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A variety of indicators may reveal ongoing inflammation in the body. Some of the most common include weight-loss resistance, anxiety and depression, brain fog, fatigue, gut dysfunction, joint pain, and headaches.

The signs won’t be the same in every person, however. “Inflammation can manifest in multiple areas of the body, but since every person’s biochemistry is different, symptoms of inflammation can vary between individuals,” says functional-medicine practitioner Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, ­author of The Inflammation Spectrum.

Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and lupus are what Shilpa Ravella, MD, assistant professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and author of A Silent Fire: The Story of Inflammation, Diet, and Disease calls “overtly inflamed” disorders — inflammation-based conditions that can be clearly diagnosed based on tests.

Chronic inflammation can also be hidden, or silent. In such instances, someone may have one or more of the symptoms listed above, or they might feel perfectly well.

Certain tests can gauge general inflammation levels in the body. Tests for high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) measure levels of this inflammatory protein in the blood; there are also tests to measure interleukin 6 (IL-6), another pro-inflammatory protein. Both CRP and IL-6 have been linked to overtly inflammatory conditions.

Cole also looks at levels of homo­cysteine, an inflammatory amino acid linked to heart disease, destruction of the blood–brain barrier, and dementia. This marker is commonly elevated in people diagnosed with autoimmune conditions.

High levels of ferritin, an iron-containing blood protein that’s normally measured to help diagnose anemia, can also be a sign of inflammation.

The usefulness of these tests, however, can be limited. “These markers aren’t always specific — you can generate the same proteins if you have a cold or a cut,” Ravella says.

Scientists hope to eventually locate other markers that better indicate whether a body is silently inflamed — as well as reveal the cause.

Still, currently available tests can point toward important avenues of investigation, notes naturopathic doctor Cassie Wilder, NMD, founder of the Minneapolis Integrative Medicine Center. “If you suspect inflammation is coming from the gut, for instance, you could run stool testing or food-allergy testing that might lead you down a ­specific path.”

This was excerpted from “How Chronic Inflammation Affects Your Health” which was published in the March 2023 issue of Experience Life.

Mo Perry

Mo Perry is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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