Systemic inflammation is a term that is fairly new to the health space. For years we have demonized salt for causing high blood pressure, and saturated fats for causing heart attacks and strokes. All along, the villain in this fight was low grade systemic inflammation.
Sounds harmless, right? I mean localized and temporary inflammation helps us heal when we are injured. Why wouldn’t we want low grade inflammation throughout our bodies protecting us from small issues?
What is systemic inflammation?
The inflammatory process is a vital component of our immune defense system. However, when inflammation is allowed to run wild we can start to see damage to tissues and organs. This is a big problem with most chronic diseases like Crohn’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease.
Why Is Chronic Inflammation Bad?
When things in our environment cause an inflammatory response in the body. This small impact can cause a low-grade inflammatory response. This sneaky disease-triggering reaction can cause an ill effect almost anywhere in the body. The location of inflammation is based on several factors including our genes, environmental sensitivities and the type of physical stressors that we are exposed to. If you have any questions about physical stressors, check out this article on stress that I wrote.
When we are consistently exposed to inflammation from our environment or take part in behaviors that induce inflammation on the body. Our body can suffer greatly! Inflammation can affect the brain, the gut, the hormones, the muscles or joints, and many other areas. We have seen in studies that the longer we suffer from inflammatory conditions like diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease the more the body suffers. Conditions that affect multiple areas in the body like autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s, Crohn’s disease, and joint diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis become more common with chronic illnesses.
How Systemic Inflammation Affects Sleep?
Insulin Resistance is a huge disruptor in health and sleep. Insulin resistance is when your body does not allow insulin to open the doorway for blood glucose to come in the cell. These cells are mainly found in the skeletal muscles, liver, and fat cells. Although fat cells seemed to have no issue in using insulin, this is one big issue that seems to worsen obesity. The constant release of insulin can cause more production of fat especially under constant stimulation or insulin resistance.
Constant stimulation like continuous consumption of calories. Whether you are grazing all day or not allowing your body enough time to cleanse itself. I usually try to have at least 90 to 120 minutes between calorie consumption or meals.
This type of insulin resistance also leads to several issues with sleep. With the constant high blood sugars, we find our bodies elimination pathways struggling and therefore our kidneys must work extra hard to push out blood sugar. With our kidneys working extra hard, especially at night, you find yourself having to wake up to urinate as a way to eliminate these excessively high blood sugars. This constant battle with metabolic disease or diabetes typically has you waking up throughout the night urinating and drinking water as the dehydration can be pretty intense as well.
The fluctuating blood sugar, whether it be very high or very low can cause a burst of cortisol to be released. Your body is very sensitive to cortisol during the afternoon and evening hours, and less sensitive in the morning. Therefore eating a high glycemic meal in the evening can cause this cortisol release, that could make falling asleep more difficult. I also see this burst of cortisol hit you when the surge of insulin lowers your blood sugar in the middle of the night. This too can cause a wake up response when cortisol is released and telling your body it is time for some calories. This is a vicious roller coaster cycle that can affect you during the day as well.
Joint and muscle pain seemed to be a constant issue with chronic diseases like diabetes. With low grade systemic inflammation, we have to be very careful with autoimmune issues like rheumatoid arthritis.
Most of us think that our joint pain is solely from physical activity, but the constant pain that seems to be more amplified or prolonged is another story. This type of discomfort is a huge problem with individuals that have had long standing issues with systemic inflammation that attack the joints and muscles. As you can imagine, this type of problem can keep you from getting comfortable enough to relax and fall asleep. In addition, your muscles can become very sensitive and irritated from excess activity. We need to target systemic inflammation to help calm these pain receptors but also lessen the autoimmune attack against are joints and muscles.
The release of stress hormones are probably the biggest issues I see with sleep and low grade systemic inflammation. The stress hormone cortisol has the ability to jump start the sympathetic nervous system and vice versa. There are several things that cause inflammation that can cause the release of cortisol. For a more detailed article on physical stressors and how they affect your sleep, read this article. Some examples are found below:
- Jet lag
- Sporadic bedtime and wake up times
- Consuming high glycemic foods (processed foods, desserts, soda’s, or candy)
- Mental stress (financial, social or work related)
- Chronic diseases (diabetes, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc…)
- Obesity (visceral fat or fat around the abdominal area)
- Congested Liver (liver unable to metabolize chemicals in your body like environmental toxins or medication)
- Environmental toxins from food and food containers (heavy metals, phthalates, BPA, etc…)
Prostate inflammation is one of the most common reasons for men to wake up at night and go to the bathroom. For some men, they are lucky and go back to sleep. As systemic inflammation affects the prostate and pinch off the urethra, the bladder is not able to empty completely. Before you know it, your bladder receptors that indicate you are full wake you up to go to the bathroom once again. Your antidiuretic hormone (hormone responsible for stopping your urination at night) is shut off every time you wake up allowing you to fill up your bladder and wake up again in the middle of the night.
How Can You Fight Systemic Inflammation To Avoid Destroying Your Health?
There are several supplements you can take to balance out these destructive inflammatory cytokines in our body. In this article I will talk a little more about the things we can do naturally and what I coach my clients on in order to heal naturally. For starters, your health will always start with the GUT and the health of your Microbiome. Download my FREE Gut Health Guide below to start balancing out your gut bacteria. Along with working on gut and microbiome, here are some great tips below.
Anti-inflammatory Diet – What to stay away from?
For those of you that know me! I am all about getting the most of my nutrients from my diet, but there are several foods to avoid in order to bring down systemic inflammation. Stay away from Linoleic acid! Ok! Before you scroll away from this page, linoleic acid is found in plant seed oils like corn oil, sunflower and safflower oil, and foods made from these oils like margarines. Other inflammatory foods are high in arachidonic acid from eggs, meat, pork, and other animals. Before you ask, “I thought eggs are healthy?” Pasture raised eggs are healthy. Grass fed beef is healthy. However, when these animals are fed a high Omega-6 diet of corns and grains, their meat will contains a higher degree of Omega 6 and surprisingly pesticides.
What To Eat More Of?
There are so many diets out there, and I’m constantly asked about the keto diet and juicing. Honestly, it is easier than that. Pick 2 foods from the Mediterranean diet and learn to cook them. I don’t care if it is a side, main course, or you put them in a casserole. In addition to that, take away an inflammatory food and start eating 2 anti-inflammatory food from the Mediterranean diet. Every week add another 2 anti-inflammatory food in the mix and flavor them the way you like. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Your health journey should be fun and exciting. Remember, you are doing something GREAT and it is easier to sustain this journey when you are enjoying it!
Watch Your Sugar Intake!
If you like to eat high glycemic foods like cake, candy, or drink soda’s; then you may want to read this! High glycemic foods like the ones listed below can spike your blood sugars and cause a stress response. From the extremely high blood sugar comes a slow release of inflammation from the stress response. In addition, when your body releases insulin (the hormone that lowers the blood sugar). Your blood sugar will crash and lead to a significant drop. This will stress your body and cause another release of inflammation.
So what do you do? Avoiding these toxic foods is a start, but I encourage you to eat more soluble and insoluble fiber from whole foods. Whole foods like vegetables and fruits will increase your blood sugars much slower, and will avoid a blood sugar spike. In a graphic below, there is an example of what your blood sugar will do with whole foods or complex carbohydrates. It’s best to have a steady and sustainable blood sugar. Rather than a rollercoaster blood sugar.
Obesity and Weigh Loss
I hate to say it, but adipose tissue or fat is inflammatory. More importantly, fat around the waist is the most harmful in regards to low grade systemic inflammation. This harmful type of fat is called visceral fat. We also know that visceral fat can produce over 50 pro-inflammatory proteins that can cause harm all throughout the body.
Your body will store excess calories that you consume into fat. The chief storage hormone insulin is a hoarder for calories. If the muscles and liver are overloaded with blood glucose, then your body stores calories as fat. The 2 main causes for this response is constantly eating or grazing AND eating high glycemic foods that spike insulin release. This response is also known to cause insulin resistance. So, here are a couple of tips that I give to my clients when it comes to fighting back insulin resistance.
- Take at least a 1.5 to 2 hours break between meals or caloric intake
- Have at least 2 to 3 good size meals that will fill you up. I usually include my snacks in all my meals.
- Eliminate foods that will spike your insulin
- Processed foods (potato chips, cookies, white bread, white pasta, etc…)
- Candy or sweet foods that have added sugar (this is not only addictive, but destroys your gut health)
- Liquid calories like soda, juice, energy drinks, and diet drinks
- Desserts, American breakfast foods like donuts, biscuits, pancakes, etc..
- Stop eating your carbohydrates or starches before fiber filled vegetables or whole foods
- Chew your food to applesauce consistency
- Eat your food at a scheduled time everyday
Sedentary Lifestyle and Physical Activity
A sedentary lifestyle is often the root cause of inflammation. A lack of movement can promote weight gain and lead to obesity with visceral fat accumulating around the midsection. We already know that fat has the ability to release several types of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. In addition, we have also seen our muscles release anti-inflammatory proteins when they undergo stress from a moderate intensity workout. This is shown to be beneficial not only to our muscles but other distant sites in the body.
A Slow Progressive Model to Get Yourself Moving From Sedentary Life
So how do I fight the sedentary bug of getting up and moving? Start with walking. I aim for 10,000 steps every day, but if I have never reached 1,000 steps per day. I’m going to start with 1,000 and increase my step count by 1,000 steps every week until I’m consistently at 10,000 steps. Once you are there, start to incorporate more intensity:
- Week 1 – Add 1 day every week of moderate exercise for 30 minutes (briskly walking, jogging, stair climber) along with your 10,000 steps per day.
- Week 2 – Now do 2 days per week of 30 minute exercise the next week.
- Week 3 – 3 days of moderate exercise per week along with your 10,000 steps every day
- Week 4 – Incorporate resistance exercise 3 days per week along with your 10,000 steps every day
- Day 1 – Legs (air squats, light deadlifts, lunges, calf raises, hip thrusts, hamstring curls
- Day 2 – Push Day (push-ups, Inverted push-ups, shoulder presses, dips, triceps extension, shoulder raises
- Day 3 – Pull Day – (Pull ups, back rows, chin-ups, single-arm pulls, bicep curls, face pulls)
Creating the habit of moving and combining this with resistance training will help to shred fat as you replace this with muscle. From research, the loss of fat and the anti-inflammatory effects of active muscles can help you reduce problematic low grade systemic inflammation.
I know! A big surprise, right!? This also goes for second and third hand smoke (smoke that infuses in cloths, car or in house interiors). There a prospective studies that follow nonsmokers compared to smokers, and find the key laboratory test CRP is elevated in smokers. This could be due to the oxidative stress caused by smoking that can increase inflammation and the development of many chronic diseases.
In addition, to the smoke, the majority of tobacco contains several foreign chemicals that adds up to the physical stress on the body. According to the American Cancer Society tobacco contains harmful chemicals like hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, and carbon monoxide. If this isn’t a reason to quit smoking or stay far away from anyone that does smoke, I don’t know what is.
How I help my clients with Systemic Inflammation?
Sleep is one of the most important health decisions you can make. From my article on the Importance of Sleep, sleep has many mental health and learning benefits. However, when we are deprived of good quality restful sleep. We find ourselves with increased stress on our mind and body. Sleep deprivation has the ability to stimulate our sympathetic nervous system or “fight or flight system.”
This can cause an excess of cortisol to be secreted, inflammation to be released, and blood pressure to go up. In addition to all the other mental health and physical stressors. Your body and mind can feel pretty exhausting at the end of the day. Everyone’s sleep plan will be different when it comes to systemic inflammation. However, the tips listed above along with good sleep hygiene is a start.
If you still have problems and think you need professional sleep help. I offer 1-on1 consultation services in my 6 week sleep plan. This is a customized approach to looking at your sleep from the most holistic way and then designing a plan that is specifically for you. Check out my services here!
To Healthy Sleep,
Zeke Medina PharmD, RPh
Adult Sleep Coach and Pharmacist