Expert-Recommended Strategies for Managing Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation often gets a bad reputation, as it's commonly associated with stress, discomfort, and the development of various diseases. However, it's important to note that not all types of inflammation are harmful. In fact, our bodies naturally produce some level of inflammation that is necessary for maintaining good health

Inflammation is a natural biological response to injury or infection that is necessary for the body to protect itself and promote healing. When the immune system releases white blood cells, proteins, and other chemicals into the affected area, redness, heat, swelling, pain, and loss of function may occur. This is known as acute inflammation, which is a beneficial type of inflammation that helps the body heal after an injury or infection.

However, if inflammation persists and lingers in the body, it can develop into chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a major risk factor that can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs, leading to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer's, and others. Dr. Akil Palanisamy, an integrative medicine expert and author of The T.I.G.E.R.

Protocol, explained that chronic inflammation is a serious concern that should be prevented or controlled to maintain good health. Dr. Jacob Hascalovici, MD, PhD, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Clearing, added that chronic inflammation can be a sign of an overly reactive immune system attacking the wrong cells or tissues, which may affect overall health. The good news is that there are ways to reduce chronic inflammation, and it can often be prevented or controlled. 

Determining if you are dealing with chronic inflammation is not as simple as identifying acute inflammation through physical signs.

According to Dr. Palanisamy, chronic inflammation can be detected through blood tests that can be conducted by your doctor. However, there are some warning signs to be aware of, such as headaches, fatigue, mood changes, brain fog, joint pain, weight gain, skin rashes, and digestive issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Dr. Hascalovici added that chronic inflammation may also cause joint stiffness, muscle weakness, persistent fatigue, and disruptions in digestion. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek an evaluation from your doctor to determine if chronic inflammation may be the cause.

5 Tips to fight inflammation in the body

Be mindful of what you’re putting in your body There’s no sugarcoating it: What you eat can either increase or decrease your body’s inflammation levels.

According to Dr. Palanisamy, your gut microbiome is a key factor that regulates the level of inflammation not only in your gut but throughout your entire body. So what did he recommend to include in our diets? Cold water fish, fermented foods, vitamin D, and spices—all of which can reduce inflammation. As for what to watch out for, Dr. Palanisamy suggested minimizing processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup, cutting out trans fat often found in processed foods, and preventing excess alcohol consumption because they can disrupt gut health and contribute to inflammatory processes in the body. When in doubt, stick to a balanced and varied diet, rich in anti-inflammatory foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, as recommended by Dr. Adegbola.

Incorporate movement It should come as no surprise that diet and exercise go hand-in-hand in terms of inhibiting the inflammatory response.

“Besides having dozens of health benefits in general, exercise promotes joint flexibility and blood flow, which can be related to less chronic inflammation,” Dr. Hascalovici expressed. “Yoga, in particular, has been shown to provide relief for arthritis pain and restore mobility in clinical trials. Even just a stretching routine in the morning can help reduce inflammation levels.” A 2017 study found that just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (in this case, walking on a treadmill) can have an anti-inflammatory effect. Go on a Hot Girl Walk and check off exercising and soaking up some vitamin D on your to-do list, be a Pilates girl, or hit the gym for some good ol’ fashioned primal movement exercises. Just be mindful of not going overboard on exercise. Too much intense exercise can lead to higher levels of inflammatory mediators, and thus might increase the risk of chronic inflammation. Listen to your body, take rest days regularly, and mix cardio or strength training with lower impact workouts like walking and yoga throughout the week.

Get enough sleep Work emails, TikTok, and season 4 of You can wait. “Make sure you’re starting the day with a full night’s rest,” Dr. Hascalovici recommended.

“Sleep is often overlooked when it comes to controlling inflammation, and yet getting adequate sleep (usually around 8 hours) helps your body repair itself and reset, stabilize your mood, and handle stress better, all of which means you’re likely to have less inflammation.” Translation: When you get quality Zzzs, your body is able to properly regulate and reduce inflammation. So if quality shut-eye is the missing link in your wellness routine, consider this a sign to unplug and wind down for at least 30 minutes before bedtime (that means no scrolling!), keep your bedroom at a cool 65°F- 72°F, and aim for at least 7-9 hours of blissful sleep a night to keep chronic inflammation away.

Reduce stress We can all attest to how stress is detrimental to our mental and physical health (hello, anxiety and digestive drama)—all the more reason to pay attention to your stress levels and practice self-care to reduce daily stressors and “bad” inflammation.

“Prolonged high levels of stress or anxiety are associated with inflammation,” Dr. Kelley confirmed. “Try to incorporate some form of deep breathing and take (at least) a few minutes to yourself each day.” “After prolonged exposure to the chemicals released by the body when it’s under stress, the body’s immune system can weaken,” Dr. Hascalovici explained. “Stress can also contribute to cellular damage and changes in how your genes function, which can increase inflammation.” The solution? Practice relaxation techniques like restorative yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or a lymphatic massage—anything that will help you chill TF out.

Identify and address allergens PSA: Exposure to certain foods and environments alike can spur on inflammation.

“If you are allergic or intolerant of some food or something else in your environment, it can keep inflammation activated,” explained Dr. Stacie J. Stephenson, a functional medicine doctor and author of Vibrant: A Groundbreaking Program to Get Energized, Own Your Health, and Glow. “Start to pay attention to what triggers a response in you. Do you always feel a little sick after eating eggs, does milk give you a stomachache, or do you feel unwell in certain environments?” It can be as simple as being on the lookout for any cues your body gives, getting a blood test, finding alternatives to foods you love but don’t agree with your body, and making edits to your wellness routine as well as your home and office. Maybe that looks like keeping a food journal, incorporating more plant-based meals in your weekly rotation, swapping out traditional cosmetics and household products for clean, non-toxic substitutes, or buying an air filter for your bedroom. Before you know it, the small changes you’ve added to the mix will add up. Inflammation, be gone!