Understanding Inflammation and Its Role In Our Body
I believe that anti-inflammatory diet or lifestyle can help us alleviate many of our symptoms in managing different diseases. But beyond my personal experience, there are significant amount of studies and research that helps us to understand inflammation, as well as how to control too much of it. Not all inflammation is bad, but once it becomes chronic, that’s when we start seeing damage in the body. Today, researchers know that a great deal of diseases and conditions have a connection to systemic or chronic inflammation. Understanding inflammation and its roll in our bodies, is important while living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle for management of health. I’m going to try to explain inflammation as simply as possible.
What is Inflammation?
Simply put, inflammation is the natural way of our body to protect itself from unknown and foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses and infections. It’s important to know that inflammation in of it self is not bad. For instance, once an injury takes place, such as a cut or any other form of trauma, the inflammation signals the immune system of an incoming enemy. This is when the immune system kicks in, and starts the healing process. Our body does not start experiencing inflammation when we feel or see swelling and pain. It starts long before we see any kind of indication of an intruder of any form. Inflammation is the first responder, when the body is under an attack. Together with the immune system, their assignment is to remove all harmful things and start the healing and restoring process. I like to think of inflammation as a fire that cleans and destroys the bad. But sadly sometimes the fire does not go out like it should. Instead it creates bigger problems.
A kids Perspective
It’s been really interesting for me to learn the process of inflammation. When I was a kid, I used to think that swelling along with pain and perhaps some gooey pus meant I would surely loose a leg or an arm. I am sure we all remember all the cuts and bruises we got as children, playing and discovering. When I hear my husband’s childhood memories on their dairy farm, I wonder how they ever survived 😉 . But now I understand, that the entire process that took place after each of my bicycle crashes or even when I played with matches (you thought I was a good kid 😉 ), was just part of my body’s normal healing process. Sure it would take couple of weeks for the injury to heal, but my mom was right, “time usually healed all wounds”. So as a child, inflammation was my best friend, and without its presence I would have had no protection.
Process Of Inflammation
Let’s take a look on what really happens. In most cases when an acute inflammation kicks in, the white blood cells start swarming (like busy bees) around the effected part, which helps with the healing process. Once this happens, the blood starts flowing in the veins and the real cleaning up work starts. At this point, we may start feeling the warmth or notice redness and swelling (caused by the flow of the blood) of the effected area. We may also temporarily loose the function of that body part or experience some pain. During this course, chemicals start releasing to help repair the damaged tissues. Inflammation brings the immune cells thru increased blood flow, to the invaded area. And as the body starts healing, the inflammation gradually stops responding and returns back to being inactive. Occasionally the body can also experience fever due to all the energy that the immune system is using to fight off the foreign invaders.
Chronic Versus Acute
But sometimes inflammation does not cause any of the typical visible symptoms, and this is called, silent symptoms. Also refereed as Chronic (systemic) or low grade inflammation in the body, which often times lead to gradual damage, consequently channeling opportunities to variety of conditions and diseases according to researchers. With chronic inflammation, because of perhaps faulty immune response, the immune system starts instead attacking its own cells. The protector of the body now becomes the enemy. It’s easy to notice an acute inflammation, because it comes on quickly after a trauma of some sort and has very obvious symptoms, that is not the case with chronic. Chronic starts and moves very slow and there are for the most part no symptoms until tissue damage has begun.
Cause of Chronic Inflammation
An acute inflammation that is not taken care of properly (not necessarily consciously) can result in chronic inflammation. Another cause can be exposure to variety of long term contact with chemicals or irritants. In many cases according to scientist, being prone to systemic inflammation in the body are caused by a combination of genetics and environmental exposure. Each child is born with a certain level of defense mechanism in their immune system, and sometimes this is where genetics play a role. Studies have also found that our diet plays a major role in chronic inflammation. Sugar being on the top, but also processed foods as well as red meat.
Being aware of our body’s reactions and general well-being, makes it real important in detecting early onset of silent inflammation. Time really becomes of an essence in this situation. Having a compromised immune system takes a lot of energy from the body, which in turns keeps inflammation on guard. Some of the early symptoms of inflammation can be constant cold hands and feet (I can feel this even in the middle of the Summer). Other indicators can be change of gut health, such as chronic constipation or diarrhea. Some will experience rash, headaches or just mild constant ache in their joints. There are several other early indicators and signs, that’s why it’s important to always consult a doctor. As frustrating as it may be, as I have discovered, even with our best intentions with being aware and prevention, sometimes controlling inflammation can be really difficult. Especially when it has been around for a long time and caused broader damage. But, regardless of our circumstances every little effort counts and helps.
Prevention and Treatments
More often than not, acute inflammation is best treated by prescribed medication. But the best defense against chronic inflammation, that I have found, is change of lifestyle. That includes not just diet, but also thru stress management, proper sleeping habits and exercise. There are also at least handful of specific herbs that have shown to help with controlling inflammation such as turmeric and ginger. Of course, always remember that, these are for preventive use and you should always consult with your professional doctor. Being proactive plays a huge role in how we bounce back for instance after a small 24-hour bug. Prevention when an option, is always a better route than acute treatment of any condition or prolonged inflammation. And every day, there are small choices and actions we can make that can help our bodies. For instance being in the nature and the sun or even interacting with people and laughing. Being mindful of our surrounding, emotions and bodies is the greatest support for our immune system against inflammation.
“Prevention is Better than Cure”