Inflammation is the root of all evil. In fact, we know that it’s a part of every disease process known to man. The tricky thing is that it can be caused by many different things within the body and if it is present it dramatically hinders the body’s ability to perform properly and recover efficiently.
Inflammation can come from overuse, trauma, gut dysfunctions, food sensitivities, improper eating patterns, hormone dysfunction, and many other things. The trick is to figure out if there is inflammation present, what various things are causing it, and what strategies are needed to eliminate it.
Unfortunately, most people only think of inflammation in situations where they can see visible swelling. A sprained ankle, for instance, creates obvious swelling and the damage is apparent. If the ankle were to stay swollen for many months it would make you concerned and wonder why it wasn’t healing. You would probably then take appropriate steps to seek medical advice in order to determine why the swelling remains and what to do to eliminate it. However, inflammation can be present in your body and causing damage without any obvious signs. This can be the worst kind because it goes on for months, sometimes years, undetected and causes continual irritation and destruction. This destruction can show up in many different forms: unhealthy skin, dysfunctional bowel movements, brain fog, painful joints, fatigue, frequent sickness, repetitive injuries, etc.
One of the most common causes of systemic inflammation is gut dysbiosis. This is basically just a dysfunction or imbalance of the gut environment. There are many things that can cause this, but all of them cause gut irritation and increased levels of inflammation. Some common things that cause gut inflammation are chronic medication use, food sensitivities, chronic constipation, viruses, excessive bacterial growth, infections, inefficient enzyme production, alterations in acid production, as well as many others. What’s concerning about this list is that many of these are very common. Most people don’t consider GI symptoms like bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc., to be anything serious. The reality is that these symptoms are telling you that something is wrong! And if these are causing inflammation then your ability to recover from workouts and the stressors of life is drastically reduced.
Another common situation that I see in my office is the dysfunction of the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is responsibly for many hormones, but most notoriously for cortisol, which is known as our ‘stress’ hormone. When cortisol is dysfunctional it can not only promote inflammation, but it can also cause problems with sex hormone function and your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar effectively. These things can further lead to the promotion of inflammation. Since our collective stress levels have never been higher in the history of mankind, this is an important area to normalize in the body. Especially for athletes whose use of cortisol is increased due to the normal stress of training on the body. Training, by nature, creates inflammation on its own, so it is important to know if your ability to handle and recover from that stress is diminished.
First of all, you should understand that inflammation is actually a good thing. It is a smart response by the body to kick-start processes that lead to healing and detoxification within the body. Without inflammation we would not be able to heal. However, the real problem lies in situations where inflammation is excessive or never turns off, and this is more common than you can imagine.
I like to educated my clients by using the analogy of a bucket. Your body can handle a certain level of inflammation without negative consequences. However, when this bucket of inflammation overflows it becomes too much for the body to handle and symptoms begin to appear (fatigue, brain fog, poor GI health, unhealthy skin, painful joints, recurring injuries, etc). The goal is to keep inflammation at manageable levels and not let your bucket overflow. Now consider that you have a dysfunctional gut and you consistently eat poor foods. Inflammation may never shut off and your bucket may be constantly half full just from poor lifestyle choices. When you add the stress of training to the mix, your bucket begins overflowing and your ability to train hard is reduced. If you can identify and remove the things that are keeping your bucket constantly half full, then your training will no longer cause the bucket to overflow.
Recovery is your body’s ability to clean up any damage from the day, rebuild tissue, and hopefully grow stronger and more resilient. It is mainly done while you sleep, but can be hindered if there are constantly fires that it is trying to put out. If excessive inflammation is present then your body is using all of its energy trying to remedy those situations and has less energy to spend on recovering, rebuilding, and growing. This is why a reduction in inflammation can help speed and improve recovery. Your body now has more energy reserves for the building process. Again, another analogy to help this sink in. If firefighters are continually putting out fires in your house you have little time and energy to start rebuilding the damaged areas. Give the firefighters less fire to put out, they can finish the job, then you have plenty of time to rebuild.
Remember, your ability to recover greatly influences the gains you can make from training. This is because you are poorly equipped to spend energy on getting bigger, stronger, and faster, if your body cannot sufficiently recover from the previous training session.
So here are some things that can you do to try and reduce your bucket of inflammation:
Avoid sugar, processed foods, inflammatory oils, known food sensitivities, etc. What you put in your mouth is the most important thing you can do for your health. Learn how to do it properly and what works best for you.
This is where you recover most so take advantage of it. Focus on quality, quantity, and timing of sleep.
Supplement with quality supplements
Things like turmeric, fish oil, resveratrol, boswelia, glutathione, etc. Just remember to only use high-quality supplements from trusted brands or practitioners. Otherwise you are probably not getting any benefit.
Optimize your adrenal function
Tests like the DUTCH test can help comprehensively assess your adrenal function. Find someone qualified to help you. If you don’t know someone then we will be happy to order and analyze this test for you.
Make sure blood markers are looking good
Obviously, blood labs are one of the best ways to analyze internal health. Running comprehensive panels instead of standard basic panels can help you analyze your overall health, rather than just look for disease. Find a practitioner who is interested in using blood labs to assess your overall HEALTH status. Again, if you don’t have one then we would be happy to help you with this.
Manage emotional stress
You’ll never conquer stress completely. Learn strategies that help you reduce your anxiety and stress. Everyone is different so find what works for you. Some ideas are meditation, yoga, gardening, walks on the beach, tai chi, etc. If you feel like the activity helps shut off your brain then it is probably a good thing for you!
In summary, we all know that inflammation is a problem when it is allowed to continue excessively in our bodies. What we need to realize is that there are many things that can cause inflammation that don’t signal us to a problem as clearly as a sprained ankle. Uncovering and eliminating other more subtle areas of inflammation allows your body to recover faster and more efficiently. After all, recover is simply the name of the game! Improve recovery ability and you can train harder and longer!