Do I Have Inflammation? 7 Habits Experts Say Can Lead To It

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You probably have many habits that you follow each day without thinking too much about them. But if you aren't clear on what causes inflammation, you might not realize that common habits like staying up late or drinking in excess every weekend could be increasing the inflammatory response in your body.

"Inflammation is the body's reaction to a real or perceived invader," Dr. Anca Askanase, a rheumatologist with expertise in lupus at Columbia Doctors, and director of the Columbia University Lupus Center, tells Bustle. "It is the normal protective response to an attack." Inflammation might seem like an invisible force that's present deep inside your body, but it actually has a number of physical symptoms, including pain, redness, warmth, swelling, and difficulty functioning. "Chronic inflammation is the type associated with systemic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus," she says.

In addition to changing some of your habits which could be causing inflammation, incorporating good bacteria into your meals could support this. "Eating fermented foods is the most natural way to get probiotics into your gut, which in turn will create prevalence of good bacteria in your gut," Dr. Lev Kalika, a physical therapist and owner of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine, tells Bustle. "This, in turn, will create anti-inflammatory cell production and better blood pH."

Here are some habits that can lead to inflammation, according to experts.

1. Eating Lots Of Sugar

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At the end of a long day (or at the beginning, or in the middle), there's nothing more delicious than a sugary pastry to soothe your sweet tooth. While dessert definitely has a place in a balanced lifestyle, eating an abundance of sugar can be not-so-great for your gut, causing inflammation, Jacklyn Renee, a holistic health coach specializing in gut health, tells Bustle. "The body is like a game of dominos all set up," she says. "When one domino is tipped over, the rest start to fall too." That's why your eating habits can have such a direct influence on the amount of inflammation that's in your gut. Talk to your doctor to figure out what amount of sugar intake will work best for your body.

2. Not Sleeping Enough

You've probably been told that it's ideal to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but if you feel like you can function on less, is that OK? It's common to have an occasional night when your sleep isn't ideal, but if you are not sleeping enough on a regular basis, that may cause gut issues and inflammation. "The brain and the gut are completely connected through a nerve called the Vagas," Renee says. "This nerve sends signals back and forth all day." So when your brain isn't getting the rest it needs, that can seriously affect your gut, which can then lead to inflammation. Be sure to prioritize getting quality sleep, and if you're having trouble falling or staying asleep, see your doctor for help.

3. Drinking Too Much Alcohol

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If you drank too much the previous night, you might think that the worst thing you have to contend with is a nasty hangover. But if drinking in excess is a regular habit, that can do some damage to your gut. "Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can have long-term effects on your gut," Dr. Jay Goodbinder, DC DABCI, a functional medicine doctor specializing in epigenetics healing, tells Bustle. "Too much alcohol can lead to dysbiosis, an extreme microbial imbalance in your gut." While drinking alcohol is OK on occasion, swapping out alcoholic drinks for ones that support your gut health like water or tea every now and then can help put you on the road to a healthier gut.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

4. Not Staying Active

If you work in an office, chances are that you have to be really intentional about making time to get your body moving, whether that means going to a super intense gym session or taking a walk with a friend. In addition to being good for your overall physical and mental health, staying active can reduce your risk of experiencing chronic inflammation. When you exercise, your skeletal muscles produce proteins that can either directly or indirectly reduce inflammation in your body, Kalika says. If you have a hard time fitting physical activity into your day, try to pick up something that feels more like a hobby than a workout, like kayaking, gardening, or rock climbing.

5. Using Sugar Substitutes

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If you've heard that large amounts of sugar aren't necessarily good for supporting a strong body, you might have switched out your sodas or pastries for those containing artificial sugar alternatives. But while sugar isn't great for you in terms of inflammation, sugar substitutes aren't either. "Sucralose is an [...] artificial sweetener, and Splenda is the most common sucralose-based product," Kalika says. Studies have found that sucralose kills good bacteria, which can then lead to inflammation. Of course, having the occasional stick of sugar-free gum probably won't have a big impact on your gut inflammation, but if you want to reduce your inflammation as much as possible, try to stick to as many fruit-based sweets as you can.

6. Taking Antibiotics Too Often

Taking antibiotics every time you get sick with a flu or cold can have a negative effect on inflammation, Kalika says. "Antibiotics destroy our gut flora. Our gut normally contains great amounts (colonies) of good bacterias, however the gut also has bad bacterias, which only become dangerous when are present in excessive amounts," he says. "Every time we take antibiotics, the balance between good and bad bacterias is disturbed." An imbalanced gut, in turn, can then cause pro-inflammatory cells to increase. If your doctor recommends that you take antibiotics in response to an illness, it's safe to assume that they have your best interests in mind. But if inflammation is of concern to you, ask them about how the medication will affect your inflammation levels.

7. Smoking

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Many people are aware of the fact that smoking cigarettes can lead to lung disease, but what you might not realize is that it can actually support inflammation in a number of ways in your body. "There is excellent science to explain the role of smoking in inflammation," Askanase says. "Smoking decreases the anti-inflammatory cytokines, the protective molecules in the body," she says. If you stop smoking you'll not only be doing a favor for your overall health, but conditions like lupus, rheumatoid, psoriasis, arthritis, and rashes — which have inflammatory components — will likely improve.

You want to take the best possible care of your body, and cutting out or decreasing some of the habits that can lead to inflammation can support your health. Something as simple as picking up a new active hobby or making sure you get quality sleep can help you feel much stronger.