It’s one of those terms that we just accept without looking to understand it, a bit like gravity and wind.
Being aware of the basics of inflammation will give you a much greater understanding of your body and how to look after it better.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammations is a process that occurs naturally in your body in response to cell damage or infections. Inflammation is basically a system of information flow. Its presence tells your body where there’s an issue and that help needs to be sent there to ward off infectious agents, and clear away dead pathogens, debris and tissue.
When cell damage or an infection occurs, certain cells of your immune system are able to detect these changes. They then produce chemicals that recruit more immune cells to the area to contain the damage. These recruited immune cells are the “cleanup crew”, they either kill or clear whatever is causing the problem and allow new tissue to be laid down.
This process is usually short lived. It’s known as “acute inflammation” and once it is resolved everything should go back to normal.
However, with our modern lifestyles, diets and modern diseases such as diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and skin disorders, cell damage is often sustained and the inflammatory process ends up becoming chronic.
What Contributes To Inflammation?
We are consuming too much processed food which lacks nutrients and good fats. We are also consuming too many calories which is leading to obesity. The use of cheap vegetable oils rather than quality oils like olive oil also contribute to these inflammatory processes.
Physical activity is very closely linked to inflammation. Regular, moderate inflammation can actually reduce systemic inflammation. However prolonged intense exercise can increase systemic inflammation.
Both obesity and inactivity contribute to chronic inflammation and ultimately to multiple chronic diseases. Examples of such diseases would be type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
The role of the digestive tract is to act as a selective barrier to entry of certain substances. In an ideal world this barrier would prevent entry of hostile substances but allow the entry of desirable substances.
If this barrier is damaged or disrupted, gaps start to form allowing entry of unwanted pathogens or substances. The body then attacks these substances resulting in an increase of inflammation.
An example of how damaged intestinal barriers results in chronic inflammation is to look at those with Celiac disease.
A lack of sleep has been shown to increase certain inflammatory chemicals throughout the day. Many of these chemicals have been associated with diseases such as cardiovascular disease.
A lack of sleep also puts us at risk of making poor food choices the following day. These foods tend to be high in bad fats or sugar which contribute to further inflammation.
What Effects Does Chronic Inflammation Have On Your Body?
Chronic inflammation affects people in different ways. Some people may not have any symptoms at all, whereas others may have very obvious symptoms such as skin disorders, frequent headaches or irritable bowel.
Those with no symptoms may have deeper signs such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.
It is also possible that chronic inflammation may alter certain set points such as sensitivity to pain. I see many patients with chronic pain and most of these people have some degree of chronic systemic inflammation. I often find that by reducing people’s inflammation, their pain also decreases.
What Can You Do To Resolve Chronic Inflammation?
This is where your diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on your health.
Firstly by simply moving away from processed packaged foods towards natural whole foods will have a huge impact. In addition to this we can add in more omega 3 fats through either consuming more fatty fish or supplementing with a high quality fish oil.
Do you have digestive issues? Bloating, diarrhoea, constipation? Any of these will indicate some digestive dysfunction. By improving your diet this will help improve your intestinal lining. There are also certain supplements that could be beneficial for this such as L-Glutamine.
Next you can work on your sleep. Aim to be in bed with the lights off by 10:00pm. This may sound impossible for you but I can assure you, you will feel better after a while.
Lastly, set yourself some exercise targets for the week. Aim to get at least 30 minutes, three times a week. Walking, cycling or swimming will be a good start.
I frequently work with people using a functional medicine approach in order to bring their inflammation levels down. Usually we work on improving all of the above factors in a lot of detail by improving, diet, sleep, stress, exercise and using certain supplements.
Do You Need More Help?
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