Turns out, your stiff joints or weird bathroom habits could stem from inflammation.

Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
February 20, 2020

What are the signs low-grade, chronic inflammation? Turns out there's not a clear-cut checklist, and the reason stems from early symptoms being subtle, vague and often something you could attribute to a variety of causes. Yet, it's important to be aware of potential signs so that initial chronic inflammation doesn't stick around to push the body towards a more serious health issue.

Here are nine sneaky signs that you may have inflammation—plus, what to do about it.

1. Your Joints Hurt or Are Stiff

A little tightness or tenderness in muscles and joints following changes to workouts or daily activity is normal and is a healthy type of inflammation that dissipates. What's not so normal is subtle pain and stiffness that continues (and you can't trace back to anything specific).

Joint pain may be one of the first signs of chronic inflammation caused by a variety of things. It can also be a sign of an autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or gout caused by an overtaxed immune system releasing unnecessary inflammatory chemicals. Try reducing key inflammatory foods for some pain relief, and consider seeing a healthcare professional if it continues.

2. You Keep Forgetting Things

Feel like you're more forgetful or can't remember things as well? Memory and cognition declines slowly as we age, but research suggests that higher inflammatory markers in the body lead to a decline that's 8-12% greater.

It also appears that this decline starts in one's middle-aged years. This means reducing inflammation early may impact memory loss later, so don't blow off those memory lapses if they seem to be occurring more than normal. Eat more of these foods to help keep your brain sharp.

3. You Don't Feel Like Yourself

Don't feel like yourself? Low-grade inflammation causes changes in neurotransmitter activity and brain functioning, which research suggests makes the brain more susceptible to depression. And, inflammation may also prevent anti-depressants from working as effectively in some individuals.

This means signs of depression—new onset or changes in severity—often signal some level of inflammation. Looking for ways to reduce inflammation while also seeking professional help is a good idea for mental and physical health, so check out these tips to support mental health through diet.

4. You Have New Digestive Issues

Occasional digestive issues are normal, particularly when you deviate from your usual food intake or schedule. But a digestive issue (such as bloating or diarrhea) that keeps returning over a period of time isn't something to dismiss, as this may be a sign of inflammation.

The digestive tract is one of the first places inflammatory signs are often seen, and this is because of the role that good bacteria play in creating a protective barrier between what we digest and the rest of the body. When this process gets disrupted, inflammatory compounds have an easier time entering the bloodstream, triggering digestive issues and ongoing inflammation.

Getty / manusapon kasosod

Related: 10 Ways to Reduce Inflammation

5. You've Got Belly Fat

Are you shaped more like an apple or a pear? Fat distribution is determined largely by genetics, and you may have heard that carrying excess fat around the midsection (being apple-shaped) increases risks for heart disease and diabetes.

Research suggests this is because belly fat secretes inflammatory compounds that drive chronic inflammation, which means a little extra belly fat is a sign you may already have some inflammation. Consider incorporating some of these foods to fight both inflammation and extra belly fat.

6. Your Blood Pressure Is a Little Higher

Small increases in blood pressure are something to stay on top of, as they may be early signs of chronic inflammation. This is because low-grade inflammation is considered a primary force in the development of hypertension, which promotes damage and stiffness to blood vessels. Watch your numbers, look for ways to decrease stress, keep tabs on sodium and choose more anti-inflammatory foods to help manage blood pressure.

7. You Always Seem to Catch What's Going Around

Chronic inflammation is an unhealthy and abnormal immune reaction that leads to an overstimulated and overworked immune system. This means when you come into contact with bacteria and viruses, the body may not be as equipped to fight them off and you may find yourself more susceptible to catching that cold going around. (Here's how to actually help boost your immunity and not get sick.)

To keep the immune system functioning at its best, look for ways to reduce chronic inflammation (and remember that this includes things like your diet, as well as stress management and sleep).

Related: 10 Things Dietitians Do to Fight Inflammation

8. You Get Hangry Frequently

That hangry, low-blood-sugar feeling stems typically from an intake of refined carbs and sugar. But it's also a sign that the body is able to adequately manage glucose, which can be a sign of underlying inflammation. The reason is that chronic inflammation causes cells to become insulin-resistant, which leads to higher blood glucose and disrupts healthy glucose management, increasing risk for type 2 diabetes.

If you yourself feeling hangry frequently, look first at what you're eating: increase fiber, decrease added sugars, swap refined grains for whole and incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods. But keep tabs on your blood sugar, and definitely mention the frequency of those "hangry" moments the next time you see your doctor—particularly if you have a family history of diabetes.

9. You've Got a New Skin irritation That Won't Go Away

Ongoing skin issues that won't go away may be a sign that the body is inflamed. Chronic inflammation is the result of the immune system being overworked and creates a low level of ongoing irritation within the body. This can make the body hypersensitive to things it may ordinarily not react to, and skin irritations may be one way that you see this. There are also some skin conditions (like eczema) that are often caused by the immune system not working like it should. Talk to your doctor to rule out any medical issues and eat more of these anti-inflammatory foods for beautiful skin.

Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, is author to the new cookbook, Meals That Heal: 100+ Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes in 30 Minutes or Less, and a culinary nutrition expert known for ability to simplify food and nutrition information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism award. You can follow her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.

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