The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Almost daily I read or hear something in regards to the negative effects of generalized inflammation. The highest rates of COVID-19 infection are seen in people with high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Inflammation is thought to contribute to the long-range effects of the virus: continued shortness of breath and breathing issues, heart issues, fatigue, sore throat, headaches, and a delay in regaining fitness. Inflammation as a cause of disease is not new. I have based my nursing practice on this premise for over 10 years.
Defined as “A localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection,” inflammation is what you see when you cut yourself. When it occurs inside of your body, it can cause disease. Chronic inflammation can cause diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
STOP for a minute and think about what inflammation looks like:
Red, swollen, hot, and even painful areas inside your body.
Because food is considered a foreign entity, every time you eat, inflammation is the result. A small amount of inflammation is normal. However, Chronic inflammation is not normal. Inflammation is triggered by many things: sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated fats, ‘food’ that is not natural (genetically modified foods especially gluten), dairy, excessive eating, alcohol, a virus, disease, heavy metals (lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic, cadmium…), stress, fumes, gases of any kind including smoking/vaping and toxins in the air as some of the main causes of inflammation. Food is less stressful to the body when it’s close to its natural state. When it has been altered-manufactured, processed, or genetically modified, for example, the body does not recognize it. This triggers an immune response. Then, stress hormones are released throughout the body, cell signaling is altered and inflammation is the result.
Why is inflammation so important when it comes to COVID-19? Because when your body is red, swollen, hot and even painful on the inside, the immune response is turned up and it has a much harder time battling any virus, fungus, or bacterial infection. The immune system is complex. 70% of it is in the gut. And if the gut is red, swollen, hot and painful, how will it be able to handle the intensity of COVID-19? Have you ever wondered why some people get more colds/infections than others, have a harder time with illness or just seem to be sick all the time? On the physical level its related to the underlying inflammation. And inflammation is related to lifestyle choices: food environment, and stress.
Inflammation is all over the news and it’s the root underneath the negative outcomes from COVID-19. The most common causes of inflammation are poor food choices, diabetes, obesity, stress, mental health issues and any cardiovascular issue (high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, vascular disease). While it’s helpful to understand what is going on, it’s more helpful to know what to do about it.
WAYS TO MITIGATE WHOLE BODY INFLAMMATION
In the coming weeks, I will dive more deeply into 4 ways to increase your physical and emotional resilience. Today, I’ll give you a primer.
1. Get Outside-Play/Exercise. Pick a time of day that works for you, not too hot, not too cold and go outside, take a walk. No matter what your fitness level is, you can walk (certain extenuating circumstances excepted). Aim for 40 mins a day. If today, you can only walk 5 mins, then do 5 mins. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself what a great walk you had. Increase gradually. Not too long ago, I met a 96 year old woman who walks, with her walker, 1/4 mile to the mailbox and 1/4 mile back every day. Can you do that? If your level of fitness is already high, great, make sure you are enjoying your exercise, not just doing it to do it. And more is not better. Too much of anything causes the stress hormones to go up.
2. Fresh air increases your mood. Early morning light is especially beneficial for mental health. Get outside and notice your surroundings. Notice what you can see, what you can hear, what you can smell, what you can feel, and what you can taste.
3. Eat Less. Fix your meal. Take 1/3 of what is on your plate and scrap it into the leftover dish for tomorrows lunch or dinner. Please note the important parts of the third sentence: *Take 1/3 of your meal away. Only eat 2/3rds or 66% of the food you fixed. *Sit Down To Eat. Yes, always sit down to eat. Before you eat your meal, take 7 deep belly breathes. Breath in through the nose. Exhale through the mouth 7 times. Look at your plate. Take note of what you see, smell. Is it something you want? Take a small bite. What does it taste like, feel like in your mouth? Do you like it? If you can answer yes to all of the above, eat it as slowly as you can and stop when you feel full.
4. Eat Real Food. Organic, unprocessed, colorful, if possible. What you eat matters. With some focus and some support it is pretty easy to shift your diet. Diet is not a restriction. Diet is defined as what you eat. So, start paying attention to what you eat. The easiest way to change your diet for the better is to cut out ALL processed sugar. Doing that will leave you with real food!
5. Slow Down. Slowing down decreases overall stress. It helps the body turn down the sympathetic nervous system and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system for rest and digest. COVID-19 has really brought home to each of us that life can be slower. I love my mornings: meditation, some exercise, a delightful cup of coffee, and a home-cooked breakfast. I like not rushing out the door. I like the versatility of working from home. And I like that everyone else is embracing that too. No meetings till 9 am! So STOP and BREATHE: take 7 deep soft belly breaths breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Sit down while you do this. Notice what’s around you. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, taste? Now focus on your heart. What does it feel like in your heart? What do you notice?
6. Get Some Blood Work. If you have metabolic syndrome, if you are obese/overweight, diabetic, have any form of cardiovascular disease ( high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, neuropathy, swelling in your legs), cancer, autoimmune issues, Crohn’s, Colitis, depression, anxiety… get some blood work. Fasting labs—CBC w/diff, CMP, fasting insulin, GGT, HbgA1C, ferritin, TSH, TT4, FT3, Vitamin D3, Methylmalonic acid, Lipid profile, Sed rate, HrCRP. These are basics and will give insight into whole-body inflammation. Lab values are helpful and meaningful when they are reviewed with a look towards well-being. The lab value norms have been calculated to get you to a place of not being ill. What is optimal for you may not be the middle range of antiquated lab values. Seek out a healthcare provider who is trained in optimal wellbeing.
Inflammation is the root cause of disease.
Inflammation is a result of:
Poor food choices
Toxins in the air, food, water
Reduced or poor sleep
If you have chronic inflammation you are at risk for any disease, any virus, fungal or bacterial infection, especially COVID-19. To decrease your risk of any disease or illness, decrease or eliminate your whole-body inflammation. Above are some basic measures you can take to get you on a path to better health. Tune in next week for a deeper dive into food choices.
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I aspire to fully integrate the best of conventional, nutritional & functional medicine with cutting edge coaching and body-mind skills so you can achieve optimal wellbeing.
BS in Nursing | MS in Nursing | Functional Medicine Certified Health and Wellness Coach