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10 Potential Causes of Chronic Inflammation

By Emily Lockhart

Our bodies become inflamed when the immune system jumps to action. If you suffer an ankle injury; your immune will trigger an inflammatory response (or inflammatory cascade) by sending out white blood cells to take care of the damage—for instance, your ankle will swell, be hot to the touch, appear redness, and feel tender—which all indicate that the immune system is working so the healing process can begin.

When injuries or infections occur; this series of events signifies a healthy immune system response. However, chronic inflammation occurs when swelling sticks around and doesn’t let the healing process begin. It often rears its ugly head in the gut (or gastrointestinal tract), resulting in painful bloating, alternating diarrhea and constipation, gas, and a distended tummy.

Here are 9 potential causes of chronic inflammation in the digestive tract…

1. Emotional Stress

Psychological stress in the form of a panic attack, rapid pulse, or night sweats is a sign of cortisol-prompted inflammation. Cortisol is your “fight or flight” hormone, the one that kicks from the adrenal glands when a threat is perceived. It results in dilated blood vessels that force blood to your organs in preparation of an attack. This “fight or flight” response becomes a normal state during times of persistent stress, and chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system and adrenals are on over-drive.

2. Physical Stress

The body reacts in a similar manner when stress is physical. Take a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) attack for example. This physical panic in the body will trigger an immune response and chronic inflammation may cause your intestinal tract to go off balance, your skin to break out in hives, and your body to literally shut down.  Once you restore nutrients, electrolytes, and sustenance to the body, things will return to normal. However, if you make a habit of skipping meals, your immune system will remain unbalanced.

3. Digestive Issues

Because chronic inflammation originates in the digestive system, it makes sense that digestive turmoil may actually be a source of inflammation itself. Oftentimes, a simple anti-inflammation diet—one high in essential fatty acids, probiotic digestive supplements, and daily exercise will help balance the intestinal tract and get it working again optimally.

4. Poor Diet

When we eat a meal that’s particularly rich, our digestive systems need to put in extra work in order for efficient digestion. This most often occurs if we rely on sugary, or processed, or fast food as the main staples of our diets.  When the metabolism and GI tract are overworked; chronic inflammation often results.

5. Insulin Levels

The medical community has also linked insulin and glucose levels to chronic inflammation. For instance, obese individuals who are prone to developing type 2 diabetes often have issues with chronic inflammation.

6. Food Allergies

Specific food allergy triggers—such as casein (found in dairy) and gluten (found in wheat) will cause an inflammatory response in the digestive tract for sensitive individuals. The only way inflammation can be soothed is by cutting allergens out of the diet completely (via an elimination diet) or by taking probiotic supplements to increase the levels of “good” bacteria and support healthy digestion.

7. Hormones

Inflammation has also been linked to unbalanced levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. That’s why chronic inflammation often inflicts menopausal women, causing conditions like osteoporosis, weight gain, and adult acne.

8. Synthetics

Certain individuals may experience an inflammatory response to particular synthetic fibers found in products like latex, adhesives, and plastics. Often times these synthetic triggers exist in our workplaces or homes and cause turmoil in our bodies without us even knowing.

9. Chemicals

Chemical cleaning products, cosmetics, or air fresheners are another common source of inflammation—particularly if chemicals are airborne or irritants that are absorbed directly by the skin.  Even low chemical exposure can exist at home, at work, in the air we breathe and the water we drink prompting chronic inflammation.

10. Trigger Foods

Simple trigger foods aren’t necessarily bad for you; however, they may prompt your body to become inflamed. Oils—such as safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, and peanut—that contain high levels of linoleic acid often cause an inflammatory response. For others diets that are high in carbohydrates may fuel inflammation so it’s up to you to pay attention to what you eat and how it affects your body.

Emily Lockhart


Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.

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