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inflammation: the good, the bad, the ugly

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

Inflammation, it comes with the job right? Swollen feet after a long day in pointe shoes, swollen + sore muscles from repeating new choreography over and over again or a new workout regimen. Inflammation can show up in so many ways and for so many reasons. Most recently I found myself super swollen after returning to my favorite cross training activities after a long hiatus thanks to a busy fall and Nutcracker season. Are you apt to simply reach for the NSAID in the medicine cabinet? That’s certainly not the worst thing, especially on occasion.


Personal anecdote, I went to see my osteopath just before Nutcracker, my pelvis was super out of alignment and I was in quite a bit of pain - my strained muscles were extra tight from rehearsals and the busyness of the fall. After correcting my alignment and loosening the muscles that were angry, you know what he recommended? That I take some ibuprofen, an NSAID, over the next few days to help calm some of the inflammation and, therefore, my pain. I’m so glad that I did, in addition to other inflammation-reducing practices, because I was able to complete my performances with minimal swelling and pain! Ok, onto the actual blog post for today.


Inflammation, though mostly annoying, is an action our body performs to protect itself. It is actually an immune response to illness and injury among other things. On it’s own, acute (short-term) inflammation is great; it means the body has the tools to minimize the negative impacts of injury and return to homeostasis relatively quickly. When inflammation becomes continual, though, it can cause underlying issues that become more problematic for health, wellness, and your performance.


Chronic inflammation can eventually progress, involving more regions of the body. It’s just as important to maintain inflammation reducing activities and behaviors during your busy season as you do during your rest, recovery, and off seasons. You might be surprised to learn that, once chronic, this inflammation can begin to effect your digestive tract and immune system among other vital body processes. These are the impacts we’ll discuss today; so, what’s the ugly here?


The general inflammatory pathway can be described as follows:

  1. Cellular receptors identify damage via stimuli and initiate inflammation.

  2. Markers of inflammation are released and cells responsible for inflammation are activated.

  3. Once the damage is resolved, the body stops sending white blood cells to protect the area and the inflammatory pathway winds down as cells leave the area.

Chronic inflammation can occur when any of these steps become dysregulated. Oftentimes, this dysregulation can be instigated by the overuse of NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medications). Read more about NSAIDs here. Imbalance of medication and the body’s natural response can lead to continual inflammation. When this happens, the body can no longer accurately recognize injury, damage, or areas of infection - throwing the whole process out of balance. Excessive inflammation can even cause nutrition-related concerns like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver dysfunction, dysbiosis, and more. Let’s focus on dysbiosis.


Dysbiosis is an imbalance in digestive health, specifically the microbiome and health of your intestines. The cells that hold our digestive tract together can become inflamed - maybe from an illness, allergic reaction, etc. - just like your ankle or feet do after a long day in pointe shoes. And, just like your feet + ankles, intestinal inflammation can be thrown out of balance leading to chronic inflammation. When this occurs, at least two things can happen:

  • Foods being digested through the tract can leak out of the intestines, often referred to as “leaky gut.”

  • Nutrients passing through the digestive tract can go unabsorbed and unutilized due to the inflammation.

Even if you’re adequately fueling and maximizing your nutrition to optimize performance, your body is likely not able to access all the amazing nutrients you’re eating due to chronic inflammation in the intestines. What a bummer!


So, what can you do?


I’m not saying don’t take NSAIDs when you need to! I encourage using them when needed and not to excess. Other inflammation reduction practices can look like:

  • Have stress management behaviors that work for you. This might be gentle yoga, going for a walk, breathing exercises, meditation, drawing, reading, anything that helps you manage stress.

  • Ensure you’re adequately hydrating. There’s recently been a lot of updates to and debates about the research on how much water to drink and what can be considered a hydrating beverage. I will continue to encourage dancers and performance athletes to aim for at least 67oz of water daily and enjoy other beverages like tea, juices, coffee, etc. that you love.

  • Prioritize sleep quantity + quality. Maintain your optimal bed time and morning wake routines.

  • Balance your macronutrients + eat the rainbow for anti-inflammation support. Surprise, surprise on this one, right 😅 but, it remains vital! Specifically: balance your saturated + unsaturated fats leaning toward a ratio of 1.5-3 grams omega-3 fatty acids daily; take note of your Vitamin D + Selenium intake levels; and enjoy your fermented/cultured foods - kefir, yogurt, and more.

Curious if there’s anything else you can incorporate or adjust to reduce inflammation and/or boost recovery from illness or injury? Schedule your FREE strategy session today and let’s get started.






Resources

Chen L, Deng H, Cui H, et al. Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs. Oncotarget . 2017;9(6):7204-7218. Published 2017 Dec 14. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.23208. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805548/.

Iovino L, Thur LA, Gnjatic S*, et al.* Shared inflammatory pathways and therapeutic strategies in COVID-19 and cancer immunotherapy. Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer 2021; **9:**e002392. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002392. https://jitc.bmj.com/content/9/5/e002392.

Lidicker G. 25 Ways to Fight Inflammation. Clean Plates. Published 2020 October 23. https://cleanplates.com/wellness-tuneup/25-ways-fight-inflammation/.

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I'm a Nutrition Educator & Wellness Coach based in and serving Washington, DC and the DMV region. My lifestyle-focused method has successfully helped clients achieve personal results and enhance athletic ability, eMpowering performance in class, rehearsals, and on-stage. As professional dancer myself, I have gained nutritional balance and improved my own relationship with food through many years of practice and a Masters of Science in Nutrition from University of Bridgeport. I bring this depth of personal and academic experience to a variety of clients, particularly performance athletes and fitness enthusiasts. In my spare time, I teach yoga and manage Ballet Embody, a professional contemporary ballet company.
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