How can Functional Medicine help?
If you live with chronic illnesses, you know how challenging it can be.
Heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases are examples of chronic diseases related to chronic inflammation.
These diseases usually cause pain, disability, and affect your quality of life, making it increasingly difficult to perform everyday tasks.
This article will show you how chronic inflammation leads to these diseases and how functional medicine can help you.
The Problem with Chronic Inflammation
Health conditions associated with chronic inflammation are the primary cause of death worldwide. Because of that, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as a threat to human health.
More than 50% of all deaths occur due to inflammation-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases.
Most of these conditions cause pain, disability and affect the quality of life. Many patients stop working, which affects their income. The burden to the public and private healthcare systems is also enormous.
Acute and Chronic Inflammation: What is the difference?
Inflammation is not always harmful. It is a natural process that helps your body fight infections whenever is necessary. For example, when you have a cold or flu, your immune cells are activated to protect you against the virus.
During this process, your body needs to save energy and nutrients so that your immune system can work well. Because of that, you start to feel sick (lack of energy and appetite, sleepiness, etc.).
This mechanism is critical for survival because it allows you to rest while your immune system is fighting. Usually, the symptoms resolve when the threat has passed.
However, inflammation can get turned up too high and last for a long time, even when the threat is absent. This happens during chronic inflammation, which involves different immune components than those engaged in the acute response.
This long-term inflammation causes damages to your body cells and tissues, increasing the risk of developing diseases.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammatory Responses
The acute inflammatory response initiates when there is an infection. Protein in your immune cells recognizes specific structures on the pathogen. Physical, chemical, or metabolic stimuli can also trigger the acute inflammatory response. Following infection, certain molecules help to stop the inflammation.
In chronic systemic inflammation, there is no infection. The response is persistent and causes damages to the organs and tissues with time.
The consequences are metabolic syndrome and increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, cancer, depression, neurodegenerative, and autoimmune diseases.
What causes chronic inflammation?
The most common triggers of chronic inflammation are:
• Chronic infection
• Lack of physical exercise
• Gut problems
• Unbalanced diet
• Psychological stress
• Sleep problems
• Exposure to pollutants and toxins
What are the consequences of chronic inflammation?
The most common consequences of persistent inflammation are:
• Cardiovascular diseases
• Mental health issues such as depression
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's
Functional Medicine and Chronic Inflammation
Conventional medicine usually looks at all of these conditions as separate entities. However, they are inter-linked. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis are at a higher risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Conventional medicine focuses on treating the effects of inflammation only in the affected area. So, if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis, you'll probably see an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, and a rheumatologist. Each of them will prescribe different medications to relieve your symptoms.
In turn, functional medicine addresses systemic problems' root causes. This holistic approach looks at the whole body to determine which factors contribute to an individual's inflammatory state.
Besides analyzing the patient's history, habits, and lifestyle, some tests can help diagnose chronic diseases. Functional lab testing differs from conventional lab testing because it analyzes the functioning of the whole body.
• Urine and blood tests to monitor heart conditions, cholesterol, diabetes, gluten sensitivity, nutrient deficiencies, and allergies.
• Stool testing to screen for bacteria status, parasites, and intestinal inflammation. It is helpful in the identification of absorption problems as well.
• Breath testing to analyze the growth of bacteria in the small intestines.
• Hormone testing to verify hormonal imbalance and dysfunction.
• Genetic testing to detect methylation abnormalities (gene expression regulation). It can also provide insight into your predisposition to develop certain diseases and predict how you'll react to certain drugs.
• Food sensitivity testing to detect possible food allergies and intolerances that can cause inflammation.
• Inflammatory markers such as homocysteine and Hs-CRP to confirm that inflammation is elevated.
After a careful review of your exams, the practitioner will create a plan to prevent and reduce the inflammation that can include:
• Dietary changes
• Stress reduction
• Sleep hygiene
• Physical exercise
• Dietary supplements
• Reducing the use of pain pills
Living with inflammation and chronic illnesses is difficult. However, functional medicine can help you discover the cause of the inflammation and treat it as the disease's root cause.
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