Many of the strange, scary and uncomfortable symptoms that come with IBS such as back pain, gut pain, headaches, joint pain, itchy skin, weight gain, allergies, fatigue, brain fog, sleep problems, loss of appetite and depression, usually have one thing in common:
You’ve probably heard about inflammation but might not know how it relates to the gut.
Inflammation is a function of the immune system, and about 80 percent of the immune system is located in the digestive tract.
Inflammation can make you more sensitive to toxins in your environment or the foods you eat due to over zealous immune reactions.
My intention with the blog post is to lessen the anxiety that comes with inflammatory symptoms by teaching you the what, how and why of inflammation. And what to do and not to do about it.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the immune system’s response to a perceived threat. When you get a cut the classic signs of inflammation are heat, pain, redness, and swelling. Your immune system is causing a “fire” to burn up invading viruses, bacteria or combat toxins. Inflammation is a sign that your body and immune system is working well to protect you from threats.
The problem starts when inflammation is silent and chronic. A healthy inflammatory response should subside, but chronic inflammation persists unchecked. And often there’s no indication it’s happening unless you learn how to read the subtle signs and symptoms of your body.
For example, I know my body is inflamed when I wake up with puffy bags under my eyes and red, swollen, itchy eyes.
Chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain, obesity or inability to lose weight.
Studies have shown that depression may also be caused by inflammation of the gut and brain.
Psychiatrist Kelly Brogan believes the main causes of depression is actually inflammation, not chemical imbalance. For this reason she believes that anti inflammatory foods and supplements are a better solution for depression that SSRI medications.
A 2015 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that people with depression had 30 percent more brain inflammation than those who were not depressed.
When the body sends an inflammatory response to a perceived threat that doesn’t require a response (like undigested food), white blood cells swarm, but have nothing to do and nowhere to go. They eventually start attacking internal organs or other vital tissues and cells, like the brain. This can cause depression and other mood issues.
What causes inflammation?
Here are the most common causes:
INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY (LEAKY GUT)
When the small intestine is compromised by medications, stress, or bacterial overgrowth it can wear thin the intestinal mucosal lining and create tiny holes that allow undigested food to pass through into the blood stream. The immune system often tags these food particles as foreign invaders and mounts an attack. The body becomes allergic to certain foods because the immune system is on overdrive.
The most common food allergies are to gluten or dairy, but corn, soy, peanuts, eggs and shellfish are not far behind.
Eating a food you are allergic or sensitive to will inflame the body from days to months, from just one serving.
One of the most inflammatory foods for everyone is refined sugar. Ingesting sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. The sugars found in whole fruit are usually ok in moderation, unless you have a fructose sensitivity.
Many gut-healing diets remove grains (which turn into sugar in your body) because they can be inflammatory to a vulnerable digestive system for multiple reasons.
Processed foods and foods fried in oils like corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut, and vegetable oil also trigger an inflammatory response.
Olive oil, avocado oil, ghee and animals fats (bacon fat, duck fat, etc.) are actually soothing to the system and don’t have the same pro inflammatory effects.
Infections are an obvious cause of inflammation. The infection can be bacterial, parasitic, viral, fungal or a combination. Fighting an infection puts the body on high alert. This stresses the nervous system and wears down the adrenals over time, leading to adrenal fatigue.
Common bacterial infections, like SIBO, or yeast/candida overgrowth, can inflame the body and the intestines, leading to leaky gut and the inflammatory symptoms that come with IBS.
To heal inflammation and leaky gut, the infection must be eradicated first.
A highly acidic body (characterized by acidic blood) can cause inflammation. Acidosis of the blood is caused by many of the same things that cause inflammation: stress and high cortisol, a toxic diet (coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, street drugs, processed foods, industrially raised meat, sodas) as well as lifestyle factors such as lack of: sleep, fresh air, rest or exercise or working too hard. It can also be caused by a build up of toxins in the body.
The MTHFR genetic mutation causes a reduction in enzymes needed for detoxification and proper vitamin levels. A blood or DNA test will determine if you carry this genetic mutation. I just took the Spectracell blood test and found out I have this mutation. I’m learning all about it and plan to blog about it soon as I’ve discovered that this mutation has a high correlation with IBS.
This surprises most people. Strong negative emotions and stress can inflame the body as much as eating a McDonald’s cheese burger and washing it down with a milkshake or shot of Tequila. Stress can be as inflammatory as a raging infection.
That’s why stress reducing practices are so important and effective in reducing inflammation and it’s associated symptoms.
People may also have personal triggers for inflammation.
A friend of mine gets inflamed by working on her computer all day. It may be the stress of working or the effect of the electrical fields on her sensitive body. But since she’s aware of this, she balances her work time with time outdoors, fresh, unprocessed food and the moving meditation practice of chi gong.
HOW TO TELL IF YOU’RE INFLAMED
If you have food or environmental allergies or symptoms like joint pain, headaches, swelling, asthma, ulcers, blood sugar problems or constipation/diarrhea there is a good chance you are inflamed.
Inflammation is most dangerous when there’s no sign or symptoms because if you don’t know it’s broken, it’s difficult to fix. People spend years in an inflamed state without knowing it and are then diagnosed with serious conditions like cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
Left unchecked, inflammation tends to attack your weakest organ first and can lead to autoimmune disease when the organ damage become irreparable.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT INFLAMMATION
If you want to know for sure what your inflammation levels are you can ask your doctor to test for C-reactive protein levels (CRP), which increase when the body is inflamed.
This information may motivate you to make crucial changes to your diet, supplements and lifestyle.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish are extremely anti inflammatory. Salmon oil, krill oil and cod liver oil are great anti inflammatory options. They protect on a cellular level by inhibiting an enzyme that produces prostaglandins, which trigger inflammation. It’s similar to how aspirin works, but without the side effects of ulcers or liver congestion.
What not to use for inflammation
Most people use Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) like Advil, Motrin or Aleve to manage pain and other symptoms. While these drugs tame inflammation, they can also cause intestinal permeability. It happened to my husband. Read his story here and here.
I’ve had many clients tell me they began suffering from IBS after using NSAIDs or other pain medications.
Nature provides many natural anti inflammatory options. Herbs like ginger, rosemary, thyme, basil, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and oregano, for example.
But the king of all anti inflammatory herbs is tumeric. Tumeric is best taken with fat and black pepper for maximum absorption. While cooking with tumeric is a good idea, taking it in supplement form is much more powerful and effective.
I love this brand because it has the black pepper and oil rolled into one capsule and packs 500 mg per pill. I suggest one or two capsules twice a day, along with fish oil for inflammation-related pain relief. It also may help take the edge off of depression.
Some top anti-inflammatory foods are blueberries, fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, olive oil, leafy greens (cooked for easier digestion) and bone broth.
I hope my crash course on inflammation helps you better understand the aches, pain and discomforts you experience and that knowing the reason behind these mysterious symptoms will lower anxiety and empower you with tools to do something about it.
Angela Privin is proof that IBS is NOT an incurable disease or a disease at all. IBS is a body out of balance. It’s an invitation for change. After solving her own IBS mystery more than a decade ago Angela trained as a health coach to help others.
Angela uses both science and intuition to help people figure out what’s out of balance in their body. She works with lab tests, dietary changes, supplementation and nervous system rebalancing. Get help rebalancing your digestive system and solving your IBS mystery here.