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Keep inflammation under control and live longer

by Dianna Barnard | Contributor
July 26, 2020

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So what is inflammation? First, inflammation isn’t always bad. In fact, inflammation is essential in the healing process, but too much can wreak havoc in the body.

Acute inflammation is the body’s healing response to an injury or infection and has an end.

Chronic inflammation is when the body responds to something with a persistent low-level response that can impact the whole body.

The medical definition of inflammation is a localized protection response by the body in response to injury of some kind. The mechanism of inflammation is designed to destroy, dilute or contain the injurious agent (such as a toxin or cut) and the injured tissue.

What causes inflammation in the body?

The body has a protective inflammatory response that is activated by many variables. Acute inflammation is caused by an infection or injury.

  • Physical injury
  • Chemical or biological agents
  • Corrosive chemicals
  • Medical trauma
  • Extremes in temperature
  • Infections

Any of these can activate the immune inflammatory response.

What are classic signs of acute inflammation in the body?

Heat, redness, pain, swelling and restricted or loss of function are classic signs of inflammation in the body. Three components come into play when there is injury or infection.

  • Increased blood flow to the area to increase circulation, remove debris and waste and nourish the area
  • Increased capillary permeability (small blood vessels are more receptive to the injured areas need)
  • Increased white blood cell (leukocytes move toward the area to help combat injury and/or infection) to destroy and eat up any invading pathogens

When the infection is acute such as a scrape or bruise, the helpfulness of the inflammatory response is visible through decreased bleeding, formation of a scab, decreased pain and eventually some kind of resolution (scar) and the end of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is persistent and when the same previously helpful mechanisms are ongoing and systemic, it is easy to see how these same actions can be harmful when there is no end and the impact is ongoing. Chronic inflammation can be compared to a slow burning fire in your body that injures tissues, joints and blood vessels. Whereas acute inflammation is contained in one part of the body such as a sprained ankle, cut knee or pneumonia infection, chronic inflammation travels throughout the body.

What are common symptoms of chronic inflammation?

While the symptoms of acute inflammation are easy to identify, the symptoms of chronic inflammation are more subtle and persistent and can include the following. Chronic inflammation is the result of an initial stress response that doesn’t resolve.

  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mouth sores
  • Rashes
  • Vague stomach pain
  • Chest pain

Symptoms of chronic inflammation are often overlooked or are attributed to another cause.

What are some common causes of chronic inflammation?

Sometimes a direct link to a known cause cannot be determined, but the following are associated with the risk of chronic inflammation.

  • Untreated acute inflammation caused by infection or injury
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Long-term exposure to pollutants, irritants and pesticides
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Chronic stress
  • Obesity

What are some conditions associated with chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation can damage the DNA of healthy cells, tissues and organs over time. Chronic inflammation has been linked for these reasons to a wide range of disorders and diseases such as the following.

  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Obesity
  • Crohn's disease
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Pink eye or conjunctivitis
  • Bursitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Sarcoidosis

How is chronic inflammation diagnosed?

There is no one single test to diagnoses chronic inflammation but rather a combination of symptoms, complete history and physical and some helpful tests that indicate inflammation.

  • C-reactive protein (CRP)
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • X-rays

What is the traditional medical management of chronic inflammation?

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents or NSAIDS
  • Steroids
  • Supplements such as fish oil, alpha-lipoic and turmeric

What are some ways individuals can reduce chronic inflammation in the body?

Fortunately, individuals suffering from chronic inflammation can make lifestyle and dietary changes to help reduce both symptoms and long-term complications.

  • Improving and managing the diet can impact chronic inflammation by improving the quality of nutrients and reducing obesity
  • Proper oral hygiene and dental care to reduce gum inflammation
  • Managing high cholesterol with diet and medication if necessary
  • Quitting smoking
  • Alcohol reduction
  • Reducing emotional, mental and physical stressors by practicing mindfulness and self-care

What dietary changes are recommended to reduce chronic inflammation?

Some foods are found to either increase or decrease inflammations.

Some foods found to be helpful for inflammation are high in anti-oxidants and polyphenols and include the following example such as in the Mediterranean diet.

  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Fruits such as cherries, blueberries, raspberries and citrus

Foods found to increase inflammation include the following and it is recommended to reduce consumption of these foods.

  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Fried foods
  • Red meat
  • Highly processed foods and meats

What are some lifestyle changes to reduce stress related to inflammation?

Stress reduction and self-care are big business these days so a person doesn’t have to search far for options.

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Talk therapy
  • Anger management
  • Journaling thoughts and feelings
  • Breathwork
  • Connecting with nature

Stress management lowers levels of cortisol which has been associated with chronic stress and illness.

Inflammation is an important and natural healing process but can hamper healing and harm the body when it turns chronic. Fortunately, there are medical interventions, lifestyle and dietary changes that are readily available to ease the symptoms and mitigate long-term damage.

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