Inflammation is our body’s natural response to potentially harmful invaders. It’s a short-term reaction that protects our body during injury or infection. Unfortunately, sometimes this system gets triggered to such an extent that it never turns off. This is called “chronic inflammation.”
As R. Keith McCormick said in The Whole Body Approach to Osteoporosis, “…if the immune system is triggered to go to work for weeks, months or more, the immune system gets confused and becomes untethered from its controlled mechanisms.”
With a healthy immune response, our body isolates the problem, destroys it and then heals it. When the immune system is constantly being triggered, it doesn’t work as it should. “A chronic response is ineffective; it’s like an army of soldiers racing around with torches but without specific orders to follow. A chronic inflammatory response is worthless. It’s incapable of fighting off antigens and just smolders away, inflaming helpless tissues,” McCormick said.
Chronic inflammation has negative consequences for the entire body, including the bones. Because the bones are so connected to our immune system, inflammation has even more effect on bone health than we might imagine. The bone marrow is where our immune cells are born, so an unhealthy immune response is, of course, going to play out within the bone.
One way in which inflammation affects bones is that, when our immune system is out of whack, a switch is thrown that causes the body to produce more bone-eating osteoclasts. (See the article on bone health to learn more about the work of these important cells.)
At the same time, another switch is thrown that reduces osteoblasts, the cells that produce more bone to replace the bone broken down by osteoclasts. This combination leads to osteoporosis.
Mainstream medicine seeks to work on osteoporosis through medication that treats the symptoms of this inflammation. Functional medicine addresses the root causes of inflammation, the conditions that cause the chronic inflammation in the first place. Dr. Anderson, at Thriven FM said, these sources of inflammation can be described by using the acronym STAIN:
Stress: This is probably the biggest driver of inflammation and a huge problem for our culture today. Stresses are often emotional, but can also be physical, chemical and mechanical.
Toxins: Substances like chemicals and heavy metals, toxins are in just about everything from air and water, to the food and medications we consume and the products we use on our bodies and in our homes. Toxins can also be life situations, experiences and feelings that affect us negatively.
Allergens: Anything that triggers an allergic response within our system.
Infections: A huge trigger of inflammation, these can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi.
Nutrition: Foods we eat can create inflammation within our bodies. Sugar and processed foods are big culprits, and nutrient deficiency (not having enough of the proper nutrients) can also cause inflammation, as can allergy causing foods for certain individuals.
The conditions described within STAIN can cause leaky gut, a condition where the lining of our gut ends up with small holes or tears. As foods and bacteria are processed through our gastrointestinal system, some leak out through these holes and the body attacks these items as invaders, thus causing inflammation. Because this happens all the time, the inflammation becomes chronic.
In order to protect our bones from the damaging effects of inflammation, we have to address the causes of this inflammation and, by addressing the causes, we can heal our gastrointestinal system and stop the chronic problems associated with a leaky gut.
To reduce chronic inflammation:
- Reduce stress
- Detox your body (see webpage article on “Detox”)
- Get rid of food allergies and/or sensitivities
- Greatly decrease intake of refined sugars, dairy products, saturated fats, alcohol and excessive amounts of red meat.
- Eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties such as green vegetables, fish, berries, seeds, avocados, olive oil and nuts.
- Supplement your diet with antioxidants.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to your diet.
- Be careful with medications.
Because our bodies are a whole system, addressing chronic inflammation will benefit your body in many ways and can help you heal from a variety of physical problems. Reducing inflammation will also strengthen your immune system and get your osteoclasts and osteoblasts communicating again as they work to build the strong bones you need for an active life.