It seems that inflammation is the buzz word these days, especially if you are in the healthcare industry. Most of us have been taught the signs of inflammation: 1) Red; 2) Swollen; 3) Hot. So it’s hard to comprehend that there is invisible inflammation as well. Inflammation can happen anywhere, and most of the time we feel it, our joints ache; we have headaches and migraines, digestive upset, sore throat, and heartburn. But there are other signs of inflammation, water retention, nerve pain, gas, and discomfort inside our digestive tract that we may not be tuned into. If you hurt, you probably have inflammation.
The new science is pointing to evidence that inflammation in the body is caused by the chemical reactions from foods we eat, and reactions to environmental toxins in our air, water, and products we use. It’s as if we are being assaulted on every front.
The other day experienced sudden pain in my right shoulder and arm. I had shooting pain into my elbow and behind my right shoulder blade. I was out paddling my kayak when it flared up. I had my fella pull with gentle traction on my right wrist while I tried to get my arm to decompress. It helped enough, but that shoulder was in a world of pain and I fell asleep that night icing it, hoping to alleviate my symptoms. I am no stranger to nerve pain in my arms. In my past, I had been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which had been attributed to the repetition of more than a decade of computer work and graphic design.
After a fitful night’s sleep I woke up with bags under my eyes and nasal congestion, and I realized that I was having a reaction and that I was inflamed! And I think that the flared up nerve pain in my arm was probably part of the equation… My first reaction is to ask myself, “What did I eat?!”
I have been strictly gluten free for seven years, and paleo (grain free) for two. I have taken a food sensitivity blood test and am very good about avoiding foods that trigger me, including gluten, soy and nightshades. Most paleo or primal folks will describe the 80/20 rule, which is where you strive to be strictly paleo 80% of the time. So for me, I allow myself a cheat with corn. I go out for tacos, usually once a week, and I have corn chips, corn tortillas, a small side of beans, and a tiny bit of salsa! The two days prior to my pain flare I had eaten corn chips and salsa at lunch with my friends, gone out to dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant that had house made tortilla chips–o they were good. The next day I had eaten leftovers–a taco… and then that night gone out to dinner with my fella–you guessed it, more chips and a tostada with corn again! I am certain that it was my diet that caused my pain flare. It may have been the tomatoes and peppers from the salsas, the corn, or the soy oil that the chips are fried in.
It doesn’t really matter to me which food item was the culprit. I know that repeated exposure to inflammatory foods causes inflammation. And of course, multiple days of being inflamed caused a larger pain flare. That makes sense. It’s just that sometimes, I forget… and then my body reminds me. So the next time you’ve got a nagging pain, that muscular contraction, or nerve pain, or a headache, think to yourself that it may well be caused by the chemical reaction in your digestive tract. If you’ve got skin conditions, it is usually something you’ve eaten or are being exposed to.
So, how do you start making changes to decrease inflammation? Start with what you can control. Change your diet a bit. Cut out inflammatory foods. You can start with any of these, and incorporate more when you are ready:
Eat more vegetables and fruits, try to eat greens at every meal
Go Gluten Free
Go Soy Free
Cut out High Fructose Corn Syrup
Cut out vegetable oils. Choose Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Ghee or Butter, or Lard
Reduce Grains and Legumes
Choose quality meats and eggs, choose Grass-Fed, Wild-Caught, Free Range, and Organic
Avoid food coloring
Read labels – ALL THE TIME
Drink more water, I target 64oz/day, on days I don’t, I hurt all over.
Use quality salt – Celtic Sea Salt or Himalayan Salt
Do an elimination diet, I recommend: The Abascal Way To Quiet Inflammation (if you can’t imagine giving up grains), or the Whole 30 (if you are interested in going grain and legume free). This will help you see which foods are inflammatory for your body.
Do what feels right for you. I personally read everything I can get my hands on. For me, it is the science that helps me make changes and take stands that keep me eating cleanly. Some of you will make a few changes, and then make a few more. When I make changes to my eating pattern, I start by “playing with it” I try new products and recipes, and I go easy into my new direction, I try and be gentle on myself. As I incorporate changes, I also cook for others in my healthful style, and share what I am learning about diet with friends and family. Over time you’ll notice that you have made larger scale shifts. Some of you will just make a giant sweeping change all at once. You might clean out your cupboards (take stuff to the food bank), and start an elimination diet today.
Whichever your strategy, as you clean up your diet, you’ll notice changes in your body, attitude, and your physique. Because, when you make the decision to make more nutritious food choices, your gut will be healthier, and the inflammation in your body will decrease. And then, you’ll start to notice how good you can feel, and you’ll start to see the connection to symptoms you experience to the foods that you choose to eat.
Blessings on your new path. I think once you start to feel good again, you won’t ever look back.
Here are the books I recommend for starter elimination diet or lifestyle change (click the text to view the book in Amazon).