5 Weird Ways Inflammation Affects Your Body
Chronic inflammation has been associated with issues ranging from PMS to diabetes. Here are some subtle signs that it may be taking a toll on your health.
You break out in pimples
You've always been taught that it's a combo of dead skin cells and oil that plugs a pore, mixes with P. acnes bacteria and—wham!—you've got yourself a honking zit. But evidence shows that inflammation plays a key role in acne. Researchers have found increased levels of inflammation at the cellular level of patients' skin even before spots appeared. "The skin is our largest organ, and anything happening on your skin is an outward manifestation of something going on deeper within," says Amy Myers, MD, author of The Autoimmune Solution. If you're dealing with acne, she suggests taking a close look at your diet. Often, an intolerance to some dairy may spur inflammation that can lead to breakouts, says Myers. She also notices in some of her patients that gluten may be a culprit.
You have terrible cramps
At least 85 percent of menstruating women experience a symptom of PMS every cycle, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Inflammation may have a hand in that. A 2016 study found that women who have higher levels of inflammatory proteins are more likely to suffer from PMS symptoms such as mood problems, cramps, back pain, cravings, bloating and breast pain. Because there's very little research on the inflammation-PMS link, says study co-author Ellen B. Gold, PhD, the exact mechanism isn't clear yet. But you may get relief from some symptoms by reducing factors that are known to contribute to inflammation, including smoking, excess sugar consumption and eating a high-fat diet. Other things you can do to help decrease inflammation, says Gold: be physically fit, stay within a healthy weight range and follow a Mediterranean diet.
You find it hard to go to the bathroom
Yes, we're talking constipation. You may just need to eat more fiber and drink more water to move things along. But if that doesn't do it, talk to your doctor. Inflammation that results after eating a food you're sensitive to can also create stool that is tough to pass, Myers says, thanks to an immune system that goes on attack after consuming that food. Or, in some cases, the constipation could be due to an inflamed thyroid—whether from pregnancy, an infection or an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto's disease (the most common cause of an underactive thyroid, which affects about 14 million Americans, and is seven times more common in women than in men). That means everything moves more slowly in your body, including in your GI tract, which can result in constipation.
You put on extra pounds
When you have excess levels of inflammation, your body may respond by storing fat, says Myers. Add stress to the mix, and the elevated levels of hormones can change how your body processes food, leading to more fat and, long story short, an increase in inflammation in your body. Of course, a healthy diet is important to breaking the cycle, but reining in chronic stress may be even more critical, Myers says.
You have sensitive teeth
Sure, you've heard that poor oral hygiene can lead to inflammation elsewhere in the body. However, the opposite is true, too. One recent study found that your dentist can play an important role in detecting undiagnosed conditions including diabetes, which has been linked to inflammation. If not managed properly, uncontrolled blood-sugar levels related to diabetes can translate into tender gums, tooth infections (which may not always be painful) and bone loss around teeth. "Type 2 diabetes is one we often catch in the mouth first," says Houston-based dentist Carol Alvarado, DDS. "Often, patients are not even aware this is going on," she says. That is why it is so important to see your dentist every six months (or more often, if advised).