You know what’s funny? For the past few months I’ve been calling this systematic inflammation, not systemic. Oops. I thought it was systematic because it caused various symptoms. Lesson learned. Through researching how to heal my body, I mainly read two books that I’ll reference here discussing systemic inflammation. Before I started my research, I had never heard of systemic inflammation so I’m guessing that you haven’t either. I hope to break it down for you in easy to understand bits. Please see my sources for more detailed information about it, because I will just be giving an overview here.
Let’s jump right in.
Inflammation, simply put, is the immune system doing its job – it is your body’s protective attempt to stop injury in its tracks and initiate recovery. Inflammation indicates a mobilization your immune system. The purpose of the inflammation that ensues it to prevent additional damage and repair the damage already done. But what starts as a healthy response can have adverse effects if it persists for too long or spreads to far. (source)
Say you have a cut, you want the inflammatory process to start so that your body can start healing.
Inflammation can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). It can also be localized (one area of the body) or systemic (full body). Chronic Inflammation in the body’s systems is called systemic inflammation, which pretty much means your body is in a constant state of low-grade infection. And it can wreak some havoc on your body. Being in a constant state of infection without recovery means that your immune system is always on alert. (that’s no good!)
Systemic inflammation contributes directly to so many things like insulin resistance and diabetes, crohn’s disease, eczema, asthma, IBS, cardiovascular disease, stroke, high blood pressure, bone & joint disease, Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s, MS, mood disorders, depression, infertility, acne and weight gain among others. (source & source – 58+ conditions)
I know what you’re thinking: how does systemic inflammation occur? One of the ways is with our food. Many people don’t know that things like dairy, grains (gluten & non-gluten) and legumes are all inflammatory foods. If you eat any of those foods, chances are there is inflammation in your body.
If certain factors (like your food choices) are overloading your immune system with too many tasks, it’s going to be less effective at doing its main jobs, and something is going to be left undone, or done ineffectively. Like fighting off that bug that’s going around. Or healing that stubborn tendonitis. Or keeping your arteries clear of plaque. All very important jobs, we think you’d agree. (source)
What can you do about systemic inflammation? The main thing is to figure out what intolerances you have to what foods. For me, my main problems lie in grains – both gluten and non-gluten. If I eat either one after about 48 hours I’m constipated again for days with bloating and pain (people can experience symptoms up to 72 hours AFTER eating the food they’re intolerant to). For other people, it’s dairy that causes the bloating and pain. For some others, an inflammatory food could cause infertility or arthritis (or any of those other things mentioned above). The tricky thing for me to get a hold of is that most of us eat the inflammatory foods with no ill side effects, until one day a condition from the inflammation shows up (as it did for me).
How do you figure out what foods your intolerant of? I think the best way is to do Whole30 or another program just like it. You cut out all inflammatory foods (no cheats!) for at least 30 days, because your small intestine can take 2-3 weeks to heal. After the 30 days, begin a process of reintroduction to see what foods cause discomfort. Some foods after research you’ll find that you no longer have a desire to eat because you know the potential that they have for long-term issues. The hard thing for most people is that they believe their issues are caused by something other than food, when really most of our problems are caused by food. Once I did my reintroduction, I knew which items caused me problems. I tried a corn chip a few weeks after reintroduction (knowing they caused problems, as a test) and it threw my body for a loop. It took over a week to recover from that one serving of corn chips. Diane Sanfilippo in Practical Paleo calls what I did the “elimination-provocation diet” which she talks about in her book.
If your health is not optimal, eliminate gut-irritating, anti-nutrient rich foods – grains, including gluten-containing forms: legumes; processed dairy; and other refined foods – from your diet and you’ll likely experience a dramatic improvement to your health. (Diane Sanfilippo, Practical Paleo)
As I said, this is just a brief overview of what systemic inflammation is. Please go read Practical Paleo and It Starts With Food if you want to learn more – they are both so informative and easy to understand (and both have recipes in the back!). Let me know if you have questions in the comments below and I’ll research an answer for you!
Disclosure: Yes, my amazon links to the sources above are an affiliate link – but I don’t care where you get your books from. Just read these books. If you decide to get them from amazon so I get a little kickback for my time writing this post, then thank you.