Understanding Inflammation and How it Affects Overall Health
Inflammation is a biological process that plays an important role in our overall health. It’s an important part of the body’s immune system and is used to fight off infection and repair damage.
Too much inflammation for too long, however, is problematic. The challenge has always been understanding when inflammation is a normal response to something happening in the body and when it becomes dangerous and requires some kind of intervention.
What is Inflammation?
If you’ve ever suffered from joint pain, had a cut, been stung by a bee, gotten sunburned, or had a cold, you would have experienced a noticeable form of inflammation. This is the body’s natural response to repairing damage and fighting off microbes that may cause infection.
Unfortunately, inflammation can be triggered by other things that do not have an immediate harmful impact on the body. If we eat the wrong foods, don’t take exercise or we’re under stress, for example, our bodies can be ‘tricked’ into triggering the inflammation response.
Your autoimmune system can also trigger inflammation for seemingly no reason at all. Arthritis is an example of this. The tissue isn’t damaged or under threat but our immune system reacts and creates inflammation and pain.
Acute vs Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation is short-lived and usually disappears in a few hours or a couple of days. Our reaction to a finger cut or a bee sting are typical examples. It’s how the immune system should work.
Chronic inflammation can often start in the same way but then persists and lasts for weeks, months or even years. Here the immune system organises white blood cells to attack the ‘perceived’ threat and cause inflammation.
If this carries on for an extended period it can damage cells and tissues and lead to major health issues from arthritis and diabetes to heart disease and cancer.
Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can be caused by:
- An infection or injury that doesn’t resolve.
- Autoimmune disorders encourage the immune system to attack healthy tissues.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals and irritants.
- Lifestyle factors such as smoking, being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, and exposure to constant stress.
While acute inflammation is easily observable, chronic inflammation tends to be hidden until the health issues it creates start to compound each other. When they do, individuals may experience a range of symptoms including fatigue and fever, mouth sores, and pain in the chest and abdomen.
What Does Chronic Inflammation do to the Body?
An acute response easily repairs in a short time. A chronic inflammation, however, can mean damage to cells, tissues and organs and may cause long-lasting health conditions including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Inflammation often also compounds other conditions such as asthma and obesity. It’s thought to play a significant role in the development of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
How to Reduce the Risk of Chronic Inflammation
Many of the chronic inflammation issues commonly experienced in modern society can be attributed to poor lifestyle choices. Making changes to our diet and the amount of exercise we take can dramatically reduce our risk of developing a range of conditions.
1. Increase Anti-inflammatory Foods
These include healthy food choices such as fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, and eating meals that contain omega fatty acids such as oily fish.
The Mediterranean diet is a good example of a highly effective anti-inflammatory regime that can make a big difference to overall health.
2. Cut out Inflammatory Foods
Some types of food are guaranteed to increase the inflammatory response and that can have a long-term impact on health. These include highly processed foods such as oven-ready meals, pasta, and deep-fried foods.
Trans fats such as margarine and corn oil are also problematic – swapping these for healthier options such as olive oil or coconut is a good idea.
3. Blood Sugar Levels
Carbohydrates such as white rice, pasta and refined sugar all help to spike blood sugar levels and can have a big impact on the inflammatory response and make us insulin resistant, a precursor to developing type 2 diabetes.
Swapping these foods for healthier wholegrain options and removing refined sugar from the diet is one of the most important things an individual can do to maintain a healthier body.
On top of a good diet, it’s important to undertake regular exercise, whether that’s taking frequent long walks in the country or working out in the gym. Both diet and exercise together can improve health and help maintain the right weight and reduce inflammation.
5. Reduce Stress
When we’re exposed to chronic stress, it can affect our internal biology processes and cause more inflammation. High-stress levels are linked to health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Treatment and Management Techniques
A conventional approach to inflammation management is to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids to help control the condition. More and more today, however, healthcare is looking at a more holistic, functional medicine approach.
This approach looks at the root cause of the inflammation rather than simply treating the individual symptoms. If the problem is caused by a poor diet, for example, changing the way an individual eats can not only reduce their risk of experiencing issues with regards to inflammation in the first place, but it can also benefit those already experiencing these issues.
With a conventional approach based around the prescription of medicines, symptoms can quickly return once someone stops taking the tablets.
With functional medicine, positive lifestyle changes (exercise, diet and stress reduction) can offer an effective and more permanent solution that leads to better health outcomes and also reduces the likelihood of developing other serious medical conditions.
Here at Miskawaan Health, the first point of call for treating inflammation is to consider any food intolerances that the patient may have, as this is often one of the primary causes of the issue.