m sure you have heard inflammation is the cause of many of our most severe diseases: heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, autoimmune disease, cancer and stroke. These are the illnesses that are causing our insurance premiums to be rising up to 30 percent per year. Despite that rise in cost, there doesn’t seem to be a decrease in the severity or incidence of these diseases.
First, let’s discuss what inflammation is. To fix a problem, we must understand our enemy. Inflammation is the body’s response to a damaging stimulus. This can be a trauma, like a cut or bruise, or an allergen, such as an environmental allergy or food sensitivity. Even strong emotions, such as chronic stress, can cause inflammation. The inflammation itself is a chemical cascade caused by the release of inflammatory particles by the body, corresponding changes in inflammatory hormones, and activation of the immune response. These can happen in many different ways, involving several different pathways and systems. Reactions can be so mild we would never know they are happening to extremely severe and life-threatening, such as an anaphylactic reaction. It is the moderate-to-subtle chronic inflammatory reactions that concern me the most when it comes to my family, friends and patients.
There are some blood tests that can certainly identify and quantify different kinds of inflammation: a CBC with differential, ESR, CRP, ANA, IGG, IGE, allergy testing, and a myriad of other advanced tests. While these tests are of extreme importance and can be quite useful in letting us know of the presence of inflammation, they do not tell us exactly where the inflammation comes from and certainly not how to defeat it.
I divide inflammatory sources in the body into three categories: physical, chemical and emotional. Our physical sources of inflammation include chronic injuries and pains, headaches, postural and gait issues, old unhealed sports injuries, repetitive stress (using your smartphone all the time) and others. Chemical sources are the most abundant: poor diet; nutritional deficiency; toxicity; allergies; hormone imbalance; autoimmune conditions; genetic enzyme deficiency (MTHFR); digestive problems; any health condition; and infinite other weaknesses, imbalances and deficiencies of the body. Emotional sources are less understood by the medical community except that is completely known that stress causes health problems. For some reason, however, it is discounted as some minor or ethereal problem. In fact, it is an extremely specific issue that causes a very deliberate response in the body. From a Western perspective, stress causes activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which then causes spikes in cortisol, a hormone made by the adrenal glands. Our adrenal glands are a small fatty tissue on top of our kidneys. Despite looking like just a little piece of worthless fat, the adrenal system is of the utmost importance to the body. These glands make dozens of steroid hormones that control virtually all functions of the body—from blood pressure, cholesterol levels, sugar control, electrolyte balance, sleep, mood, reproductive hormones, energy, immune control, inflammatory control, and weight, among other important functions.
Cortisol specifically is known for stress response and weight. But it is also responsible for sugar balance and inflammation response. Cortisol is our body’s natural cortisone or prednisone. Many people that have been on a medical steroid are not fond of its unintended effects, such as weight gain, fatigue, organ damage, and poor mood. These effects, not side effects, are similar to those of chronic cortisol elevation caused by stress or chronic pain. However, if the body’s cortisol is high, the other related family of adrenal steroid hormones start to decline since the raw materials needed to maintain a high cortisol start to be shunted away from other important hormones. As a result, blood pressure and cholesterol begin to rise and the reproductive hormones start to fall, reducing libido and fertility and causing irregular menstrual cycles. Here is the not-so subtle first changes that happen as a result of any inflammatory reaction. Physical, chemical or emotional, our cortisol rises and our other hormones that control our sensitive and important functions start to decline. As a result, the balance or homeostasis of our body deteriorates and our health begins to decline. From a conscious perspective, we barely notice it. Perhaps a few pounds start to accumulate or our doctor recommends the first of several medications to deal with a slight elevation in our vitals or lab findings.
Inflammation comes in many flavors, from severe to subtle. Some may feel obvious pain, a digestive discomfort as minor as bloating, or swelling in their legs. What is a fact is that inflammation should be taken very seriously. There are many ways to truly deal with the cause of our individual inflammatory processes. I can say with certainty that medicine is not part of that solution. While it can be helpful or even necessary to control severe symptoms, it will almost never reverse our inflammatory sources. Specific nutrition, acupuncture, herbal medicine, bodywork and detoxification are some of the ways to help tackle fundamental inflammation.
There are answers; there are solutions; there is hope. We can not only take charge of our health and destiny, we can feel great, have abundant energy and happiness. We only need choose to take control.
Source: Dr. David Pollack, of Pollack Wellness Institute (66 Commack Rd., Ste. 204, Commack). For more information, call 631-462-0801 or visit PollackWellness.com.