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“If you can discover your own inflammatory triggers and where your inflammation resides, you can learn how to douse it at its source,” explains functional-medicine practitioner Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, ­author of The Inflammation Spectrum.

These are some of the most common culprits of chronic inflammation:

1. Leaky Gut

One of the main contributors to chronic inflammation is a leaky gut, says functional-medicine pioneer Mark Hyman, MD. “Having a healthy microbiome allows us to properly regulate our immune systems and to let in the nutrients that we need . . . but it keeps out the bad stuff.”

The microbiome is also key to strengthening the gut lining that separates the contents of the stomach from the rest of the body. “When that barrier gets broken in the gut, all of a sudden, your immune system is exposed to a sewer,” he explains. “That starts to aggra­vate your immune system, and you start to create systemic ­inflammation.”

Gut microbes themselves can also produce pro- or anti-inflammatory molecules. Confoundingly, some microbes can do both, depending on the presence or absence of other microbes.

Studies have consistently shown that a healthy microbiome boasts a rich diversity of species. “A diverse microbiome is more likely to consist of germs that will counter — rather than propagate — inflammation,” Ravella notes.

(Learn more about leaky gut at “How to Heal a Leaky Gut“.)

2. Diet

The typical American diet is another culprit. Neglecting plant foods in favor of too much starch and sugar drives insulin resistance, which in turn can lead to the development of fat cells, called adipocytes. These fat cells, when concentrated in the belly, produce inflammatory molecules called adipose cytokines. “It puts your body on fire,” Hyman says.

Someone with excess visceral fat may be suffering from silent chronic inflammation even in the absence of any symptoms, Ravella explains. “Visceral fat is churning out inflammation at all hours of the day, even in someone who basically feels OK overall.”

3. Stress

The stress hormone cortisol plays an important role in managing inflammation. But prolonged stress can lower immune cells’ sensitivity to cortisol, weakening the hormone’s ability to control inflammation. Severe stress can even dampen the beneficial effects of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Studies have shown that people experiencing a prolonged stressful event are more susceptible to an inflammatory (symptomatic) response to a cold virus. And chronic stress is a leading risk factor for inflammatory conditions, including heart disease and cancer.

“Stress can not only dysregulate how your body responds to inflammatory situations, but it also impairs ­production of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, which cleans up the aftereffects of an inflammatory event, such as an infection,”  says naturopathic doctor Cassie Wilder, NMD, founder of the Minneapolis Integrative Medicine Center.

The stress induced by poor sleep and loneliness is also a well-known inflammation trigger.

4. Simmering Infections

Lingering infections, such as Lyme, Epstein-Barr virus, or cytomegalovirus, can keep the immune system in a state of inflammatory activation. Address­ing the trigger in this case might mean working with a provider to resolve the underlying infection or send an active virus back into remission. (Learn more about Lyme disease at “A New Look at Chronic Lyme“.)

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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