Inflammation and Gut Health
This post is intended to be for informational/educational purposes only, and should NOT be a substitute for medical advice. Always work with a health professional to address your own health concerns.
I have my ankles back. Is that not the weirdest statement?!
Trust me, it sounds weird to me too. But it’s true. For the last 1.5ish years, I was plagued with so much systemic inflammation all over my body from my chronic gut issues (parasites, leaky gut, etc.) that even my ankles were inflamed.
My body changed a LOT very quickly when my gut issues hit. It was also around the same time I started nourishing my body better (i.e. switching from a plant-based diet to a nutrient-inclusive way of eating), and also went off of birth control, which I had been on for 10+ years.
It was a perfect storm for my body changing — for me it meant inflammation from those gut issues, along with hormone imbalances causing weight gain (from post-birth control syndrome and my body finally getting the nutrition it desperately needed so it was holding onto it as much as possible until it felt safe again).
Truth be told, gaining 25 pounds in the matter of a few short months on my small-ish frame was REALLY tough for me in a lot of ways. Emotionally it was such a trigger for my past struggles with body image. It was tough on my wallet because I had to keep buying new pants because I kept growing out of them (I went up 3 pant sizes in 4 months).
But the weight-gain aside, I was physically uncomfortable in my body because of the systemic inflammation I was experiencing, and moving around in the ways I was used to felt so different — I felt puffy and swollen all over—including my ankles.
The other day, I looked down and noticed that my ankles looked...like mine. And I realized how far I’ve come since then in a lot of ways.
First and foremost, my health is vastly improved. The systemic inflammation that was causing swelling and puffiness in my legs, arms, joints, face, and fingers is virtually gone.
Now, I want to say that in my experience I see the weight I gained (necessary weight so that I can be the healthiest, most vibrant version of myself) as separate from the inflammation I experienced. To me, they were different. The inflammation was a symptom -- a sign that my body was fighting something and that it was out of balance. The necessary weight I gained (which I still have, I'm happy to say!), was an outcome of the work I was putting in emotionally and physically; work that made me realize that I was worth taking up the space I needed to in order to be truly healthy and to feel my best, and in the physical sense, taking time away from formal exercise, and finally nourishing my body with nutrients it had been deprived of for so long.
But this post is about inflammation, so going forward, I'm talking about that symptom, not the weight gain.
So what did I do to improve my systemic inflammation?
It was a long, slow process, but the most important piece for me was healing my gut.
Why do gut issues cause inflammation? In my case, I had some serious leaky gut, which is hyper-permeability of the lining of the small intestine. 90% of absorption of the food we eat happens in the first part of the small intestine, so it is important for the gut lining to be somewhat permeable. But it's when these tight junctions become too wide (because we aren't digesting properly further north in our digestive process, we eat foods that we have a sensitivity or allergy too, we take antibiotics and NSAIDs, we were not breast fed as children, we experience chronic stress from lifestyle/processed foods/under-eating/infection, etc.), that too-large molecules of food and pathogens can enter into the bloodstream and trigger an immune response. If this is happening ALL the time, as is the case with leaky gut, this can cause a chronic inflammatory response as well. Our immune system triggers inflammation as a way to combat foreign invaders (blood flow is necessary to bring immune cells to the area of concern to help fight an infection). But if our bodies see everything that we ingest as a foreign invader because we have something like leaky gut going on, we can experience chronic inflammation.
Gut healing is a multifaceted process. Because there are so many causes of and types of gut issues, it should be a very individualized approach. For me, it involved healing my leaky gut through including nutrients that I had been lacking for so long: amino acids in the form of animal protein and hydrolyzed collagen (i.e. collagen powder). It involved removing a lot of stressors from my life (some temporarily, and some for good), including intense exercise, 3-4 hour commutes each day to work, the stress of being sick and the feeling like my body was not my own anymore (which was reduced through my time in therapy and acupuncture), etc.
So, for me, healing my gut (and managing stress, which goes hand-in-hand with gut healing) has been the main factor in helping me also address my chronic inflammation. And while I feel like there is some work still to do, I am vastly improved from where I was more than a year ago.
My body is slowly but surely getting back to feeling like mine again. I can move more freely, my clothes fit better, and I just feel like myself again -- something I honestly don't think I would ever be able to say. This is partly because the gut healing process can be a slow one. And while I don't want to say it's not for the faint of heart, in some ways it isn't. There were many many times I wanted to quit. When I was so tired of trying this elimination diet, or that parasite protocol, or getting this or that lab test, and I all but resigned myself to feeling that way forever.
But anytime I got momentary relief from my symptoms, I was reminded of how it felt to feel NORMAL. I knew I didn't want to feel sick every day, didn't want to be doubled over in pain and discomfort from the bloating nonstop, and to feel like I was in a puffy suit, walking around in an inflamed body that felt like a foreign casing. That's what kept me going and moving forward with the laborious, but oh-so-necessary gut healing process.
Like I've said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to gut healing. What worked for me, might not work for you, which is why I don't go super in-depth here about how I healed my gut. But, there are a few things that almost anyone can benefit from when it comes to gut healing. You can download my FREE 5 Ways to Start Healing Your Gut Today guide here if you're interested.
Beyond these general things, I always recommend working with a practitioner (preferably holistic), who can help guide you on your own individualized gut healing journey since we are all so different and will need different things for true healing.