You’ve probably heard of “inflammation” and wondered what exactly it is. This blog will take a deeper look into this topic- its function and how inflammatory issues serve as a catalyst for many ailments.
Inflammation happens when an immune reaction is triggered. Triggers that can cause inflammation in the body include:
When inflammation is prompted, your body releases hormones histamine and bradykinin. They dilate small blood vessels, which allows more blood to reach the injured tissue. These hormones, also known as inflammatory mediators, make it easier for immune system cells to travel through the small blood vessels, allowing more of them to enter the affected tissue and begin the healing process. The immune system cells also cause more fluid to enter the injury. This is why inflamed areas often swell, turn red and feel warm. Also why you have a stuffy nose when the membranes lining your nose are agitated during a cold. This inflammatory response is normal and usually promotes healing; but sometimes, if not controlled, it can become harmful.
There are two types of inflammation that we will cover below.
This type of healing is relatively short in duration, usually lasting a few days. It is the first line of defense against injury or infection. Causes include a physical injury, such as a cut, or a pathogenic threat, like the flu. If a wound feels hot, turns red, hurts, and swells, you know that inflammation is at work. This is an example of inflammation being beneficial. It is debilitating the injured area while the rest of the immune system works to restore it. Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, such as ibuprofen, is a typical treatment of acute inflammation. This provides pain relief and reduces fever.
This is the type of inflammation that can cause long-term damage, thus being dangerous. Compared to acute, chronic inflammation is prolonged and can last for months, maybe years. It causes tissue damage.
With chronic inflammation, the inflammation becomes the problem instead of the solution to an infection, injury or disease. Chronically inflamed tissues continue to send signals that attract immunity cells. When these leukocytes travel from the bloodstream into the injured tissue, they increase the inflammatory response. This continuous inflammatory response eventually starts damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time, this can lead to dying tissue, internal scarring, and DNA damage.
Such inflammation is linked to the development of the many health issues, such as:
Studies show that there is a connection between inflammation and diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body does not process glucose (sugar) properly to use as energy. The food you eat is broken down into glucose and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, your body cues your pancreas to discharge insulin. The pancreas makes this hormone to help glucose get from the bloodstream into our body’s cells for energy. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes, leaving blood sugar in your bloodstream. Over time, diabetes increases your risk of heart or kidney disease, even vision loss.
There are three types of Diabetes- type I, type II and gestational. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease indicated by the chronic inflammation in the region where the pancreas produces hormone cells. These areas are also known as the Islets of Langerhans. It is usually diagnosed early in life and considered to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunity-related factors. This type of diabetes is known as being insulin dependent, because the pancreas produces little or no insulin.
The most common type of diabetes is type II. Type II diabetes happens when the body becomes less sensitive to insulin, causing insulin resistance. As the body continues to ask the pancreas for insulin, inflammation develops. Blood sugar levels creep higher and higher, eventually resulting in this chronic condition. Because the pancreas is constantly creating insulin that the body cannot use, this type of diabetes in advanced stages is also referred to as being insulin independent.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy. It happens when the body cannot make enough insulin while pregnant. Gestational diabetes can cause health problems in both mother and baby. It usually goes away after giving birth. After having gestational diabetes, you are more likely to develop type II diabetes and your child is more likely to become obese or also develop type II diabetes. These chances are lowered by keeping a healthy weight, eating healthy, and being physically active.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is when you consistently have higher than normal blood pressure pushing against the walls of your arteries. A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. The higher your blood pressure levels, the higher your risk of having heart disease, a stroke, or a heart attack. In almost 1 in 20 cases, hypertension happens because of an underlying inflammatory health condition, such as having diabetes or kidney disease. People who smoke, are overweight, eat too much sugar, drink excessive alcohol or live a sedentary lifestyle are at higher risk to develop this condition.
These conditions have an underlying cause of chronic inflammation, leading to high blood pressure.
Inflammation also affects the heart. Heart Disease is a term used to describe various conditions regarding the heart. Types of heart disease include:
Continuous low levels of inflammation stresses the body. Inflammation may promote the growth of plaques, loosen plaque in arteries and trigger blood clots- which are the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Early signs of chronic Inflammation, before disease is present are:
Luckily, inflammation can be reduced by the lifestyle choices we make. Remember that underlying chronic inflammation will produce illness in the body, therefore staying healthy is the key to avoiding excess inflammation. I often stress these guidelines to maintaining your health:
You’ll find that once you stick to these healthy habits, not only will you feel better, but you’ll rest assured that you’re keeping chronic inflammation at bay. Most of us have trouble with diet, exercise, sleep and stress. Becoming more aware and taking small steps towards the larger goal will help you achieve this. As the saying goes, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” An analogy that when applied to life, means that great things take time, so they shouldn’t be rushed.
Diet plays an enormous role in combating inflammation. Eating nutrient dense foods that are high in antioxidants helps boost your immunity. Choosing the right anti-inflammatory foods reduces your chance of illness. But consistently eating the wrong ones will expedite the inflammatory disease process.
Try to limit or avoid these inflammatory foods as much as possible:
Instead, try to eat a wide array of colors everyday. Choose foods that are nutrient dense, like avocado, bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli, citrus fruits, free-range eggs, kale, nuts and spinach. Keep in mind that herbs like cilantro and rosemary paired with garlic pack both health benefits and flavor. With a little imagination, eating healthy does not have to be boring. Try to eat organic produce and grass fed protein, whenever you can.
If access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited, you can always buy frozen vegetables, meats, and fish. You can make a nutritious broth by boiling and then straining chicken/beef bones and flavorful vegetables such as onion and garlic. Avoid foods that come in a box and remember to always read labels!
Don’t forget your gut health. Including yogurt, kefir and fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi, in your diet will further increase your ability to fight inflammation.
As mentioned before, making small changes will create a permanent habit. If you’re craving your soda fix, try a more health-conscious alternative, like LaCroix or sparkling water with a splash of lemon juice and dash of stevia. Want dessert? There are dozens of low-carb, sugar-free options available online.
As you can see, illness and inflammation is intertwined. While short-term inflammation is necessary and needed, long-term inflammation leads to disease. A lot of the most common conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are the result of persistent inflammation. A prime factor that decides how our body handles threats is lifestyle. Most of the time, chronic inflammation can be stopped by turning bad habits into healthy ones. The most important areas to be mindful of are physical activity and the foods you eat. Maintaining a healthy weight, sleeping enough and reducing stress is highly advisable. If you have any further questions or would like more information, feel free to contact me. Also, spread the wealth of knowledge by sharing this information with others 🙂
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