What is inflammation?

It would be a fair assumption that most of us have suffered from some form of inflammation during our lives…. Whether it be an infected graze; sprained ankle or ingrown toe nail the basics of the bodies inflammatory response are exactly the same.

If I went around a room of strangers and asked everyone what they perceived was the meaning of inflammation I think 90% of responses would be something along the lines of ‘the pain and redness that you get when you hurt yourself’ and generally that’s pretty spot on. But why does this response take place? And is it harmful to the body?

Inflammation is the biological response that your body undergoes in response to a  ‘threat’ whether it be bacteria, virus, cell damage ,fungus, parasites, trauma or toxic chemicals.  In most situations this is an effective protective mechanism to eliminate the injurious stimuli and initiate the healing process.

Some people confuse the terms inflammation and infection seeing them as synonyms for one another which is not the case. Inflammation can occur as the result of infection but the two terms are not interchangeable and it is important to understand the difference between the two moving forward.

To live a healthy balance lifestyle small amounts of inflammation in the body are essential BUT it is possible, and interestingly becoming more and more common for the inflammation process to get out of hand with the consequences ranging from fueling chronic disease to weight loss problems.

Acute vs chronic inflammation: Acute inflammation is part of the normal immune response. It is, in most cases, a perfectly orchestrated release of chemicals and hormones in response to a ‘perceived threat’ to the body and its tissues. For example you are deeply invested in a competitive ping pong game, its match point; loser buys lunch; you swing, you miss and in the midst of it all you go over on your ankle. #awkward who actually gets that competitive over ping pong anyway? So you now have a sprained ankle. Within seconds of the body suffering such trauma, pain sets in. On a biological level chemicals such as bradykinin, histamine and prostaglandins are released from the damaged cells in your ankle; this sets the process in motion and all other immune cells are called to action.

Swelling is thanks to bradykinin & histamine which increase blood to the area whilst allowing fluid to escape to surrounding tissues, which is what gives your ankle that puffy appearance. We get pain sensations courtesy of prostaglandins which attract platelets and white blood cells, namely phagocytes which come to destroy any germs or damaged cells. This all happens over a short period of time and is extremely effective.

BUT what happens if this process doesn’t switch off? If this protective mechanism continues? no longer a response to a threat but rather a background activity gradually destroying perfectly healthy cells?

Recent research described ‘low grade inflammation’ as a common encounter that we as westerners experience. This being thanks to a world full of over processed foods full of sugar and a lifestyle where we are under slept, over worked and not engaging in nearly enough physical activity. The result here is chronic disease…. Think diabetes, metabolic syndromes, obesity, high blood pressure, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, liver disease; and the list continues.

What can be done? Quit your job, cash in your assets, move to Mexico and live off coconuts and fresh fish tacos. IMAGINE

Seriously though lifestyle changes will go a long way in helping lower low levels of chronic inflammation
  • Curb unhealthy habits such as smoking and recreational drugs
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid ‘inflammatory foods’ such as those with high sugar, high in trans fats or deep fried foods and replace these with ‘anti-inflammatory foods’ (See past blogs for more information on this HERE)
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Find an outlet for your stress: whether it be meditation, exercise, keep a journal… whatever your chosen method you need to CHILL out a little.
The symptoms are often silent, however there are a few conventional tests that can be ordered by your GP which can be indicative of chronic underlying inflammation. Any of this sound familiar? Visit your GP or natural health care provider.. get tested. This may be the start of a healthier, happier you!

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