Inflammation ~ The good, the bad, and the ugly

Inflammation – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Inflammation is not all bad! Inflammation is part of a healthy immune system. I want to talk about the differences between acute, chronic, and systemic inflammation. 

Inflammation is the tool of your immune system — or more correctly its the side effects of the tools your immune system uses. Inflammation is your immune system being active.

Acute inflammation – the good – Coming to heal, usually from a cut, bump, bruise, or a viral/bacterial/fungal infection — This is your immune system working as it should, and why you do not want to block swelling and inflammation. It is not a good idea to apply ice to an injury or even use the good ol standby RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) therapy any longer. These practices block your bodies own healing defenses. Ice can be used for the first couple hours after an injury only to reduce pain, it might be a better option than other pain relievers.

  • In 2015 Dr. Gabe Mirkin, the doctor who coined RICE in 1978 rescinded it! Now he promotes not icing. Here is his release.

Chronic Inflammation – the bad – Pain that gets stuck, hangs around too long, mostly in one area, perhaps your lower back or neck, or around a particular organ that may not be functioning correctly. Healing an area seems to take too long or is not happening at all. Chronic inflammation is your immune system getting overworked. More on this to come.

Systemic Inflammation – the ugly – Inflammation body wide, from inflamed arteries to inflamed joints, skin issues, periodontal and other gum/teeth issues, and overall sluggishness in the body. This is usually due to lifestyle factors — a lifestyle gone awry for too long. Systemic inflammation could also be from a disease such as cancer or auto-immunity.

Inflammation is your immune system coming to do battle. What is your immune system? It is a complex network of certain organs and systems, it includes your:

  • spleen
  • lymphatic system
  • thymus
  • cells that have their own mini defense systems
  • commensal bacteria in our gut, skin, mouth, eyes, nose and other mucus tissues
    • This is why all this hand sanitizing is going to end up creating more viruses than preventing them. Our skin has its own probiotics, the commensal bacteria on our skin is our first line of defense against bad bacteria. 
  • substances the body releases to communicate what needs done where. These are called cytokines. 
    • Cytokines are made by white blood cells such as macrophages, monocytes, and lymphocytes. Cytokines have one of two messages they can send, pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, these are named Interleukins, and are identified by IL- then a number 1 – 15.

Innate Immunity and Adaptive Immunity 

The immune system has two major arms, innate and adaptive.

The innate immune system is non-specific and our first line of defense. It goes after anything it recognizes as “not self”. It uses chemical and barrier defenses, along with fever, and white blood cells to engulf or kill pathogens.

Our innate immune system is always on the lookout in healthy people, looking to block any potential infections or intrusions from getting in.

Our first line of innate defenses are our skin, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and genitourinary tract — these last three tracts all have mucosal membranes that start the defenses.

Skin

Our skin makes quite a challenging physical barrier for debris and microbes to get through the multiple layers of cells, our skin has 4-5 layers depending on where it is on our body. Our skin uses several tools for protection:

  • Commensal microbes are a big part of its defense. These are probiotics for our skin and is why you do NOT want to use harsh soaps, anti-biotic ointments, and other astringent materials on your skin. You are killing the good along with the bad and in the end you will leave yourself more vulnernable.  
    • Instead, you want to feed your skin microbes — the same oils you feed your body such as sesame, olive, coconut, grapeseed, sunflower, and other oils we don’t tend to eat as well such as jojoba, tamanu, argan, and so on. If you are regularly using hand sanitizer you are stripping this layer of protection away. Very important to wash your hands well and re-moisturize with oils that feed the good bacteria. 
    • Good News! Essential oils are smarter than alcohol or anti-biotics, they know how to kill the bad without disrupting the good 🙂 Instead of hand sanitizer I make a hand oil with a strong dilution (10%) of anti-viral essential oils in a combination of sesame oil and olive oil infused with rose geranium (Rose Geranium is highly anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal). Anti-Viral essential oils: Thyme, Oregano, Ravintsarsa, Tea Tree and Niaouli, Geranium, black pepper. You can purchase this essential oil blend from Original Swiss Aromatics and make your own hand oil.
  • pH – The skin mantle is LOW pH, which makes our skin very acidic. This is good! The skins acidity is what kills microbes on contact. A healthy skin pH ranges from 3-5. Do not be fooled by all the alkalinity talk, if our skin is alkaline it has lost a big part of its immune system. We need a balance alkaline and acidity.
  • Sweat and sebum – Sweat (and tears and saliva) contains an enzyme called lysozyme which degrades bacterial cell walls, killing them. Sebum also has antibacterial properties, sebum is a yellowy oil-ish substance secreted by our sebaceous glands and its main job is to seal moisture in our skin. Dry skin is more prone to infections because commensal bacterial do not thrive in dry skin allowing pathogenic bacteria more opportunities.
    • Just like we learned about humidity in the air, dry air allows the bad microbes to proliferate and spread, humid air traps these microbes reducing their transmissions. Same for our skin.

Digestive Tract

Our digestive tract is not only used for digesting … it also detoxes! 

  • Saliva is our digestive tract’s first line of defense. Like sweat saliva also contains lysozyme.
  • Our stomach is the next line of defense, acids used for digestion are very good at killing microbes and bacteria. If a pathogenic microbe gets through these first lines of defense then often the next line of defense is diarrhea or vomiting — which is also a form of inflammation. 

Respiratory Tract

Cells lining the nose and lungs secrete a sticky layer of mucus which serve to trap microbes before they can reach the lungs, microbes love the warm moist environment of the lungs.

  • If a microbe escapes the mucous, our next line of defense is to cough, sneeze, or create excess mucus and a runny nose to eliminate the bacteria. Blow your nose, don’t sniff it back up!

Genitourinary Tract has its own mucus membranes to line the skin and protect microbes from entering.

How does Innate Immunity kick in to action when something manages to get through? 

Our innate immune system relies heavily on white blood cells called leukocytes. There are many different types and each one serves to kill microbes in different ways. Some called macrophages engulf and destroy bacteria, others release killing enzymes, others poke holes at bacteria essential shooting them. Pus is a byproduct of these white blood cells, pus leaking from a  wound is used up white blood cells. These white blood cells coming in are what is creating the inflammation. Do you really want to reduce those?

Other helper cells include NK or natural killer cells, mast cells and interferons.  

NK cells are particularly effective at cancer and virus infected cells and can kill those cells without any assistance from other white blood cells. 

Mast cells are close to the points of entry in our body — they line our skin, airways and intestines. When a mast cell detects a germ or virus they set off an allergic response by releasing histamine — which causes inflammation in the form of mucus, which protects your body from germs and infections. Out of control, mast cells are responsible food allergies – bot mild and severe, and for anaphylaxis.

Interferons – Interferons interfere. Once a cell gets infected it sends out interferons which interferes with the multiplication of the virus in the cell, and alerts other cells to its infection, stimulating your entire immune system.

The overall effect of the innate immune system is to create inflammation! This is the good inflammation. This healthy inflammatory response is localized, mostly non-specific response which works by increasing blood flow to an area bringing in white blood cells and heat. Other tools used by our innate immune systems include:

Fever

When a white blood cell encounters an invading microbe it releases a cytokine called IL-1 or InterLeukin-1, which is a communicater, it is carried by the blood to the brain and tells the hypothalamus to turn up the heat. The heat from fever is your body working to kill the microbe. If you have a fever of 1030 or less, do nothing but stay in bed, sleep, and sip warm water and herbal tea. Aspirin or tylenol for a low grade fever will do more harm than good. Fevers over 103o are your body screaming for help. Call your doctor!

Overview of Innate Immune System

  • Barrier/Mechanical defenses: Skin and mucus membranes.
  • Chemical barriers: 
    • Lysozyme produced in sweat, tears, and saliva. 
    • Gastric juices and saliva
    • Skin acidity
    • Sebum
  • White Blood Cells
  • NK cells, mast cells, and Interferons
  • Fever

Which all lead to inflammation.

What happens when our innate immunity is not able to stop the intrusion?

Usually this is due to stress, not enough sleep, too much or too little exercise, bad diets, chronic diseases, malnourishment, or if we are unable to meet our basic human needs. When our innate immune system is overwhelmed by these lifestyle factors, thankfully we do have another line of defense.

Adaptive Immunity or Acquired Immunity

Adaptive immunity is when our body organizes our immune system around a specific infecting pathogen so it can not only defeat it but also remember it and know how to kill it should we meet again. It’s like calling in the ‘big guns’ or the troop.

This is where our lymphatic system comes into play. Our body calls upon other white blood cells called lymphocytes which are highly pathogen specific, only lymphocytes bearing receptors that recognize the pathogen are called in. Whereas in the innate immunity all available innate white blood cells show up to the site.

Lymphocytes (white blood cells of the lymph system) are manufactured in bone marrow but migrate to our lymphatic system — specifically lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus. There are two main types of lymphatic cells, T-cells and B-cells. Our lymphatic system is what transports these cells to where they are needed in our body, and in the process removes old dead cells. I have mentioned the importance of lymphatic massage or circulating your lymph, as the lymph does not have a heart to pump it like your blood.

  • T cells (there are a couple different kinds) – are particularly effective at killing cells that have been invaded by a virus, fungus, bacteria, cancer, or transplanted cells. They work singly by producing inflammatory cytokines that induce apoptosis or cell death. T cells can develop memory and become memory T cells.
  • B cells are recruited by T cells, the T cells secrete the cytokine IL-2 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine) which signals B cells to the rescue. B cells divide and conquer by producing antibodies and secreting them. This is the main task of B cells.

When a macrophage or other part of our innate immune system can not neutralize the foreign invader macrophages and leukocytes (white blood cells of the innate immune system) surround the entire antigen and break it into pieces using their tools of destruction — either releasing killing enzymes, poking  holes at it, or essential shooting them to break them up into smaller pieces. 

These molecular fractions of the antigen are then carried to the T cells for examination! If antibodies are needed our T cells present them to our B cells, a portion of the B cells will transform themselves into plasma and start manufacturing antibodies mostly of the IgM type that are very tailored to an exact spot on the antigen and can lock onto them like a specific key. It takes a while for your immune system to do this — to figure out which exact antibodies will neutralize the pathogen — it can take 2-3 weeks for this process.

  • During this process different B cells will product multiple different antibodies that bind to different sites on the virus or pathogen, but only binding to some sites will actually inactivate the virus, this is what the B cells figure out! And there are usually more than one way to neutralize, so under natural infection your body will learn several ways to neutralize the antigen and produce several different antibodies against it.
    • Where as immunity from a vaccine can only provide one part of the virus, because of that the immune system does not form as many different types of anti-bodies, it will make one antibody against the antigen to remember. Natural immunity will give slightly better results due to this fact.

This “key” antibody is then displayed on the B cell like an antenna ready to lock on to the invaders, once the B cell is able to lock on the antibody to the antigen, it signals phagocytic cells to devour it.

The remaining B cells become memory B cells remembering that particular antigen and remaining on alert should it try to invade again. If it does the B cells kick into action much quicker and and start secreting antibodies even sooner — mostly of the IgG type that can detoxify the antigen before it even gets in.

  • Antibodies will recognize and bind to some specific feature of the invading microbe, each antibody is unique which conforms perfectly to the shape of the specific microbe. After binding, antibodies immobilize and destroy the microbe. Antibodies are Immunoglobulins.

Antigen vs. Antibody 

Antigens are the virus or bacteria — or any other substance that threatens your health. Antigens are non-self substances that triggers a reaction in our immune system. Antigens are also anything the body does not recognize. Antigen means Anti-Body Generating substances, and are what stimulates antibodies. Antigens are what alert T cells which starts the process of developing antibodies. 

Foreign substances are antigens, when they come into our body their antigens will stimulate our immune system to make antibodies against it. 

Producing antibodies against a microbe is your lymphatic system kicking into high gear! Now you understand why I place such importance on the health of our lymphatic systems — this is the system that creates the antibodies that give us life long immunity. 

Antibodies are Immunoglobulins. There are many different antibodies that fall into 5 major categories of Immunoglobulins:

Immunoglobulins such as IgE, IgM, IgG, IgA, IgD, you may have heard of these? Antibodies:

  • Neutralize bacterias and virus directly or if they can not directly kill them, a piece of the antigen is present to the B cells so they can figure out the antibodies to kill it.
  • Promotes macrophages to engulf and destroy antigens, this is called phagocytosis (phago = eat / cyto = cell).
  • Activate other components of inflammation within the immune system, such as mucus to clear the antigen.

These are all ways inflammation is healthy!

Here are the 5 major antibodies and what they do:

IgG – It is the most abundant and found is plasma of all our bodily fluids. IgG antibodies detoxify our system and continue to provide long term protection. I think of them more as preventative.

IgM – Is the first antibody to appear in response to foreign microbe (antigen). It attaches to the intruder flagging it for destruction by the macrophages. It remains in our bloodstream where it is very effective against bacteria.

IgA – is found in all our wet surfaces; saliva, tears, nasal (and vaginal) mucosa. They are the “gate keepers” and fight off microbes at our entrances. These antibodies collect the antigens and dump them in our mucosa where our body can slime them right outta us … this is inflammation ridding our body of the microbe — and why you do not want to pop a sudafed because you have symptoms!

IgE promotes the release of histamine from our mast cells creating inflammation in the form of mucus, creating allergies. This is the response when you eat a food you are allergic to, producing allergic symptoms. IgE also protects against parasites. IgE antibodies like to hang out with the gate keepers (IgA) and fight off invaders in our skin, lungs, and mucus membranes.

IgD antibodies bind to B cells and are thought to trigger IgM starting the whole process. They are found inserted into the membrane of B cells. They seem to regulate the action of the B cells.

The release of antibodies in our body is highly sophisticated response.

Applying this to COVID testing and vaccines:

There are 3 main types of tests:

Molecular is the standard PCR test that looks for genetic material from the virus in your mucus. It is highly sensitive but is time consuming and costly.

Antigen tests measure proteins from the virus again in your nasal mucosa. Most rapid covid19 tests are antigen tests. These are gaining accuracy, are cheaper and easier to perform than the PCR tests.

Antibody tests measure antibodies in the blood from a blood draw. They are fast to perform too, but don’t tell you if you have an infection until you are 2-3 weeks into it due to the time it takes for antibodies to be created. This is also why you are not immune for the first 2-3 weeks of getting vaccinated.

The one shot covid vaccines use adenoviruses as their antigen either from a chimpanzee or human embryo (depending on which manufacturer your choose), when injected into you it will stimulate the antibody process.

The 2 shot covid vaccines tell your genes to make the spike protein that becomes the antigen that triggers the B cells into making antibodies.

In wrap up, your adaptive or acquired immune system is sent into action by an antigen your innate immune system cannot neutralize, the adaptive immune system figures out how to kill the antigen, then makes specific antibodies that kill it and wages war on it binding and neutralizing them. It them remembers what killed that specific antigen and will react much quicker should they meet again.

This is your immune system at work behind the scenes! This is what stress shuts down — at least short term stress, long term stress is a bit more complicated but actually leads to over activation of your immune system. More on this shortly.

Being an aromatherapist, I would like to take a moment and mention some tools available to support the work of your immune system.

Immune Support & Aromatherapy

The first way essential oils support immunity is through stress reduction. Aromas make a big impact in reducing stress via the olfactory system attached to our limbic system which controls the stress response. Essential oils and other aromas can have a direct effect on our brain and nervous system:

  • Lavender helps GABA reach GABA receptors relaxing the stress response and making us feel good. The scent of lavender alone reduces pulse, blood pressure, and pain.
  • Ylang ylang also reduces pulse and blood pressure, while increasing alertness and attention. It was proven to have more of a harmonizing effect rather than just a relaxing or sedative effect.
  • In addition adding massage to essential oils is even more effective to reduce stress interference with your immune system. Many essential oils are effective in this way, in addition to lavender, Roman chamomile is also quite effective as are the citrus essential oils, rose is too though it is quite pricey.

Other ways aromas and aromatic molecules can directly support immunity:

  • Essential oils support lymphatic movement and reduce congestion. Used with massage, skin brushing, salt scrubs, and abhyanga (self oil massage) are the most effective ways to use essential oils to support lymphatics. The most effective essential oils for lymphatic support are citruses.
  • Essential oils can very effectively ELIMINATE AIRBORNE MICROBES in the air! By diffusing or applying to our skin with a carrier oil essential oils can render many microbes of all types — flu and viruses, bacteria and fungi can all be reduced in the air or on our skin reducing the likelihood of infection. The most effective essential oils in this area are tea tree, eucalypts, bay laurel, rosemary, and fir and spruce and the evergreens/conifers in general. Of specific interest here is these trees vary their production of volatile oils or terpenes from year to year based on what they are sensing in their environment thus decreasing the ability of the microbe to develop immunity to the compounds created — essential preventing “anti-biotic resistance”. Should essential oils every have to be standardized (and they should not be!) this variation would be lost and microbes would eventually figure out how to conquer the aromas. Trees and plants are so much smarter than humans.
  • Essential oils can boost White Blood Cells! Some specific essential oils have been tested and shown to increase WBC counts — some of the oils tested include Lavender, Lemon, Tea Tree, among others.

Chronic Inflammation — Your check engine light coming on and staying on!

What does chronic inflammation feel like? It could be body aches and pains, joint pain, skin issues or inflamed skin, excessive mucus, digestive issues, general malaise or lack of energy

Inflammation is your body’s response to anything that threatens it — inflammation is then used to remove the threat. Inflammation that lasts longer than a couple weeks becomes chronic and it means healing has not yet occurred. What could the problem be?

For the general population the #1 cause of chronic inflammation is bad diet and lifestyle. But it is not the only cause.

If your lifestyle is healthy and your diet includes a lot of anti-inflammatory foods such as vegetables, fish, and turmeric, and you get adequate sleep — which many in my classes or those reading this fall into this category, then chronic inflammation means you need to start digging to see what’s up. Sometimes it’s easy to find and other times takes years of tests and trials and guessing. So let’s look at some of the other factors that could be involved in chronic inflammation.

Chronic pain is chronic inflammation. 

In the case of a chronic pain somewhere in your body that just is not healing, sometimes it’s as simple as stopping the aggravating activity which could be causing an overuse injury, or changing the way you are moving — correcting alignment, correcting posture at your desk, in your car and how you move. 

I address this first because many have found me through ashtanga yoga, and ashtangis love to move and many times are active in other sports and activities as well as ashtanga yoga. 

Excessive exercise can be a cause of chronic inflammation — first the remedy, if you are overtraining there is a tool available to help you moderate your exercise — it’s HRV, Heart Rate Variability which I talk about here. If the beat to beat difference in your heart rate is not flexible (HR should speed up on inhale and slow down on exhale) it might be time to look at your exercise. Here is an excellent article from IDEA fitness journal by a long time researcher I have been following since the 90s on HRV and overtraining including lots of information on how to find your best level of exercise.

On the flip side, lack of exercise also creates inflammation in the body due to reduced circulation and blood sugar and insulin regulation due to decreased glucose metabolism. Balanced exercise reduces inflammation — there is a Goldilocks zone with exercise. And exercise helps us detox, which does reduce inflammation.

While it might sound like an easy fix; to someone like myself and many others who enjoy a sport or particular type of movement — giving it up or changing how you do it is easier said than done. I had to lose my practice as I knew it for about 2 years to heal some of my overuse injuries — and it was not just that, in the process I discovered my body does not make collagen (genetic dysfunction) so I had to add chicken bone broth to my diet after being vegetarian for 28 years. That was hard, but as my injuries starting compiling I knew I had to change something.

  • First in 2015 my back went out and continued to be a chronic pain 
  • Then in late 2016 I sprained my thumbs practicing in a different location than usual (on a rug), it became chronic and intense pain that did not heal.
  • In 2017 I started having some neck issues — 

Thats when I said “ENOUGH!” and in 2018 I backed way off my practice to 3 days per week and very therapeutic, in addition I added more gardening time, beach walks or bike rides, some qigong, and more breathing and meditation time 🙂

In November of 2018 I added the bone broth and within 2 weeks my injuries were 80% better. Now in 2021 my practices are back — but I practice very different now. For me, what broke the progression of my chronic inflammation was a mix of adding in chicken (only chicken! It’s still hard to not say I’m a vegetarian/pescatarian!) and practicing smarter.

Most times chronic inflammation is not quite that easy to figure out. 

When inflammation becomes chronic your body feels like it is under constant attack. While short term stress shuts inflammation and our immune system down, long term stress has the opposite effect. 

Long Term Stress and Inflammation

Long term stress depletes our adrenals and ultimately leaves us with too little cortisol. When this happens there is no brake to the immune system — cortisol can help to keep the immune system in check. 

Initially stress increases the cortisol in our blood, stealing needed energy from other systems such as our hormonal and immune system.  This is where you get sick frequently and have low libido. If this happens too long you deplete your cortisol and stress your adrenals. Cortisol gives you energy, when you deplete it you have no energy and on top of that the immune system can get over active because cortisol out of balance and not keeping the immune system in check. 

When our body cannot produce enough cortisol, white blood cells end up attacking healthy tissues as well. It’s almost like the immune system gets to have its “heyday” and like Marvin the Martian on Bugs Bunny the immune system gets trigger happy and starts shooting at everything. Cortisol in balance can keep the immune system in balance.

  • Too much cortisol = weakened immune response and frequent illness
  • Too little cortisol = chronic inflammation and overworked immune system. 

If you have a healthy lifestyle and still experience chronic inflammation then look to your adrenal health.

Other Causes of Chronic Inflammation — starting to find the trigger …

Chronic inflammation could also be a sign your body is trying to ward off an infection, such as lyme disease or Epstein-Barr virus, or other chronic infection. Your doctor can order tests such as a white blood cell count or CRP test to help determine, though these will not pin point why you have the inflammation, they certainly will tell you to dig deeper and find your cause.

Chronic inflammation could also be a cause of constant exposure to an environmental toxin, pollution, or toxin buildup in your body from various sources such as plastics, pollution, pesticides to heavy metals — such as lead and mercury which are in our air, and toxicants in toiletry and household products. 

Included in the category would also be problems such as mold, arsenic, aluminum, and many other threats that accumulate in our body.

There are hair tests and other tests you can do to see if you have a toxic burden.

Reducing your chemical exposures by being more aware of what toxins you are bringing into your household will help. I talk more about Reducing Chemical Exposures in this blog. 

Also seasonal detoxes such as the Ayurvedic detox I promote help your body detox — especially the toxins we are starting to accumulate. Herbs like tulsi are effective because they help you liver detox more effective and quickly, tulsi is also high in antioxidants and phenolic compounds that support detoxification.  Turmeric is also very helpful here, turmeric has been shown to help our body detox pollution. Vitamins C and E are also helpful in resisting toxic build up in the body and detoxing it.

Chronic inflammation could also be a sign of something like Crohn’s disease or gluten intolerance where your body gets so “fed up” with dealing with gluten it overreacts and starts to go after anything that resembles it — such as cells in your body that resemble the gluten molecule. 

  • This is known as molecular mimicry — your immune system gets so sensitive that even your own body molecules that resemble a toxic molecule it will start to destroy. For example in hashimotos disease dairy and gluten molecules can resemble some thyroid molecules, if you are reacting to gluten or dairy and you keep eating it your body gets so sensitive to it that it blasts apart anything resembling the molecule. Hence the body destroying the thyroid in the case of hashimotos.

In addition to food testing, an elimination diet would help to determine if this is your cause, I talk about how to do that here.

If your chronic inflammation is mostly digestive you could also check for parasites.

In review, other sources out side of lifestyle to check into are:

  • Over or Under exercising
  • high stress or chronic stress affecting adrenal health
  • Underlying virus or infection such as lyme or EBV
  • Environmental toxins and toxin build up in the body, including mold, mercury, lead, and so forth.
  • Digestive diseases such as Crohn’s, or gluten or dairy intolerances, or parasites.

Chronic inflammation is mostly lifestyle related

Most times chronic inflammation is related to lifestyle factors — for example if you are overweight and you have a lot of visceral fat cells (the type that surrounds your organs), your immune system may start to see fat cells as a threat and attack them with white blood cells leading to chronic inflammation until you manage to figure out your healthy weight.

Many people don’t realize when they are dealing with chronic inflammation. What are the symptoms of chronic inflammation?

  1. Body Pain — when inflammatory cytokines run rampant they go ofter joint and muscle tissues causing them to become red or inflamed. This shows up as stiffness in your knees when you try to go up or down stairs or muscle/joint aches and pains in more than one area. You might experience symptoms like puffy fingers and swelling from poor circulation. 
  2. Skin Rashes and skin  issues such as eczema or psoriasis. Acne is an inflammatory marker. Our skin health is a reflection of our ‘inner skin’ health. Your inner skin is the thin skin that lines all the tubes in your digestive tract, this skin is called epithelium, if your epithelium is compromised you will have inflammation — in your digestive system which will reflect on your outer skin.
  3. Excessive Mucus – Constantly needing to clear your throat or blow your nose are signs your immune system is creating phlegm to protect the lining of your mucus membranes in your respiratory system. Post nasal drip would be another symptom. Sometimes this is temporary such in pollen or allergy season, if you know you have allergies then take care to help your body clear the mucus. 
    1. If the mucus is from a temporary source such as pollen, then help your body to clear it and avoid mucus producing foods (dairy) or foods you might be a bit more sensitive too. Stagnant mucus is what starts to fester bacteria/viruses/fungi, flowing mucus (out of the body) is less likely to get infected with something.

If it is happening outside of pollen season then it’s time to look to food or environment triggers. 

  1. Digestive Issues — constipation, loose stools, bloating, abdominal pain are all signs your body is under an inflammatory attack. Chronic inflammation throughout the body ruins the lining of our gut leading to leaky gut syndrome — or intestinal permeability issues. Leaky gut will set you up for systemic inflammation, if you experience digestive issues frequently this is a big one to ask your doctor about. The gut and intestinal barrier is the largest barrier in our body – if you laid it out, it would be the size of a tennis court. The intestinal lining consists of the epithelium, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and microbes. Certain foods and many pesticides majorly disrupt this barrier — literally making gaps in the barrier that allow undigested food and other particles our body would eliminate— into our bloodstream compromising our immune function. This is where 80% of our immune system lies. One of the reasons eating organic is important. More on food later.
    1. Leaky gut is the #1 cause of chronic and systemic inflammation — the #1 cause of leaky gut is from eating processed vegetable seed oils such as canola, soy, corn, cottonseed, safflower, and sunflower. Sadly if you eat out, you are eating these oils, and if you buy any prepared foods … you are most likely eating these oils. We need to educate the food preparers and manufacturers. Restaurants is a good place to start, and they are vulnerable right now — now is the time to speak up if you eat out.
      1. Emulsifiers also degrade this lining — they help fat and water to mix — emulsify — and give an organoleptic mouth feel to processed foods. There are many of them such as carrageenan, poysorbate 80, guar gum, gellum gum, lecithin, carboxyl methyl cellulose, mono and di-glycerides to just name a few. They do the same with the lining of your gut, degrade it and mix it with the food you are digesting. Here is a list of common emulsifiers. Though some manufacturers like to tout there are health benefits, most emulsifiers have no health benefits. Some
        emulisifiers derived from beans such as guar or gellan gum may offer some fiber, but better to get your fiber from the whole food that does not come with side effects. 

        1. Ever buy heavy cream? Read your label, heavy cream does not need emulsified with anything … yet emulsifiers are added to reduce the cost of the food. Yea … food manufacturers can wreck the lining of your gut so they can make more money. See this ad from dupont
        2. And a note on carrageenan, while manufactures tout it is derived from red moss seaweed — isolating it from the seaweed causes the problem — just like MSG which also comes from a seaweed. If you eat the whole seaweed in its full form these components in it do not cause a problem, however extracted from the seaweed and used in much higher doses than you could get from eating whole seaweed they are problematic.
      2. Side note, certain medications such as cortisone in pill or shot form — and many others —can also degrade the lining of your gut. I mention steroids because they commonly are given for inflammation, but they have a pretty nasty side effect and can create a vicious cycle of inflammatory responses.
  2. Low energy even with adequate sleep is a sign you have some chronic inflammation. Just as stress takes cellular energy away from your immune system, on the flip side if your immune system is constantly working it is going to pull cellular energy — fuel —from your muscles leaving you feeling fatigued. If you notice this lack of energy, time to find what’s triggering your immune system.

Can you use your symptoms to help diagnose the trigger? Maybe. If you have any of the symptoms of chronic inflammation sometimes finding the cause is very challenging, so I’d like to give solutions along with the problems. Here are some tips on using your symptoms to help diagnose the cause:

These tips come from Aviad Elgez, ND.  He was on the Functional Forum (April 2017) talking about the top 5 problematic exposures (aside from a bad diet) that drive chronic inflammation and how to identify them, possibly, by your symptoms. At least it gives you a place to start looking.

#1 & 2 Problematic exposures are indoor air toxins such as Solvents (as in cleaning products — both residential and commercial) and Mold.  

Both solvents and mold will present with brain fog, balance problems, neuropathy (nerve pain).  Mold includes the above symptoms AND also you may be constantly congested or repeatedly get Upper Respiratory Infections.

A tip to know if your problems are from Solvents or Mold is to go away for a week or two — these symptoms are not persistent and will clear up if you go on vacation — unless you are exposed there too, for example some mattresses contain solvents and fire retardants that people are reacting to. And just a note on fire retardants — they are toxic! I don’t recommend them in clothing or furniture.

Note; one of the most toxic burdens mentioned above as #1 is indoor air pollution — both home and work.  We can control to a certain extent some of our indoor air pollution especially in our houses.  It is actually pretty easy to make all your own cleaning products, here’s a link: True Green Cleaning

Other ways to clean your indoor air:

  • Diffuse essential oils 🙂  Essential oils in the air are very effective at removing microbes and bacteria.
  • Look into an air filter — at the very least for your bedroom.  In PA I have an Air Doctor.
  • Open Windows – allow air to circulate!  Don’t seal your house so tight.  When I used to live in Central PA I kept 2 windows in my house slightly open all year round.

And a food note 🙂  Cabbage foods help us pee out pollution, you will actually process more pollution and put it out in your urine. 

#3 Problematic exposure is to Mercury / heavy metals

Mercury toxicity will present with mood; irritability and anxiety, and muscle aches and pains.  These will be problematic — constantly underlying and interfering with your day to day life.  

They are persistent and will not go away even if you go on vacation since the mercury is stored inside your body . . . it goes with you . . .  

If you suspect mercury overload there are foods and supplements that help you detox it, you need to do this with the aid of your doctor because chelators are usually used here and they can also bind and remove nutrients you need.

Most importantly remove your exposures:

  • Check what fish you are eating (tuna and swordfish are some of the highest in mercury) 
  • Double think about vaccines that contain Mercury. 
  • Check your mouth for amalgam fillings and most importantly check your dentist office — always choose mercury free dentist offices.  
  • Check your water for lead, I am a big fan of whole house water filters in addition to an additional drinking water filter such as a Berkey.
  • And do the best you can to get clean air …  If you live in a coal mining area you are predisposed to mercury in your air — and if you happened to grow up in a house that used a coal stove for heat (I did) you had an even higher exposure.

If you are interested in genetic testing the infamous MTHFR test will tell you if you have a genetic SNP or two that interferes with detoxing.  This SNP interferes with your glutathione pathways — which is your body’s most potent detoxifier.

  • Low glutathione levels is another common factor in bad cases of covid. One doctor (Dr. Horowitz better known for his lyme treatments) has successfully treated 2 patients having bad outcomes from covid with NAC (N-acteylcystein) a pre-cursor to glutathione, in under an hour patients that were struggling for breath were able to breathe better. He has documented and reported his success, maybe someday you’ll hear about it … but most likely not with the unethical censoring this is happening through the general social media and major media.  

Below are food and lifestyle tips to optimize your glutathione.

Heavy metals are particularly hard to detox in general, with this SNP its even more of a challenge and will accumulate in your body over time leading to increasingly worse symptoms.  

  • MTHFR mutations reduce your ability to clear heavy metals
  • Heavy metal toxicity is often a root cause of autoimmune disease, especially Hashimoto’s, Scleroderma, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (according to FMx Dr. Amy Myers)

If you have this genetic SNP remember you have tremendous control over how your genes will express this — diet and lifestyle play a huge role on how your genes effect your health; here are some tips to help you maximize glutathione and help you detox

  • Cabbage foods everyday – help to detox
  • Fermented foods – small portion with each meal
  • Leafy greens — cilantro and spirulina / chlorella type of products are helpful in clearing heavy metals
  • Vitamin C rich foods everyday
  • Green tea, turmeric, rosemary, and milk thistle are all helpful in increasing glutathione.
  • Sweat most every day

#4 Top exposure is to Pesticides 

Symptoms of chronic pesticide exposure are hard to pinpoint as it may take years of exposure until you start feeling symptoms.  Here are some signs to watch for along the way that have been noted in farmers who use these pesticides:

Frequent headaches, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, restlessness, nervousness, perspiration an/or nausea (your body trying to detox), diarrhea, loss of appetite, loss of weight, thirst, moodiness, soreness in joints, skin irritation, eye irritation, irritation of the nose and throat.

These tend to be chronic since we carry these around in our body too; and are especially problematic during pregnancy.  

Chronic Pesticide exposures lead to depression, Parkinson’s, Autism, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.  Farmers especially are having these afflictions including tremors, Parkinson’s and dementia. 

If you struggle with mood/depression, focus or learning, or are told you have ADHD … this may be a sign you need to have less pesticides in your life.

This truly demonstrates the importance to eating organic foods.

#5 Toxic exposures are to Plastics PCBs and pthathlates. 

These are endocrine disruptors, If you have a high exposure to endocrine disruptors you may notice symptoms like sleep disorders, weaker immune system (frequent colds and illness), reproductive problems, depression, neurological problems and increased heart disease risk factors.

These carry the greatest risk for cancer and auto-immune diseases — and birth defects.

These will persist since the toxins accumulate in our bodies.  You can test for exposure levels.

Kim chee has been shown in studies to help you pee out more plastics 🙂

Endocrine disruptors — Plastics and Personal Care products

Plastics

Plastics; they are ubiquitous.  Plastics are in our water, in our blood, in food, in our fish, in our sea salt, in our cosmetics, and even in some toothpastes! Plastics are pretty much everywhere and this is leading to harm. We need to as a society figure out how to use less plastic! MORE HERE 

And one last final reminder … the #1 cause of diseases is from processed foods.

Pro-Inflammatory and Anti-Inflammatory cytokines

Pro-inflammatory cytokines show up to help defeat an invader, anti-inflammatory cytokines show up to mop up the mess.

Cytokines are small proteins that are the communication system of our immune system. In Greek cytokine means “setting cells in motion”. They are manufactured by the monocytes, lymphocytes, macrophages and other cells of the immune system which you learned about when I was talking about a healthy inflammatory response. 

There are many different types of cytokines such as Interleukins (IL- and a number), interferons, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and many more. Here is a chart showing the cytokines, what they do, where they come from, and whether they are pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. There are more pro-inflammatory cytokines than anti-inflammatory — 12:6 to be exact. There are other cytokines that work with the adaptive immune system that are more neutral between pro and anti-inflammatory.

Cytokines are produced in response to an invading pathogen to stimulate our immune system into action. They stimulate the inflammatory responses that neutralize microbes and other invaders as you learned.

While pro-inflammatory cytokines are the tools of a healthy immune system, even when kept in balance, they create collateral damage while trying to defeat the invader. The inflammatory cytokines not only damage the invader, they can also damage surrounding tissues (like compound W put on a wart — but we don’t need to use that anymore to treat a wart, apple cider vinegar on a Band-Aid for a couple days is more effective). 

This is where the role of anti-inflammatory cytokines come in, they come in and clean up the mess, reduce inflammation and continue the healing process. It is important for this process to happen, but sometimes your body is low on the pre-cursers needed to produce anti-inflammatory cytokines.

What would cause your body to create too many pro-inflammatory cytokines during an infection? While some diseases do this more aggressively than others — it is still a lifestyle balance that helps your body balance the production of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines.

For example Omega3s vs. Omega6s. These are the producers of  new cytokines. These chemical messengers don’t just appear out of the blue in our body, our body has to manufacture them! Our body needs different materials or substrates to manufacture each pro or anti inflammatory cytokines.

Omega3 rich foods boost our production of anti-inflammatory cytokines while Omega6 rich foods boost our production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Our body needs a balance of the right nutrients to make both cytokines, they don’t just magically appear in our body!

In days gone by we used to eat a lot more foods higher in omega3s and lower in

Pro-Inflammatory and Omega6 foods

omega6s than we do today. This is part of the problem, we need a balance in both Omega3 and 6 foods. Much of the blame is the food system. Foods that were once a source of omega3s are no longer; for example beef. Grain fed cattle produce meat rich in omega6s as those foods are omega6 rich. Grass is rich in Omega3 — grass fed cattle produce meat higher in omega3s. See the problem? Same with pastured vs. grain fed chicken and same with farmed fish that are not farmed in a sustainable way.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT, EATS TOO.

Anti-inflammatory foods that help our body produce more anti-inflammatory cytokines include fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, and many herbs. Pro-inflammatory foods include grains, sugar, some seeds, and processed vegetable and seed oils — trans fats are the worst.

Anti-inflammatory herbs, such as ginger and turmeric also help our body produce

more anti-inflammatory cytokines, not only that, ginger suppresses the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines giving it a 1-2 punch, it increases anti-and decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines. And turmeric (and bee pollen) reduce the secretion of histamine. 

These are best taken daily even when you don’t need them — you need to give your body the building blocks to make what you need when it needs it. I drink turmeric and ginger tea every day in some form.

Anti-Inflammatory and Omega3 rich foods

Herbs and oils and essential oils naturally help our body mop up the mess created by healthy pro-inflammatory cytokines, they can also help our body boost its production of anti-inflammatory cytokines while reducing our production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Essential oils are also a help our immune system, essential oils are highly anti-inflammatory — most all of them, they clean up the mess left by a healthy immune response which can speed the healing process, but they do not interrupt with the work of the pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Where as an anti-inflammatory medicine stops the process of inflammation — both good and bad:

  • Steroid based anti-inflammatory medicines stop the function of the immune system in general and can have a very negative effect on the body.
  • NSAIDS reduce your pro-inflammatory cytokines without the side effects of steroids but they have their own side effects, specifically the lining of your stomach and your epithelium.
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduces pain and fever but is NOT anti-inflammatory. It is problematic for your liver, though.

So why is your body creating pro inflammatory cytokines and not sending anti-inflammatory cytokines to mop up the mess? Diet is not the only reason, it could be something underlying like lyme, a food intolerance or allergy, or an imbalance somewhere (like autoimmunity) — but most times these are not the causes.

#1 cause food and diet — high insulin levels is the #1 factor — too much sugar and grains, and processed oils.

#2 consistent low level stress — Which I spoke about how under constant low level stress cortisol gets depleted — cortisol dampens your immune system, when you are depleted your body can’t shut down the immune system effectively. 

This is another area essential oils help reduce inflammation, they have the ability to prevent and/or treat the damaging effects of stress — emotionally and physically.

Other tips that can be helpful to reduce inflammation during periods of stress:

  • Understand anxiety and/or depression, and find ways you can overcome them. These are not just psychological issues, mental thoughts can reduce or increase inflammation through their effects on our nervous system. Meditation and minding your mindstuff — directing your thoughts consciously can go a long way in helping to overcome anxiety and depression.
    • Here is an article in Psychology Today written by Austin Perlmutter, M.D. — the son of the famous functional neurologist and author David Perlmutter M.D., on a study that proved out chronic inflammation is one of the root causes of depression. “More specifically, research suggests an immune state characterized by elevated inflammation may confer a significant risk for depression.” 
  • Get adequate sleep … sometimes easier said than done. It is important to figure out your sleep if you do not sleep well — sleep is really the only magic bullet …
  • Regulate anger … anger is inflammatory in your body — our thoughts can increase inflammation in our body! Here are some tips to help regulate inflammation causing thoughts:
    • Practice Forgiveness
    • Limit watching the news — especially before bed.
    • Avoid violent and over stimulating movies — these increase inflammation in your body as if you were living them!
    • Be aware of your negative back talk — What are you saying to yourself. Are you brooding over politics or something in the back of your mind? That causes inflammation. Negative talk in general is inflammatory.
    • Work out with challenging situations with friends and family quickly —the sooner the better.
  • Find your healthy level of exercise.
  • Have FUN — having fun is one of the most powerful ways to increase your anti-inflammatory cytokines! and your relaxation hormones. Vitamin P is an essential nutrient … Vitamin Pleasure that is.

Life is tough, but we can navigate tough periods in our life and gain skills to sail through these times. Try not to drop into survival mode. 

This topic is not done yet — still a little more to come.

 

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