We hear it spoken about all the time, but what exactly is inflammation? And is it a good thing or a bad thing? Sometimes it can get a little confusing.
Inflammation is a natural immune response of the body that is vital in protecting our health. Without it, infections would spread and injuries wouldn’t heal.
When the body senses any sort of threat it triggers an inflammatory response to help protect us. Threats can be anything from rolling your ankle or cutting your finger, to toxins, chemicals, bacteria, and viruses, even extreme temperatures, allergens, or foods that don’t agree with you.
The body responds to these threats by calling in immune cells and inflammatory chemicals to stop any damage from spreading, destroy the threat, and then begin the healing process. You may experience pain, heat, redness, swelling and even some loss of function, as the blood flow is increased to the area and these molecules are leaked into the tissues.
Once the threat has been managed and the tissues are healing, the body starts to remove the excess fluid, chemicals, and cells, and slowly returns back to normal functioning.
This whole process is known as acute inflammation, and usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the severity of the threat.
So why is inflammation sometimes spoken about like it is abad thing?
Inflammation becomes an issue when it lasts longer than it should and starts to actually have negative impacts on the body. This is chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes the initial immune response is not enough to deal with the threat so the body has to continue to fight much longer than it should. This can also happen when you are continually exposed to a threat over and over again. In cases of autoimmune disorders, the body has mistakenly identified healthy tissues as a threat and is therefore fighting itself all the time. And then there are also situations where there is no clear reason why the body is exhibiting an inflammatory response.
The signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation can be a little different to acute. It is usually more subtle so can be easy to miss. Some common symptoms include:
§ Digestive issues
§ Aches and pains
§ Skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis
§ Depression and anxiety
Chronic inflammation also plays a role in many serious health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, andAlzheimer’s disease. This is why it is so important for us to pay attention to these symptoms and try to manage any chronic inflammation.
If you feel you may be suffering from chronic inflammation or an inflammatory disorder it is always a good idea to consult a health professional. They can help you find the best management strategy for your specific needs.
However, there are a number of things we can all do ourselves to help prevent and reduce inflammation in our bodies, letting us feel and function better.
1. Avoid environmental toxins and allergens as much as you can. This includes quitting smoking.
2. Reduce your intake of inflammatory foods, including processed foods, refined sugars, trans fats, vegetable oils, and alcohol.
3. Increase your intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as leafy greens, berries, fish, herbs and spices, olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds.
(Make note that if you do have any food intolerances or allergies, that those foods will still trigger inflammation for you even if they are listed as anti-inflammatory.)
4. Spend less time sitting down and more time moving around. Exercise can cause an anti-inflammatory response in the body so get up and moving on a regular basis.
5. Ensure you are getting good quality sleep and giving your body enough time to rest
6. Reduce your stress levels. Try some stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, or breathing techniques until you find something that works for you.
It is important to remember that inflammation is a normal and important process, and most of the time will settle on its own. However, if you feel that chronic inflammation is impacting your health make sure to check in with your health care professionals(including your osteopath) to get some advice and assistance.