Inflammation is increasingly recognised as a factor in chronic illness. In this article we’ll take a closer look at inflammation and what happens when it becomes out of control.
There are two types of inflammation – acute inflammation, which is your friend, and chronic inflammation, which is most definitely not welcome.
When you hear the word inflammation, you might think of an insect bite or sting, or a swollen, twisted ankle. This natural response of redness, heat, swelling and pain to an acute injury serves a very useful purpose. Blood supply is increased and special types of white blood cells are mobilised to the area, allowing healing and repair processes to start.
When your body detects something potentially harmful such as a splinter, allergen, physical trauma, bacteria or a virus it mounts a response to attempt to remove the threat. It’s the inflammation causing the nasty symptoms like achy bones when you have a virus or streaming nose from an allergy.
Once the body removes the invader or heals the damage, the inflammation has done its job, and subsides.
Normally, the cause of the inflammation will eventually diminish, meaning the inflammatory process subsides over time. However, in some cases inflammation continues uncontrolled, damaging healthy tissues.
Unlike acute inflammation, this type of chronic inflammation may not outwardly cause pain and swelling, but it means your immune system is constantly on red alert.
It’s now believed chronic inflammation is a factor most cases of chronic disease. Inflammation contributes to cardiovascular disease, because when inflammation is present, your blood clots more easily, but it’s also connected with conditions as diverse as Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, ongoing allergies and autoimmune diseases, and even depression.
When your body thinks the process of inflammation needs to be initiated or continued, certain messenger molecules are released, instructing cells in your immune system to begin the repair process. These include C-reactive protein (CRP), which is thought to control the release of certain immune cells, and proteins known as inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin 6.
These substances are known as inflammation markers and can be measured in a blood sample to find out whether inflammation is elevated.
Because chronic inflammation can affect any part of the body, symptoms will vary from person to person, but warning signs include joint or muscle pain, skin problems, allergies, fatigue, headaches and brain fog.
Chronic inflammation is believed to occur because the body’s immune system mistakenly perceives some sort of ongoing danger. This can be because its function has become impaired by exposure to environmental pollutants, heavy metals, inflammatory foods, or as a result of persistent bacterial or viral infection. It can also be related to lifestyle factors.
A special word on social isolation and loneliness. Researchers have discovered these feelings are related to elevated levels of inflammatory messengers, showing emotional as well as physical factors can encourage inflammation.
Although inflammation may manifest itself in symptoms in specific areas of your body such as your joints and blood vessels, these indicate inflammation is present throughout your whole body. Rather than treating inflammation as if it were isolated in particular areas, Functional Medicine asks why this systemic excess inflammation has developed and how it can be reduced.
The following measures are important in controlling inflammation:
If you would like to discover whether uncontrolled inflammation is contributing to your health issues, a Functional Medicine consultation will examine your personal lifestyle and nutritional status, and may recommend functional tests to examine inflammatory messengers.
You’ll then be provided with your own personal toolbox of strategies to combat excess inflammation. Contact me to discover more.
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