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Dr. Will Cole, is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com.
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This week Dr. Cole talks about what inflammation actually is and why should care about it.
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com. Named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the bestselling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum. Dr Cole has also cohosted the popular podcasts goopfellas and Keto Talk and will be hosting the new podcast, The Art of Being Well, which launches in early 2021.
What exactly is inflammation and why should you care?
Inflammation can be a nebulous term. What exactly is inflammation and why should you care? Well, I'm glad you asked. Inflammation is an important bodily process that helps our bodies to heal from wounds or fight off invading viruses. However, problems arise when inflammation doesn’t go away once the threat subsides. This puts us into a chronic state of inflammation that can damage the body over time leading to the development of health problems like heart disease or autoimmune conditions.
As a leading functional medicine practitioner who consults people around the world via webcam and the author of The Inflammation Spectrum and Ketotarian, I have seen the effects of inflammation firsthand and how it develops over time. We all exist somewhere on an inflammation spectrum, from no inflammation to mild to moderate to severe. Symptoms also go along with this spectrum of inflammation including low-grade symptoms like mild fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, bloating, hangryness, and weight gain on one end to diagnosable health problems on the other.
This is why most people don’t know inflammation is a problem until it’s too late. Inflammation is insidious, and it starts brewing in the body long before a specific disease becomes noticeable, not to mention diagnosable. Until a diagnosis is made, these symptoms can seem just like a by-product of “getting older”. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Just because something is common doesn’t make it normal. For most of us, it’s too late by the time we are diagnosed. By the time someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. research estimates that things were brewing on the larger autoimmune-inflammation spectrum 4-10 years prior to their diagnosis. They didn't happen overnight.
This is why it’s essential to understand inflammation in order to achieve optimal health. By taking back control of our inflammation levels, we can take back control of our health.
What triggers inflammation?
Inflammation is triggered by a variety of factors including, most importantly, the food we eat on a daily basis. Every food you eat either feeds inflammation or fights it, but since we are all different, what food plan works for someone else may not be the best for you.
That’s why it is important to find out what foods your body loves and hates to begin driving-down inflammation. When inflammation begins to subside, it allows your body to address health imbalances that have been caused by it since inflammation inhibits your body’s natural healing process. You then can move on to addressing the other possible lifestyle factors that can also drive inflammation such as medications, stress, poor sleep, toxin exposure, or social media addiction.
How to diagnose inflammation?
Lab tests are the most accurate way to check for unhealthy levels of inflammation. Some inflammation specific labs include:
- CRP: C-Reactive Protein is an inflammatory protein and high levels are linked to inflammation related health problems. Optimal Range: < 0.5 mg/L
- Homocysteine: This inflammatory amino acid is linked to heart disease, destruction of the blood-brain barrier, and dementia. This is also commonly elevated in people with autoimmune problems. Optimal Range: < 7 Umol/L
- Ferritin: Normally used to check for stored iron levels in cases of suspected anemia, it is also considered to be an acute phase reactant, and when high, it’s a sign of inflammation. Optimal Range: Men: 33-236 ng/mL; Premenopausal women: 10-122 ng/mL; Postmenopausal women: 10-263 ng/mL
- Once you get a baseline for what your inflammation levels look like, additional labs can help you understand underlying factors that could be further perpetuating inflammation:
- Methylation gene testing: Methylation is a complex biochemical process responsible for many important processes in your body such as maintaining healthy inflammation levels. Gene variants such as the MTHFR polymorphism can inhibit your body’s ability to bring down inflammation levels, such as homocysteine.
- GI labs: Your gut is the foundation of health. Labs can help rule out or confirm underlying gut problems like leaky gut syndrome. It can also look for microbiome dysfunctions like SIBO and candida overgrowth that can contribute to inflammation.
- White blood cell count: Immune labs, like white blood cell count, look for underlying low-grade infections that can fuel inflammation.
Tips to start lowering inflammation
- Discover your food sensitivities - An elimination diet is my gold standard for figuring out which foods fuel inflammation in your body. By removing foods most likely to contribute to inflammation for a set amount of time, it will give your body time to rest and reset before slowly adding in foods one by one. This will give you a better idea of what foods specifically give you a reaction. I talk about this at length in The Inflammation Spectrum.
- Try intermittent fasting - Limiting your food intake for specific periods of time can lower inflammation by reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines. Intermittent fasting has been linked to an improvement in inflammation related health problems include autoimmune conditions like lupus and asthma.
- Meditate - Meditating for just five minutes can make a difference in overall inflammation levels with research showing that meditating regularly can decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL-6 and TNF-a.
- Indulge in an infrared sauna - Not only will an infrared sauna session help lower stress, it can reduce inflammation due to its ability to stimulate circulation and increase white blood cell production.
- Try CBD - CBD oil works by supporting the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) that plays a role in the immune system and inflammatory response.
- Consider going Ketotarian - Instead of the conventional keto diet, which is filled with bacon and butter, I advocate for a clean, nutrient-dense mostly plant based ketogenic diet, or what I call Ketotarian, als the name of my first book. By putting your body into a state of ketosis through a Ketotarian diet, it is able to reduce inflammation by up-regulating the Nrf-2 pathway that is responsible for antioxidant gene induction, as well as turning on genes responsible for detox pathways in addition to cell function and inflammation. When the Nrf-2 pathway is activated, it calms inflammation and activates the powerful anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 and down-regulates pro-inflammatory cytokines.
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