I wrote this article for my friend David Morrow PT, owner of HRD2KILL training systems. David gets current and former military, law enforcement, and first responders back in fighting shape primarily through addressing mobility. I strongly recommend checking out his work at www.davemorrow.net
If you’re an athlete, understanding inflammation is crucial for optimizing your performance. We can all remember our coach telling us to ice that painful joint to reduce swelling and inflammation, but what if I told you inflammation goes far beyond the pain of an injury?
You see, inflammation is base level biology. Any time there is damage, inflammation occurs. This inflammation signals our body to repair the damage, and often we improve as a result. Ever heard of exercise? Inflammation from the exercise is what signals your body to make bigger muscles and improve.
The problem is inflammation is when it gets excessive or doesn’t stop. Chronic inflammation sits near the base of nearly every condition you can think of, from autoimmune disease to brain fog to poor recovery and sleep to full-blown mental disorders.
And what’s more, chronic inflammation is becoming more and more common in the modern world. Toxin exposure, stress, over-training, and poor diet all come together to leave many of us inflamed for long periods of time.
Thankfully, there is much we can do to address inflammation. This article is a guide to understanding and avoiding chronic inflammation in your life.
What Is Inflammation
Inflammation is damage. At a cellular level, tissue damage causes the creation or release of volatile molecules called Reactive Oxygen Species, or Free Radicals. Free radicals damage parts of our cells by stealing electrons and causing dysfunction.
However, different free radicals have different effects, including acting as signals for positive biological adaptations such as the case with exercise. Exercise is damage, there’s no two ways about it, but the reason it is good for us is because that damage signals our body to improve.
However, these are also forms of “acute” inflammation, meaning that once the body responds and repairs the damage, the inflammation is gone too. Where things become problematic is when inflammation is chronic.
Chronic inflammation is a sign that something is wrong in your biological environment. This could be an outside influence such as stress or exercising too often, or it could be internal like a nutrient imbalance, toxins, or a hidden infection. There are many things that can cause chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is also usually systemic. The source of your inflammation might be leaky gut, a common condition whereby holes have formed in the intestinal barrier. Though the first hand issue is in your intestine, leaky gut leads to inflammation in other places such as your brain or your body. Ever feel achey after eating certain foods? That’s not normal. That’s inflammation.
Now, you might be thinking this is all well and good, but you don’t often feel inflamed. Other than workout soreness, pain and aches aren’t a common experience in your life. While pain is definitely one sign of chronic inflammation, it’s not the only way it manifests. If you get brain fog after certain meals, have anxiety, PTSD, or insomnia, or deal with mood problems, these all coincide with inflammation.
In fact, I’d venture to say that every chronic mental health problem coincides with chronic inflammation. This is because your body can actually create it’s own chronic inflammation in order to control you.
This is somewhat theory on my part, but some people believe that conditions like anxiety or thyroid disease are a defense measure. If you push too hard for too long in a bad environment, your body will create it’s own inflammation by attacking itself. Why would it do that?
Well, if the world around you is so stressful or so toxic that you’re burning out, maybe you’ll be more likely to survive if you are scared of everything, have no energy, and can’t think well. You’ll have to disengage from the hostile environment your body perceives, and either be taken care of by others or find shelter.
Basically, chronic inflammation from your external environment can cause your body to create chronic inflammation with the goal of making you feel so bad that you have to get away from the environment that caused the inflammation in the first place. It’s a negative feedback loop, but here’s the thing: We can sabotage it for our own benefit!
How To Use Chronic Inflammation To Your Advantage
Because chronic inflammation is connected to nearly every disease of mind or body, you can address nearly any disease by addressing your inflammation! Let’s take PTSD for example. You go through something traumatizing, and your brain modifies to be more sensitive to stress. When you face stress, your body makes inflammation in areas of your body that will make you feel panicky, have difficulty focusing, etc.
Just to show how strong this link is, I once read that the majority of anxiety disorders cause people to develop stomach auto-immunity, meaning increased inflammation from abrasive foods!
There is always a physical phenomena to reflect any mental ailment. You have to address the root mental cause if there is still trauma, but you can make things easier and sometimes even heal by just focusing on inflammation.
Unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this article to offer specific solutions for specific problems, but there are common causes of chronic inflammation that almost anyone can address.
Most all of us consume inflammatory foods that may be driving the entire diabetes and obesity epidemic, and I’m not talking about sugar or carbs. Even more hidden is the role of toxins in our homes. Modern building materials are prone to mold and indoor air is often 5 to 10 times more polluted than outdoor.
Just addressing a couple of these key players can massively improve you inflammation levels, and by extension, every aspect of your physical and mental health.
Want more? We also have awesome techniques that can fit into any lifestyle, proven to lower inflammation and improve nervous system health. So, without further adieu, this is how to stop chronic inflammation:
Diet: Get Rid Of PUFAs & Keep An Eye On Common Sensitivities
We’ve been telling people how to eat for over 100 years and everyone just keeps getting sicker and fatter. Ancel Keys blamed cholesterol for heart disease, but Atkins brought Keto back to the forefront. What if there’s still a deeper culprit than carbs or fat? What if there were a food we have all been eating that always causes inflammation, and we’ve been increasing our consumption more than any other over the past 100 years.
That food would be vegetable oils. Starting in the mid to late 1800s, waste-product vegetable oils began to be marketed as alternatives for butter and lard. Low and behold, the first inklings of heart disease started to show up around this time as well. Before the 1900s, heart disease wasn’t something people died of.
As time went on, vegetable oils, usually byproducts of manufacturing crops like cottonseed, corn, soy, etc. became staples in many packaged and processed food, not to mention use as cooking oils in the household.
The problem is that these oils A. have never been a common part of the diet of any animal, anywhere, and B. are very high in reactive Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (or PUFAs for short.) These fatty acids react to heat and light by becoming oxidized. When you consume something oxidized, it’s like giving yourself a supplement made of those very free radicals that cause inflammation in the first place. The oxidized molecules steal electrons from parts of our cells and cause inflammation.
Saturated fats like butter, coconut oil, or ghee do not have this problem. Say what you want about cholesterol, but if you eat an ounce of beef fat, it isn’t going to cause inflammation the way a shot of corn oil will. This is because saturated fats are much more heat stable.
So step one of any anti-inflammatory diet should be avoiding PUFAs. High PUFA oils include corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, and a few others. Personally, I suggest only cooking using saturated fats like coconut oil, but avocado oil and olive oil are fine IF they are from the Primal Kitchen brand or Braggs. Why those two? Because in every other brand out there, it is very common to cut the product with high PUFA vegetable oils even though it isn’t on the label.
Want another easy tactic for avoiding these oils? Don’t eat anything with vegetable oils in the ingredients. Know what that means? Pretty much every pre-packaged food not made by a health company.
Seriously guys, these oils are excessively common.
Beyond Vegetable Oils
Beyond eliminating PUFAs, I know everyone likes to debate about whether to eat gluten and are carbs bad for you. Personally, I am sensitive to many carbs and many foods like wheat or dairy. However, I also had a chronic disease for 3 years, and it’s incredibly common to develop gut autoimmunity in such cases.
If you don’t already have chronic disease and food sensitivities, I really think the most important thing you can do is cut out the PUFAs and stop eating ultraprocessed foods. I’m not even sure sugar is that bad for you if you’re eliminating PUFAs properly. I mean, after all, candy bars and junk foods that are high in processed sugar are also emulsified and preserved using vegetable oils.
Yes, eating sugar all the time is bad for your metabolism, but in a truly healthy individual, sugar won’t cause an inflammatory response. PUFAs on the other hand? Not so much.
For a quick rundown though, some extra things you can do to lower dietary inflammation are:
- Avoid sugar (fruit too) and restrict carbs if you have some obesity. Obesity is a sign of insulin resistance, and even whole food sources of sugar can maintain your insulin resistance.
- Avoid the most common food sensitivities: Gluten (wheat and all products made from wheat) and Dairy (specifically from cows. Goat dairy is often fine for people.)
- If you do these and still feel like food makes you feel worse, lowers your energy, dampens your focus, or gives you brain fog, consider a restrictive diet such as Auto-immune paleo, an elimination diet, or even nose-to-tail carnivore diets. The easiest way to discover what foods you can eat without a reaction is to eliminate them all and then slowly add them back in. Believe it or not, I eat almost entirely animal foods and do great on it. For great information on carnivore, check out the work of Dr. Paul Saladino.
One of the most heinous causes of chronic inflammation is mold. It’s estimated that 50% of buildings in North America have water damage, and with modern building materials, this almost guarantees mold toxins.
According to Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof and the main who popularized the term “Biohacker” mold is poison for our cells dating back to the beginning of life on earth. We evolved from bacteria, and the mitochondria in our cells can be thought of basically as ancient bacteria.
Well, mold evolved competing with bacteria for territory, and developed some damn powerful weapons to do it. Modern antibiotics are derived from mold toxins. Penicillin? it’s literally concentrated mold toxins.
Most of you have probably heard of the dangers of antibiotics. They’re great for killing an infection, but also damage the gut biome and our health. Thankfully, in the modern day, most people widely accept this truth about antibiotics.
Living in a moldy house is like breathing in antibiotics all day long.
Look guys, I could rabbit hole about this all day, but I’ll just sum it up: Mold may be the single most overlooked and important factor in poor health, physical or mental. It’s so common and there is so little testing for it. You might get stem cell treatments, eat a perfect diet, exercise daily, but all along the mold in your house was the biggest culprit of your inflammation.
So, what can we do? For one thing, we can take it seriously.
Tests like the ERMI can be used to test your home yourself and see the likelyhood of mold.
From there, you can work with educated remediation services to address mold in your home. Professional mold remediation can be expensive, but I believe it’s worth investing in a mold-free home as soon as you can.
In the meantime, there are tons of methods that can help mediate and prevent mold growth at home.
One of my favorites is to use a HEPA air filtration device. These filters remove 99 percent of pollutants, allergens, and mold from the air of your home. Common dehumidifiers work great as well.
Another powerful tactic is to regularly clean areas prone to mold using tea tree oil and/or white vinegar. Tea tree oil is full of anti-fungal compounds, and is a great way to prevent or remove small mold spots such as in a bathroom.
We’ll move on to more common and actionable tips, but seriously, I strongly recommend taking mold seriously and educating yourself on the topic. You can learn a ton from resources like the documentary: Moldy, or using online resources.
In the modern day, anti-oxidant is a term even the least health conscious have heard. You might not know what exactly and antioxidant is, but I bet you know it’s good for you and your doctor wants you to consume more of em’.
However, many common antioxidants are actually mis-labeled. Plant-based antioxidants such as curcumin, polyphenols, and many others are actually not antioxidants at all, but pro-oxidants. When you take a bunch of turmeric powder, you don’t restore a turmeric deficiency in your blood stream. These compounds never enter your nutritional biology.
What actually happens is that they cause inflammation that your body reacts to. Remember, inflammation is a signal, and that signal can cause positive changes. When you consume most antioxidants, they actually cause inflammation, and then your body responds by making more of it’s own true antioxidant: Glutathione.
Now, I’m not here to tell anyone that all plant antioxidants are bullsh*t, but upon further examination, many of these compounds just don’t stack up to the supposed health claims that surround them. Most of the studies on these compounds only show benefit in the short term, and long term use even becomes associated with negative effects.
So while I don’t mind if you eat blueberries and vegetables, I think we should cycle these foods. If antioxidants from plants show benefit in the short term, perhaps they can benefit us in the long term if we have variety, and this is supported by the much more diverse diets of hunter-gatherers.
When it comes to supplements, I think it’s best to use the stuff our own body uses. Skip the inflammation response, and just supplement with the only antioxidant your body actually uses and creates: Glutathione.
Like I just said, glutathione is the only real antioxidant ever in your body. Your body creates this molecule to reduce inflammation. If it’s so great, why have you never heard of glutathione supplements? Simple, because if you eat glutathione, it breaks down inside your gut.
However, there are ways to get this awesome molecule into your bloodstream: liposomal delivery. Liposomes are layers of fat that surround a molecule and allow it to absorb into our cells more quickly. Once pattented by pharmaceutical companies, many of the best liposomes have become public in recent years.
This means new supplements that are far more bioavailable than their non-liposomal counterparts. In the case of glutathione, liposomal delivery allows the molecule to survive your gut and truly absorb into your body.
Now, I believe that any time we take a supplement of something our body creates, we should cycle off. If you take glutathione all the time, it could lower your body’s ability to create it’s own glutathione, and that wouldn’t be good.
However, when fighting a disease, protecting yourself from a pandemic, or facing chronic inflammation, a month or so of liposomal glutathione supplementation could do wonders for you. Lowering the fires, so-to-speak, can allow your body to heal and no longer need the extra support.
So, if you’re looking for a great anti-inflammatory supplement, I say look no further than liposomal glutathione. I recommend using it for a month and then taking at least a month off. Remember, you shouldn’t need extra glutathione all the time, but occasionally it could be the boost that helps you break through your inflammation.
I like the product glutathione force by bulletproof labs, but the important thing is to look for liposomal glutathione. Often these come as nasal sprays as well.
Xeno what now? This term might sound like the name of E.T.’s cousin, but we’ve actually been talking about it this whole article.
Xeno-hormesis is the process by which damage causes a positive benefit. You do a workout, and damage causes you to get stronger. That’s xeno-hormesis. Environmental xeno-hormesis just means ways you can use your outside environment to become better.
Well, one of the big benefits of exercise is lowering your overall inflammation. For the first day after a hard workout, your inflammation will be higher, but over time, glutathione levels become higher and inflammation becomes lower. Basically, you improve your baseline.
Now, exercise is one of the great forms of environmental hormesis, but there’s already a ton of articles already on this site about that.
So instead I want to focus on another kind of environmental hormesis that is far less talked about: COLD.
Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years with close ancestors as far back as 2 million years ago. You think we had northpark jackets during the paleolithic?
Despite the fact outdoor temperatures were cold as a witches’, or more accurately shaman’s, tit, we spent plenty of time outside. Now’a’days, we wrap up in the warmest and fanciest cold weather materials to ever exist just to face a cool 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit for my fellow Americans.)
Why does any of this matter? Because it turns out that you can re-adapt to the cold. You can become extremely resilient to the outdoors, even when there’s snow on your bare feet, and what’s more, it makes you damn healthy.
The Wim Hof institute regularly gets people adapted to barefoot, no shirt cold exposure to the level of climbing mountains this way. Through progression and breathing, these people re-adapt to the cold, and their physiology improves massively.
It is not uncommon for practicioners to reduce symptoms of complex disease. One man went from 12 medications for Parkinson’s to 2! Other amazing stories detail accelerated wound healing, resistance to illness, and more. Think I’m blowing smoke up your ass? Go check out the book “What Doesn’t Kill You.”
A skeptical journalist who made his career on exposing charletans set out to do just that with Wim. The result? A powerful book detailing how cold exposure changed the authors life, as well as that of many others. It’s also full to the brim with scientific studies that have been performed on both Wim and his followers.
Back on planet Earth, what does this all mean for you? I’ll tell you it doesn’t mean go jump in an icy river. The deeper level cold exposure of Wim Hof is amazing, but it must be built up to. The reason why it’s possible is because of dormant metabolic processes that activate as you practice. Dormant is the key word. If you go jump in a frozen river as you are now, all you’ll get is a spot in the less flattering sections of your local newspaper.
What you can do is start with cold showers.
Cold showers have been shown to lower inflammation and improve nervous system health via HRV readings.
At the lowest level do an alternating hot-to-cold shower every morning. I recommend 5 to 10 rounds, with the cold parts being twice as long as the hot. Basically, if you keep it hot for 30 seconds, go cold for a minute.
If you want to just jump in, you can also just do cold. You shouldn’t feel like you are shivering, but instead be energized. While cold showers are milder than ice baths, you can still overdo it.
Beyond cold showers, I’d strongly recommend following the work of Wim Hof and considering his $200 online course. This is the type of work that can take you into what feels like a world of superhumans.
You can also get a ton of information by listening to my podcast with David. I actually met your illustrious host of HRD2KILL when he read an article I wrote about cold therapy, and we go in depth on this HRD2KILL interview.
So there you have it. Inflammation is how are body expresses damage. This damage can come from injury, from the environment (food and toxins) or even from out own body! The important thing is that inflammation is acute and that you can fully repair it.
After all, inflammation signals our body to grow! That’s what exercise is. The problem is when inflammation doesn’t get repaired and becomes chronic. At that point something is wrong or missing, and over time this can even cause your body to create its own inflammation in order to try to keep you away from whatever is in your environment.
Thankfully we can use this negative feedback loop to our advantage. Since inflammation coincides with nearly every condition, you can address nearly every condition by addressing inflammation.
Learn about inflammatory vegetable oils and remove them from your diet. Then educate yourself in incredibly common environmental toxins like mold and do your best to address that too.
Then use inflammation to heal your inflammation! Cold exposure causes damage in the short term, but activates whole dormant parts of your physiology! You want to talk about lowering inflammation? Go read the stories of ice-bath loving Wim Hof practitioners. If superhumans exist, that’s where you’ll find them.
Thank you for reading and go become Hard To Kill!