Deepak Chopra, MD, has made it his mission to help people use holistic methods to battle serious health issues like addiction, take control of their weight, and boost their brain power. And now, he has a new obsession: inflammation.
The integrative medicine pioneer's latest book, A Healing Self, tackles the issue, as does the Deepak Chopra and Friends "Restore" event, which will be held over three days in New York City this weekend (March 23-25). The latter, in fact, features a schedule filled with inflammation-specific deep dives and panels, meditation sessions, sound baths, and even an anti-inflammatory salad courtesy of Sweetgreen in order to help attendees build a robust "spiritual toolkit" with which to attack the issue.
Curious as to why Dr. Chopra has decided to make inflammation his nemesis, I call him up (NBD). "My colleagues and I want to bring awareness to inflammation as the underlying factor in almost any chronic illness," he tells me. According to Dr. Chopra, heart disease, Alzheimer's, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and almost every type of cancer have all been linked to inflammation—to name just a few. "I think the future [of medicine] is preventable, predictable, participatory, process-oriented, and reversible," he says. "But we have to get out from the old model first: this list of drugs [for treatment]."
"I think the future [of medicine] is preventable, predictable, participatory, process-oriented, and reversible." —Deepak Chopra, MD
Dr. Chopra explains that his interest in yogic breathing led to his reinvigorated focus on treating inflammation holistically: These practices activate the vagus nerve (the longest cranial nerve, it runs from your brain through your face and down into your abdomen), which has been shown to play a critical role in regulating the body's inflammation response. "For the first time, I think we have a scientifically-legitimate way to reduce inflammation and prevent or even reverse disease," he says of breathwork.
It's not the only way to reduce inflammation without meds, either. Dr. Chopra tells me that much of the scientific community now believes that 99 percent of the genetic information in our bodies comes from the bacteria that live within them rather than from, say, our parents. This is an important discovery, he says, because it means we have more control over disease than we thought via—what else?—inflammation regulation in the gut.
"When the microbiome gets inflamed in response to contaminated food or inflamed food, your body almost instantly gets inflamed," he explains. This, he believes, accounts for a great deal of illness: Dr. Chopra says only 5 percent of inherited genetic errors actually cause disease. Meanwhile, "everybody's microbiome seems to be inflamed," he says.
This low-grade inflammation doesn't always have symptoms, and when it does they're usually non-specific (e.g. fatigue, depression, trouble sleeping). This has historically made it difficult to treat; however, Dr. Chopra says you can ask your doctor to perform inflammation-specific tests. "I tell people to look up 'inflammation markers' on the internet and then tell their physicians they want them tested," he says. But if you don't ask, your doc likely won't check for them; it's not yet a standard practice to do so. Dr. Chopra suggests testing your microbiome, too.
Should you be inflamed or interested in preventing inflammation, Dr. Chopra offers five simple research-backed ways to keep your body calm and healthy below.
Keep reading for 5 unexpected ways to reduce inflammation, according to Deepak Chopra.
Keep a gratitude journal
Dr. Chopra tells me that more research needs to be done to pin down the direct correlation between emotions and inflammation, but he calls fear, anxiety, hostility, and anger "inflammation emotions." These, he says, cause cortisol and adrenaline to spike, which increases inflammation all over the body.
On the flip side, he says, positive emotions can lower inflammation. "We published a study recently where we had chronic heart failure patients keep a gratitude journal every night," Dr. Chopra says. "Just doing that, their inflammation markers went down in their blood and their health improved significantly—more than [it did with] any drug."
Cultivate loving relationships
What we call "love" brings with it certain positive emotions, Dr. Chopra says, such as compassion, empathy, joy, and piece of mind. Researchers are now looking at the biology behind these emotions—e.g. an influx of dopamine, oxytocin, opiates (natural opioids), endorphins, and neurotransmitters like serotonin—to see how they're specifically impacting inflammation as well. One day, your RX for IBS just might include a hug.
Dr. Chopra tells me that studies show that the practice of meditation decreases inflammatory markers. In one study, he says, "it also increased the activity of genes that cause self-regulation, or what we call homeostasis or healing."
According to Dr. Chopra, when you walk around barefoot outside, touch a tree, or otherwise interact with nature, negative ions from the Earth come into your body and "neutralize the accessory radicals that build up there as a result of inflammation." That's why, he says, people feel better when they're in nature. (If this sounds woo-woo, it might surprise you to know that there's research behind these claims.)
On a similar note, he also says you should walk 10,000 steps per day, shoes or not.
Fake it 'til you make it
If you're not always able to cultivate positive feelings in your everyday *real* life, Dr. Chopra tells me not to worry. The next big thing in the anti-inflammation movement is virtual. "A lot of people now are looking at virtual reality and augmented reality to bring down inflammation in the body by changing what we call 'experience,'" he says. And he believes that people will eventually use fewer pharmaceuticals as a result of these technologies. "They'll be doing a VR session instead," he says.
Always ahead of the curve, Dr. Chopra already has a virtual reality meditation available called Finding Your True Self. When I ask him what it's like, he responds with an uncharacteristic ambiguity that makes me want to buy an Oculus ASAP. "It's like having the experience the Buddha might have had," he says nonchalantly. Whether or not such an experience will actually cure inflammation—and all signs point to it doing just that—I'm in.
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