You have probably heard the term inflammation many times before, with many foods labeled negatively due to their inflammatory properties. Anything from sugar to omega-6 and stress can cause inflammation, but what exactly is it? Sometimes it can actually be a good thing, but when you suffer from it long-term, it’s time to do something about it and take it seriously. Here we break down what it actually is and when you should consider consulting a doctor or changing your lifestyle.
When Inflammation is a Good Thing
Inflammation is what happens when your immune system responds to an injury, sending white blood cells to help fight any bacteria or viruses that may have found their way in. For example, if you fall over and hurt your knee but don’t wash the affected area, any bits of dirt or gravel left in the wound will cause the surrounding area to become red and raised. This is a sign of your body getting to work and keeping any pathogens out so that it does not become infected. So, in this instance, inflammation is a good thing.
Additionally, when you exercise, you are essentially injuring your muscles so that the body can initiate an inflammatory response and repair the muscles, making them stronger than before. However, constant inflammation does not give your body enough time to repair itself. This is where it becomes a bad thing.
When Inflammation Is Not So Good
If you exercise every day without leaving enough time in between for your body to recover, the inflammation is not going to subside, and you will constantly be re-injuring your muscles. This same effect is seen if you constantly eat foods that irritate your stomach’s lining or if you face long-term psychological stress through life-changing issues like losing a job or caring for a loved one who has medical needs. Even sleep deprivation can cause you to suffer from chronic inflammation.
Causes of Inflammation
An unhealthy lifestyle can cause inflammation. High-stress levels, too much alcohol, refined carbs, processed meat, and exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke all play their part. In addition, some medications are known to cause inflammation, so this is worth looking at.
Reasons to Take Inflammation Seriously
Inflammation may not sound like a serious issue, but here are some reasons why you shouldn’t ignore It.
There are two main types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
- Acute inflammation is the inflammation you experience after a brutal session at the gym. Everything hurts and your muscles are so sore you can barely move the morning after. This type of inflammation is temporary, and it isn’t long before your body is restored to normal functioning.
- Chronic inflammation is less severe, but it can cause long-term problems. It is often symptomatic of autoimmune disorders, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and Rheumatoid arthritis, but can also be caused by long-term stress.
Let’s look at both types of inflammation in more detail.
- It is a Symptom of an Injury – Inflammation is a symptom of a physical injury. It is a perfectly healthy bodily response, but it can be a sign that something is wrong.
- It Can Become Worse if Left Untreated – If you are suffering from multiple stressors in your life, your mind will usually be focused on dealing with the problem at hand, and you won’t notice inflammation in your gut as easily as a physical injury. However, left unidentified, it can become an even bigger health issue.
- Chronic Inflammation Can Cause Disease – Although chronic diseases can cause inflammation, studies have shown that inflammation can actually cause some diseases, including:
- Obesity-related diabetes
- Alzheimer’s Disease
When the immune system is triggered into fighting an infection, it releases cytokines, which are an extremely important part of the healing process, but unfortunately, some of them cause inflammation and effectively make the above diseases worse.
Testing for Inflammation
You may not be aware you are suffering from chronic inflammation until it’s picked up by a blood test. C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker for inflammation. Your doctor may test for this as part of a wider blood panel. The CRP marker is useful, but it doesn’t tell you what the cause is or whether you have acute or chronic inflammation. Your other symptoms will be important in making a firm diagnosis.
An Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is another useful marker for inflammation. Like the CRP test, it only points to the fact inflammation is present, but it can be used to monitor whether a treatment is successful.
What Can You Do About it?
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help fight inflammation, and being aware of what it is and does is the first step.
Next, you can consider changing your diet. The best advice is to cut down on processed foods that contain high amounts of sugar and saturated fats. You do still need some fat in your diet, but you can easily get this from fish, which is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fats. Fresh fruits and vegetables will also provide you with antioxidants that protect your cells from free radicals. Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, such as avocados, green tea, berries, and mushrooms.
It can be helpful to switch to a gluten-free diet, as many people are intolerant to gluten. Long-term gluten intolerance causes gut problems and can make autoimmune conditions worse.
You may also want to consider supplements that support the body’s healthy response against inflammation. For example, Artemisinin is a sweet wormwood extract that has been used by Chinese herbalists for over 2,000 to treat inflammation.
On top of changing your diet, you’ll want to focus on finding a way to better manage your social and psychological stressors. Look into relaxation techniques, take up a hobby, or simply learn to say no! And if you have taken up exercise as a way to help your body heal, remember to give yourself plenty of time to recover between workouts.