Inflammation: The Root Cause of Illness


Inflammation and problems with the digestive tract are often the norm when it comes to living with autoimmune disease.  It is inflammation that is the driving force behind Hashimoto’s but did you also know these factors can also accelerate aging and increase the risk of degenerative diseases? Inflammation can also lead to adrenal fatigue…another reason why it is so important to work on digestive issues.

Digestion & Mindful Eating Habits

  1. Create a space for meals in a relaxed, happy setting. The idea here is to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the “rest & digest” system.  Eating your meal in a stressful environment, when you’re rushed, or the conversation is upsetting only ramps up your sympathetic nervous system and sets in motion the “flight or fight” response.  It’s not possible to digest your food properly in flight or fight mode, much less absorb vital nutrients.  You’d be amazed by how making a few small efforts can help.  I like to light a few candles at dinner, turn off the TV and put the cell phone(s) away.
  2. Take the time to chew your food completely before swallowing. It’s really true…digestion begins in the mouth. Swallowing food that has not been chewed completely only makes it more of a challenge for your body in the long run.
  3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. There are many benefits including helping to maintain blood sugar and hormone levels which equates to a happier, more satisfied you.
  4. Rotate your protein sources – ideally you don’t want to eat the same type of protein source more than every 3 to 4 days. I didn’t use to know this myself but it really does help especially with animal proteins. Choose wild caught fish, grass fed beef or bison, pastured eggs (if not sensitive or allergic) and free-range organic chicken or turkey.  I also love my sugar-free almond butter.
  5. Drink liquids (preferably filtered water) before or after a meal but not during – too much fluid intake can dilute your digestive chemicals making it harder to digest your protein foods.
  6. Try a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice in warm water; or a couple of tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar (I like Braggs brand which is unpasteurized) in room temperature water and drink before your meals or sip with your meals to improve HCL acid secretion.
  7. If #6 doesn’t help you might try Betaine HCL acid capsules – 1 to 4 before each meal INSTEAD of the lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Many of us (most, actually) with Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune illnesses are low in stomach acid.
  8. Add pancreatic or digestive enzymes 15 to 20 minutes into the meal.  If you forget you can always take them after you finish eating.  Just don’t take them at the beginning of a meal…you’ll end up eating more food than you otherwise might have! Be mindful however, that in order for digestive or pancreatic enzymes to work, you must have optimal stomach acid because enzymes require it.  If you experience stomach pain soon after taking enzymes, you may have a case of hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid).  If this goes on too long, you may notice hair loss and other unwelcomed effects of low stomach acid.
  9. Taking probiotics at the end of your meal (not at the same time as the pancreatic enzymes) or at bedtime can help reduce inflammation and improve digestion.  Personally, I like to take my probiotics at bedtime on an empty stomach along with my LDN, melatonin, PharmaGaba, selenium and zinc.  A lot of thyroid clients and friends ask me which form of selenium I use.  Click here for the specific form of selenium those of us who have Hashimoto’s should be using to reduce antibodies.
  10. Pay attention to the yeastie beasties.  If you know that you have yeast or candida, take saccharomyces boulardii at the end of your meals (but not at the same time as the pancreatic enzymes).
  11. Be a detective and test for your own digestive problems.  You can determine which GI test package (including the highly revered Genova and BioHealth GI tests) is right for you HERE.  The GI kit you receive will test for many different intestinal problems including insufficient digestive enzyme production, hidden food immune cell responses, ongoing GI inflammation, the health of your GI immune system and intestinal “bad bugs” (as opposed to the beneficial bacteria that your body requires for optimum health).

Inflammation, Cortisol & Adrenal Fatigue

In nursing school I learned the physiology of the adrenal glands by remembering “sex, salt, and sugar.”  The adrenal glands produce certain sex hormones, e.g. androgens, mineral-corticoids, e.g. salt, and glucocorticoids, e.g. sugar.  All of which are intended to maintain homeostasis in the body and sustain life.  Cortisol is a hormone also made by the adrenal glands and it has many functions that are critical for life such as keeping your blood pressure and blood sugar levels from getting too low.  Cortisol is also very important in countering inflammatory reactions that occur in your body.  In other words, cortisol is amazing and we can’t live without it.

Whenever there is an inflammatory response from infections, autoimmunity, allergens, trauma, stress, or other causes, your body secretes cortisol to modulate the response.  Without this response, inflammation left unchecked can destroy your tissues causing damage, disease, and death.

In secreting cortisol, your body tries to protect itself from damage caused by inflammation but ironically high cortisol levels sustained over a long period of time, is also a big problem.  In fact, it creates the same type of tissue damage that inflammation causes!  The difference is that it takes longer for high cortisol levels to damage your tissues than it does for inflammation to damage them.

Initially you may not even know that you are secreting higher levels of cortisol than normal because you often feel very good when you do.  This is because cortisol is a hormone that tells your body to access and use up biochemical.  When you access biochemical like endorphins and neurotransmitters, you feel good…life is good…colors are brighter…your body aches and pains disappear and mood is usually elevated.  Similarly, one of the side effects initially of the drug prednisone (a corticosteroid) is euphoria.

Though higher cortisol levels make you feel good in the short term they can cause problems such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, puffiness in the face (moon face) and hands, fat around your midsection, disturbed sleep, irritability and/or insulin resistance if cortisol remains too high over time.

Besides inflammation, here are some other causes of high cortisol:

  1. Fasting or skipping meals, low calorie intake, and/or high protein intake
  2. Not getting enough sleep
  3. Emotional stress, lack of positive coping mechanisms for stress, being too busy, pain, and/or trauma
  4. Drinking too much caffeine and/or alcohol
  5. Over-exercising and/or cardiovascular exercise (I’ve written about this a lot & its relation to adrenal fatigue)
  6. Low estrogen conditions such as menopause and malnutrition
  7. High progesterone states from the use of birth control pills (BCP), pregnancy or taking progesterone without estrogen or using too much progesterone

Believe it or not, most likely your favorite foods are the ones you react to the most.

When you eat a food and don’t digest it, your immune system reacts to it by secreting inflammatory chemicals to attack the food!  The endocrine system them joins in by secreting cortisol.  The feeling you get when this happens is one of euphoria as high cortisol over a short period of time makes you feel really good. See how this can be misleading?  What I mean is, do you see how you might not think a food is actually causing an issue for you?  Any food eaten over and over again can cause an immune reaction leading to high cortisol levels that in the short term makes you feel good.  It then becomes a vicious cycle – you eat a certain food, don’t digest it well, the inflammatory response kicks in, cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands, you feel good and want more of the same.  This is literally how your “favorite” food becomes to be your favorite.  It is also how you end up being addicted to certain foods.

Bacteria & Inflammation

In the small intestine and colon there are about 3 pounds of “good” bacteria that live within us to help our body and immune system work better.  These are known as the beneficial bacteria, or “pro” bacteria.  They are a part of a healthy gastrointestinal tract and since the gut trains the immune system they are recognized by our immune cells and they don’t cause an inflammatory response.

The good bacteria in your gut protect your GI trace from becoming infected with “bad bugs” – foreign types of bacteria, fungi and parasites that you ingest from water or food – as well as keep the small amounts of bad bugs that live within us from over-growing and taking over the GI tract.  If the number of these good bacteria is drastically reduced through antibiotics or poor nutrition we become more susceptible to being invaded by the bad bugs and when this happens our immune system attacks these foreign bad bugs, creating inflammation.  These bad bugs set off anti-inflammatory/cortisol vicious response cycles.  All of the degenerative diseases of aging have been linked to this response cycle.

You don’t have to have severe symptoms such as diarrhea or cramping to have bad bugs.  Most of these bad bugs cause long-term low-level inflammation that puts a 24/7 demand on the adrenal glands to constantly secrete higher levels of cortisol, sometimes over years.  Ironically, poor digestion can increase the risk of being infected with bad bugs because of the deleterious affect on your immune system.  Your immune system is depleted by having to fight off and “kill” foods you don’t digest.  When you fight off a threat that isn’t really a true threat, you deplete your ability to combat a real threat, which leaves your GI tract exposed to these opportunistic infections.

Common bad bugs such as Candida albicans and bacterial overgrowth can be treated with natural herbs and changes in diet and lifestyle.  Other not so common bugs such as H. Pylori and Blastocystitis Hominis require antibiotic therapy.  The only way to know what types and kinds of bugs you have and what to do about them is to do a stool test looking for these bugs.  You can order high quality self-ordered lab test kits such as Genova or BioHealth here.

Cortisol and Fat Weight Gain Around Your Midsection

If you are having difficulty losing weight and you believe you are doing everything you should in order to do so, you may have high cortisol levels (if not a thyroid issue) that are caused by an immune reaction to a “hidden” food sensitivity or to bad bugs in your intestines.  The cause of your weight problem may be difficult to discover because high levels of cortisol produced in your fat cells are not easily detected by testing.  Your adrenal hormone test results may come back looking normal so a “normal” saliva test or a “normal” blood cortisol levels does not exclude an inflammatory type of fat weight gain from GI problems.  The only way to know for sure if your inability to lose fat weight is being caused by inflammation is to do GI testing as suggested and food sensitivity testing.  I recommend and offer my clients the ALCAT Food Sensitivity Test at an amazing low price.  The ALCAT test is backed up by the Yale University study (SOURCE).  When the offending food and/or bad bug is eliminated, you will be able to heal your metabolism and get back to your ideal weight and body composition.

Adrenal Gland Stress Leads to Adrenal Fatigue

The reality is that your body cannot sustain high cortisol levels forever.  At some point the adrenal glands will get “burned out” from having to secrete high levels of cortisol over and over again.  As you go through the phases of adrenal fatigue – high levels down to very low levels – there are warning signs and symptoms you can notice and hopefully address before it’s too late.

Remember, you feel really good in the early states of elevated cortisol.  As you enter the adrenal fatigue stage and cortisol levels drop, you can experience allergies, headaches, intestinal bloating, achy muscles and joints, sleep disturbances and high cholesterol levels.  If you don’t recognize these signs or why they’re happening, you may end up with even lower levels of cortisol which may result in asthma, migraines, irritable bowel, arthritis, low-blood sugar, and inability to sleep.  Progression of adrenal fatigue leads to autoimmune disorders, weight issues, extreme fatigue, depression, and worse yet you can end up with a degenerative disease of aging that could have been prevented.

Ideally, your goal is to recognize and fix adrenal imbalance or issues before they lead to severe symptoms or disease.  One of the ways to do this is to test your GI tract for any “hidden” food reactions and bad bugs and address the issues that testing reveals.  Also, by following my 6-week program that includes recommendations to improve digestion, you can limit the amount of inflammation caused by poor eating and lifestyle habits and put less demand on your adrenal glands.  The lower the demand on the adrenal glands, the less likely they will burn out.

Poor nutrition and lifestyle habits and problems with digestion can cause inflammation, high cortisol levels and bad bugs in the short term and adrenal fatigue, tissue damage, diseases and earlier death in the long-term.  You can be proactive and work on your habits but if you feel you may have poor digestion and/or bad bugs, you need to be tested and then follow an appropriate healing plan.  If you already suspect you have adrenal fatigue you must heal your GI tract or you will never regain optimum adrenal function.

*Please note, the information presented has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and the information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The following information serves as guidelines to assist the individual in using preventative health knowledge effectively for improving overall health.

  1. These guidelines should NOT substitute for sound clinical judgment or conventional therapies that may be needed for a particular individual.
  2. Before starting on any product read carefully and consider all directions and warnings on the product label.
  3. Before making any lifestyle changes please consult with your physician.
  4. The guidelines offered are intended to assist the individual in achieving optimal health and well-being

I hope this information helps you in some way!!

Your Autoimmune & Thyroid Nurse,

Shannon Garrett, BS, RN, CNN, CHLC
Autoimmune/Thyroid Wellness Expert, Certified Nurse-Nutritionist, LDN Nurse Educator & Holistic Health Consultant

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