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Inflammation: What is it? What factors in YOU affect how fast, or how slow, your body will heal?

women with questionsA lot of patients’ ask me: How long is it going to take to get from where I am now to where I want to be in my health? How long is it going to take for my pain to go away? How long for my allergies to go down? How long for my body to start working a little bit better/ a lot better?

And that depends on a whole bunch of things. But there are some basic things we need to understand about inflammation which helps us understand what’s actually going on when the body is inflamed  when we have pain in the body; whether it’s the GI tract, the sinuses, your muscles, or your nerves.

The different levels of inflammation

I like to think about inflammation on several different levels, to better understand its causes, and therefore, how to best treat it.

On a physical level you get whacked, you get an ‘owie’. This is our body meeting a force that overpowers the integrity of the joints holding it together. An example of this is ‘going over the handlebars’ of your bicycle, or a spinal joint that you tweak when you are gardening or lifting, or just doing a basic movement, such as picking up a pen, or a toothbrush, because your joints were overwhelmed.

Inflammation on an environmental level occurs due to our exposure to toxins in the environment, such as chemicals and pollution. Our body adapts to these toxins. Another common environmental “toxin” is pollen. When it gets hot in spring and everything starts blooming, a lot of sinuses can get inflamed. The body’s response is to produce excess histamines, which inflames the body and the sinuses.

On an emotional level inflammation can be perpetuated. Our emotions are governed by blood sugar and hormonal variations. Also, shifting situations, stress and our ability to handle it, in our home or work life, can cause inflammation, not just in the body, but in the brain.

Specific types of inflammation

As you can see, there are a lot of different ways our body systems can get overwhelmed. Let’s get more specific on some factors that influence inflammation.

  • Bio-mechanical – when the body gets overwhelmed by a single or repetitive force. Constant repetition can prolong inflammation.
  • Degeneration – What if the cartilage in a joint is worn? What if the cartilage is more worn in one joint than another adjacent joint, or one side of a joint is more worn than another? The joint is more susceptible to injury. We like to get ‘wiggle’ in a joint. If you watched the Understanding Chiropractic video you’ll understand why joint movement is important, and consequently, why people get such good results from chiropractic. The degeneration, the way things wear, is going to affect the amount of inflammation. Because when there’s degeneration there’s always a little bit of inflammation going on, whether it’s the cartilage breaking down, it’s the ligaments losing their tension, the joint capsules becoming contracted and fibrotic (stiff) due to prolonged immobility or joint restriction, or it’s the bones creating bone spurs. These are all things that can increase inflammation.
  • Poor muscle tone – when we’ve not used a muscle in a while. Commonly, you see poor muscle tone around the abdominal (tummy) area, gluteal (buttock) area, strap muscles (in the front of the neck), and, in-between the shoulder blades, especially, right below where the shoulder blades come together. Poor muscle tone makes you more susceptible to injury, because these muscle fibers are either not engaged much or at all, or are inhibited by compensatory muscle firing patterns due to chronically restricted joint motion or chronic repetitive habits that injure and re-injure connective tissues (muscles, ligaments, joint capsules, cartilage, nerves), and can make it harder to recover from an injury.

Poor tone IS NOT JUST LIMITED TO MUSCLES AND OTHER CONNECTIVE TISSUES. You can have poor tone in your organs. For example, consider the liver. It creates anti-histamine responses. So when you’ve got congested sinuses and you’re trying to move all that inflammation out of there, the liver may be congested. How do you get poor tone in an organ? Your heart, or your liver? Read on…

Can foods affect inflammation?

Pro-inflammatory foods. Have you eaten a lot of those? Look at our anti-inflammatory food list. If you are eating a lot of Omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils, and/or a lot of sugars, and/or have poor eating habits that have been unchecked for decades, you are going to have a lot of inflammation, and this will make it harder for your body to heal. Those habits listed above will reduce the vitality and effectiveness of your organs. Your organs can get overworked and place a higher burden on your bodies ability to self regulate (perform homeostasis), self police itself from foreign invaders and self heal itself, increasing your levels of inflammation.

Inflammation as your body’s protective mechanism

The body is built for survival, not optimum performance. When we have extra stresses, our body takes it on and compensates. Striving to be our best is obviously what we want, but operating at that level, is some kind of pipe dream. Ultimately, the body will respond to the stresses we encounter. When we see an old person who is all bent over, that is their body compensating. If you straightened them up, they’ve have a lot of pain. They’ve developed protective areas, spasms. Muscle spasm is a protective mechanism to protect the joint from getting further injured. Mucus is a protective mechanism to coat the irritation so that the irritation goes away. The more mucus your body is making, whether it’s in the lungs, the sinuses, the bronchial tubes, the GU tract, or the GI tract (the large intestine), it’s a response by the body to try and get itself to heal a little bit. The mucus the body is producing is a signal; it’s the body’s way of saying, “Hey, I need a little help here.” If we can listen to and acknowledge these clues, we are better placed to intervene and effect our functional status both internally and externally, to help our body decrease inflammation and operate with greater efficiency.transform your thinking

Ways to address inflammation in the body – a systems approach

We can suppress inflammation with drugs, without fixing the problem. Which is one approach. Alternatively, we can start looking at the problem. Why is the muscle in spasm? Why are we creating more mucus? What system needs to be supported? Here is an overview of systems that affect levels of inflammation:

1) Chronic immune burdens due to the body’s compensatory/survival instincts and immune system reaction can and do affect your level of inflammation. This can happen when you get spasms repeatedly in multiple places in the body, causing a bigger burden on the body. It’s the same with allergies; these are different inflammations in the body happening as a response. We may have food sensitivities that are inflaming our gut a little bit. And pollen that’s irritating our sinuses. When we have several things going on at once, the immune burden increases and it’s harder for the body to overcome. Then when we get the higher immune burden, we’re more susceptible to viruses, yeast and fungal spores, bacteria and parasites, which are around us constantly, all of the time. The body handles these irritants as best it can, and maybe it will handle it and pass it through with little or no symptoms, or maybe we’ll get a heavier burden on our immune system, if it struggles.

2) Foods can get to us. The most common food irritants are wheat, milk, corn, and soy.

3) Genetics: Sometimes there is a genetic predisposition, something your Mum or Dad are sensitive to, and you’ve got that in your genetics. This doesn’t mean you are up the creek! Epigenetics have shown us that we can strongly modulate our genetic expression….

Remember, there are two other factors that can help you: 1) Your internal environment, how YOU can personally effect your bodies processes and physiology (how YOU work). 2) Your external environment, the environment you place yourself in, what you chose to expose yourself to, whether its foods, toxins, emotions or thought processes. These (1 and 2) can make a big difference, and they can be modulated with nutrition, as the concept of epigenetics has now shown us, which is important.

4) Metabolism is another factor. Everyone has a different metabolism. Some people have a faster metabolism, where the food will pass through the body quickly, without a lot of transit time. Those fast metabolizers will not have as much exposure to foods that are stressful for them. Slow metabolizers will experience heavier symptoms as transit time (and thus, antigen exposure) will be longer. Metabolism can change throughout your lifetime, and, often does. This may affect healing times.

5) Allergy identification. Once a primary allergy is removed, it will often take down secondary allergies. For example, if we identify a core food allergy, and take that out, other secondary symptoms, i.e., inflammation of the sinuses, inflammation of the gut, skin rashes, etc., usually come down, either a little bit or a lot.

6) Metabolic hormone dys-regulation and stress. Adrenal stress: If your cortisol levels are going up and down because you are stressed all the time, you are going to have more inflammation. If your hormones are going up and down, you’re not going to heal as well. If blood sugar variations are going up and down, you’re not going to heal as well and you’re going to have more inflammation. Stable blood sugar and stable cortisol go hand and hand. There are some supplements you can take, but you need to work on basics first. Watch the video on blood sugar and cravings that’s on the home page of this website, which will give you insight into that. Stress is a big factor. The higher the stress level, the harder it is for the inflammation to come down.

7) What or which systems do we need to support? Do we need to support the way the body assimilates fuel? The way that we break down food molecules with saliva so that we can digest them and actually get them into the enzymes that break down the food so that we can get energy. Is it an assimilation problem?

8) Problems with fuel digestion, assimilation and elimination. Is it a digestion problem, where we’re just not digesting certain foods? Are we short on certain enzymes? Are we short on hydrochloric acid, or short on digestive enzymes like lipase, amylase. Do we need to slow down our eating so that we actually chew the food before it goes down and take the stress off our stomach? Is it an elimination problem? Are we digesting the food fine, we’re assimilating the food okay, but we can’t eliminate it? Are we having problems with constipation? Is that going to affect inflammation? Absolutely. That’s a factor that has to be addressed too, constipation means we have poor tone in our digestive organs, and/or have a high level of emotional stress and aren’t able to get rid of our toxic waste.

9) Is there an auto-immune component? Is the body so inflamed and “cheesed off” with us, that it’s saying, ‘you know, I’m done with this! I’m just going to throw a wrench and start annoying this part of the body!’ Whether it’s a GI tract, or a pancreas, or a thyroid or a muscular-skeletal malady like a Rheumatoid Arthritis situation, or a Lupus situation, or a neuro-degenerative malady (dementia, multiple sclerosis, etc.), where all of a sudden the connective tissues of the body (joints or nerves/brain), are being attacked.

As you can see, there are lots of factors that affect inflammation.

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Stages of inflammation

Remember, that there’s an acute stage of inflammation, where the injury has just happened; we get on it with all the normal things like ice, rest, etc. After 4 days we go into a repair stage, that can last from one to six weeks, where we get new collagen laid down, and then we start to remodel tissue over the next 3-18 months, depending on how significant the initial injury was, or is. Collagen can take up to 18 months to remodel. When the pain is going down, this is still happening. There is tissue remodeling while we’re doing exercises. Our goal is always to create a more flexible and durable scar tissue, one which will be less likely reinjured and one which minimizes chronic inflammation. Usually, the tissue is remodeling long after the pain has gone away, that’s why we may be seeing you less frequently, but still performing corrective structural work and working on your internal environment with the appropriate nutrition.

Chronic / recurrent inflammation refers to inflammation that is over 3 months old. This will affect how quickly you heal. Generally speaking, the longer it has been going on, the longer it will take to resolve, and likely the more inflamed that person is, as a rule of thumb. Luckily, chronic inflammation responds very well to both chiropractic care and whole food nutrition. For those more stubborn post surgical cases, Neural therapy is offered at our clinic, as an adjunct to the above care.

Closing thoughts on inflammation

Now you know the different factors at work in your body that can affect inflammation and unwanted symptoms that you may experience in your body. Where do you think YOU are on these? What areas do you want us to take a look at? Write down your thoughts and bring them to our attention!

It may be that while one person will have many factors contributing to their inflammation and symptoms, others have few and resolve in a reasonably straightforward manner. The key is getting the right information, from the right evaluation and exam procedures and performing the right tests, labs, and imaging, if necessary. thumbs up woman

This will help you find a starting point, to begin your health journey, with a plan, at a speed that works for you, to achieve a reduction in your body’s inflammation and symptoms so you are able to put them behind you. With this approach, your body is able to not only sustain, but grow, adapt and develop better functional pathways that support you, your family and your friends to a better more fulfilling and engaging life!