By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
I have been seeing a lot of inflammation flare-ups lately in the clinic, and wanted to explain how I look at them, and help your body to get back into balance again. After a couple of stressful years for various reasons, and often a drop-off of self-care, inflammation can look quite different for each of us.
Signs you have inflammation:
- Autoimmune conditions – rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Grave’s disease, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, mixed connective tissue disease, multiple sclerosis, vasculitis, etc. Inflammation may show up when you’re first diagnosed or during a flare-up.
- You may not have a clear autoimmune condition, but have positive inflammatory markers (C-reactive protein, ESR, ENA, ANA), and experience pain and swelling in joints, tendons or headaches. This is still inflammation, and is an excellent place to start a preventative plan.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Flare-ups usually involve diarrhea, blood or mucous, but sometimes present with constipation, pain and bloating.
- Pelvic pain with endometriosis
- Inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and vitiligo.
- Conditions that may also be inflammatory – depression, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, long-COVID.
With some of these conditions, if the inflammation flare-up is severe, you may be on strong medications already. This does not mean we cannot support the body with nutrition lifestyle too – you may be able to reduce your reliance on medication, or at least stop the progression. Remember – Naturopathic doctors are not against conventional medicine or treatments. In early phases of inflammatory conditions, and especially when you are clearly inflamed by don’t yet have a diagnosis, we can often significantly turn off inflammation and stop progression.
What to do if you have inflammation
(1) Find the trigger
What set off your inflammation? This may be a case of many small steps through your life (food sensitivities, many antibiotics, prolonged high stress, poor diet, too much alcohol), or can be more acute such as a significant life stress, a virus or infection, toxin exposure, or gut infection.The trigger is what turned on the inflammation, and where possible we need to remove it.
(2) Adjust your diet
There are several types of anti-inflammatory diets, ranging from autoimmune paleo, plant-based, gluten-free dairy-free, or personalized based on an elimination diet. This is something to be discussed to learn what type of nutrition plan your body will respond best to. It can be incredible how much of a difference the food you eat can make on inflammation.
(3) Prioritize rest and recovery
Remember your body heals in a state of rest. If you’re not resting enough, pain and inflammation will persist. This all comes down to nervous system regulation, and allowing enough time for sleep each night.
(4) Use supplements to modulate inflammation
Again this will vary depending on where the inflammation is, but there are many anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements. This includes turmeric, fish oil, boswellia, devil’s claw, berberine, ginger, vitamin D, enzymes among others.
(5) Get Tested
If you suspect inflammation based on pain, skin conditions, major digestive changes or other signs, then bloodwork and likely other testing is recommended. This may include a stool analysis, endoscopy, colonoscopy, CT, x-ray, MRI. It is important to confirm the presence of inflammation and the severity.
As you can see, the roadmap for inflammation is very similar to other health conditions – begin with the foundations (nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, movement and community), and then build from here, also addressing the root causes and triggers that may exist.
If you know or suspect you are in an inflammation flare-up, remember there are ways to help turn off this inflammation with simple nutrition and lifestyle factors. If I had to choose one from the list above, it would be to prioritize rest and downtime – remember that without rest, nothing in the body can heal.