Inflammation Dos and Dont’s

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point, years ago, I started having back pain at night. It got significantly worse throughout pregnancies, increased to daily pain, and soon was effecting my sleep and activities. There have been times I’ve woken in tears and times I couldn’t breath very well. For awhile, getting up and immediately stretching and exercising would help drastically and stop the pain during the day. Then after a car accident a few months back, everything got harder to manage.

Did you know if you have recurring issues/pain for over 6 months, it is considered chronic pain? That was a bit unnerving for me. I never wanted to feel helpless like this. I’ve had x-rays, blood work, doctor and chiropractor visits, used oils, taken medications, only to feel my issues worsen. I researched everything I could think of and came up with these conclusions:

  1. I have a stage 2 uterine prolapse, so perhaps the pain is originating from a weak core. However, most things you can find in this area talk about low back pain, and mine is centered. I still do specific core strengthening exercises daily, but with no improvement.
  2.  I could have poor gut health from foods that my body doesn’t like, causing issues in many areas including my back. Did I need a better probiotic? They can get so pricey.
  3. I might suffer from an autoimmune disease like arthritis, but there are over 100 possibilities. Not to mention, what could possibly be causing all that inflammation? Ibuprofen did help more than Tylenol, so that was telling since it releases swelling tension.
  4. Perhaps I have a musculoskeletal disease, like fibromyalgia. I have been diagnosed with this in the past, but was later told it is actually a fall back decision after testing for many other things and not finding answers. They hadn’t done that at the time.

It’s hard to find a good doctor and expensive to find one that specializes. I was sent to a physiotherapist that would cost me $500 for a single visit. Hardly any obs or midwives even know about how common uterine prolapse is, and the several chiropractors I visited could only guess at my issues and attempt different treatments. But even that was expensive!

Normally a car accident would be completely horrible, but it turned out to be a huge blessing for me. I was given chiropractic coverage through my insurance and got very lucky that several neighborhood friends recommended a specific chiropractor in town. When I left my very first appointment with him, I felt a huge burden lifted because he actually gave me answers! After several tests he concluded the following:

  1. I had a fractured and sprained hip.
  2. I had fractured ribs.
  3. I had whiplash for who knows how long, but hopefully just since the last accident.
  4. I have intense inflammation effecting several layers of muscles on my back, causing spasms and tightness from my hips and rear to my neck.
  5. I have bone sensitivity, but we are still on the fence with fibromyalgia possibilities after inconclusive blood work a few months back.

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He worked on my back and sent me home with magnesium and zinc pills to help calm the muscle spasms and improve some digestion issues. Those were fast acting. He also told me that someone who has fibromyalgia is going to have much slower results with any type of medication or supplements because of how their bodies respond. It would probably take about 6 months for anything to start feeling like it was helping at all, if that were the case. So I’m hopeful.

After a few visits and little improvement, Dr. Carroll switched up my treatments. He recognized which parts of my body needed specific treatments and all of a sudden I was sleeping better! The pain is still there and it will take months of work to feel a drastic difference, but we are on the right path.

The biggest take away I’ve found in this whole mess is how much what I eat effects every aspect of our mind and physical body. Suddenly, with a diagnosis of inflammation, I can change things in my daily diet and help my asthma, eczema, digestion issues, AND back pain.

I love learning and researching different diet fads in order to find specific benefits you can take from each one. They are normally all focusing on something specific, so aren’t meant for everyone. One of my absolute favorites is the WHOLE30. The point of this plan is figuring out what foods effect your body negatively, and how. It’s not a diet you keep at all times, though you can if you’d like. It is just a way to figure out how to feel your best and reset your body if you start eating lots of things your system doesn’t like, as well as learning to listen to how everything makes you feel. Now, I’ve never done a full 30 days of the WHOLE30, but the biggest thing I took away was that removing specific things from your diet for awhile, and then slowly reintroducing them, can pin-point what your body can and can’t handle. What causes me inflammation may not be a problem for my neighbor who also has inflammatory issues.

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Here is a list of foods that are known to cause inflammation in in the human body:

  1. Refined Sugar. Many experts will say all sugar, but I’m going to be testing the different reactions between refined and natural/unrefined. Natural sugars are what you’ll find in fruit and dairy, honey or maple syrup. Refined sugar is what we pull out of sugar cane and process to use for baking or add to cereals and drinks. The later is for sure an inflammatory trigger, but can we be fine with limited natural sugars? I believe using these sparingly is the answer.
  2. Artificial Sweeteners. These are the fake sugars and are much worse than refined sugar. This would include Splenda, aspartame, agave, and the biggest, most dangerous one of all: HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!
  3. Gluten. This is a sensitive topic for me, because gluten has become something to fear, and going gluten-free has become this big fad. But it isn’t always dangerous, which is why you need to test it on your own body to see if you have any sensitivities. Those with Celiacs Disease are going to be the ones who need to avoid gluten at all costs, but in others it could just be smaller sensitivities. I have been testing the difference between 100% whole wheat, minimal ingredient, clean breads vs. 100% whole wheat breads from anywhere that have been processed with many ingredients like dough conditioners. While the former is a much better option, I do still have a sensitivity to this gluten despite the fact that I don’t suffer from Celiac’s Disease. Refined flours are the first things you should cut. For most people, whole grains like raw oats, brown rice, and quinoa are going to be helpful for your inflammatory issues, but you need to feel it out for yourself.
  4. Dairy. This is a tough one too, because even the WHOLE30, which covers every possible base, allows eggs every day. I would focus on cutting out milks, cheeses, and yogurt, but if you’d tried everything and are still struggling, cut those eggs out too, just to be sure.
  5. Some oils. To be safe, stick with olive and avocado oils. Vegetable and canola oils are the worst options for inflammatory issues, not to mention your health in general. To be safe, you can steer clear of all seed oils like sunflower or safflower, but like eggs, those can be a last priority.

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Now, as Phoebe says, “Instead of focusing on what you don’t do, why don’t we focus on what you do do.” What foods should you be eating more of to fight inflammation?? Here is a great list of anti-inflammatory foods to fill your days with:

  1. Leafy greens! Eat your salads, but skip the iceberg, or at least limit it. You’re going to get much more benefit from spinach, kale, Swiss chard, etc. The darker, the better.  I love a good spring mix and it’s easy to find at any grocery store. But be careful what dressings you use as many will have high-fructose corn syrups, other added sugars, and dairy. Real balsamic vinaigrette is an excellent dressing that helps lower inflammatory issues. Try Italian with 10+ years of aging for better quality.
  2. Bone Broth. Seriously, do I say it enough? Just go visit this post on all the excellent benefits of bone broth and if you still haven’t tried it, shame on you. Frozen, homemade, or from a trusted restaurant, but NOT from a box.
  3. Wild Salmon. The huge thing here is all the Omega-3s that are going to be great for your body. My chiropractor told me that to get enough Omega-3 to be significantly helpful, I’d have to take about 15 of the pills from a Costco bottle a day. So just do your best, but don’t stress.
  4. Dark Chocolate. Real, minimally processed, cacao 70% and up. You can read this post to learn about the benefits of good chocolate.
  5. Fruits, especially blueberries, pineapple, cherries, tomatoes, and apples.
  6. Vegetables, especially broccoli, avocado, celery, beets, and cauliflower.
  7. Spices, especially turmeric, garlic, ginger, and rosemary.
  8. Chia and flax seeds. Add them to a smoothie or soup. Google other ways to easily add them meals.
  9. Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds.
  10. Whole grains, for those who aren’t sensitive to gluten. Suggestions would be brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, steal-cut oats, and quinoa (which is actually gluten free).

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So how do you go about this change in your diet in order to discover what is specifically flaring your inflammation? You’ll need to take some time and cut out all the possibilities and then slowly reintroduce them, one by one,  into your diet, while paying attention to how they effect your symptoms. The WHOLE30 does this in 30 days, the 21 Day Fix does it in 21 days. Why don’t you start with 2 weeks and if you can tell a difference, which you should, perhaps you can start to slowly reintroduce the possible trigger foods. Ideally, 6 weeks is going to create a healthier habit and you’ll most likely lose weight and feel great. The longer you keep these foods out of your system, the more you’ll recognize the difference. But don’t deprive yourself to the point that you fall back and binge.

One last important thing I want to note: Many of these foods, especially refined sugar and deep fried junk food, are addictive. When you cut these out of your diet, you will have withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, exhaustion, and severe cravings. Like any addiction, you have to fight through those few days of desperation in order to see the beauty on the other side. It is worth it. Your body longs to feel normal again. I’m very excited for Melissa Hartwig’s new book coming out next month. The WHOLE30 Day by Day takes you through everything you’ll be feeling every single day of doing the WHOLE30. It will be nearly the same reaction if you’re cutting out the things I’ve listed above. Another suggestion; start this January 1st with the rest of the world, after the holidays, so you aren’t depriving yourself. Follow WHOLE30 on Instagram. They will post daily motivation and what to expect every day, the same way the Day by Day book can help.

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Disclosure: I am not a doctor or professional dietitian. Do your own research and figure out what is right for your specific body. Consult your doctor with any questions or concerns.

 

For more information and other helpful sites, check out these links:

8 Foods an Inflammation Expert Won’t Touch by MindBodyGreen

14 Inflammatory Foods Making You Fat by Eat This, Not That

9 Effective Ways to Fight Inflammation and Maximize Weight Loss by healthy holistic living

Top 15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods by Dr. Axe

Inflammation at the Room of Most Diseases by Dr. Axe

30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods by Eat This, Not That

Foods that Fight Inflammation by Harvard Health

WHOLE30 Website (I’d suggest their books and cookbooks to anyone! You can google or Pinterest some of their recipes as well.)

 

GOOD LUCK!

Featured photo is a drawing by Caitriona Bergin, all other photos by myself.

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