How to Combat Inflammation

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.

Inflammation can be Useful

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.

When Inflammation Becomes Harmful

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.

How to Measure Inflammation

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.

Causes of Inflammation

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.

Combatting Uncontrolled 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:

  • Good gut health is one of the most important factors in maintaining healthy inflammation levels. Your gut bacteria closely interact with your immune system. If these bacteria are out of balance, they release inflammatory substances which make their way into the bloodstream.
  • The types of foods you eat have a pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory effect. Foods encouraging inflammation include gluten grains, processed meat, refined oils, sugar, and alcohol. Some people develop sensitivities to certain foods which then cause inflammatory reactions specific to them. Anti-inflammatory nutrients include the essential fatty acid omega 3, plant-based fibre, foods rich in antioxidants like colourful vegetables and fruit, and certain spices such as turmeric and ginger.
  • Ongoing stress will increase your body’s levels of cortisol, increasing inflammation. Make stress management a priority.
  • A sedentary lifestyle is linked to increased inflammation. Even as little as 20 minutes of exercise has been found to reduce inflammation.
  • Too little quality sleep can increase pro-inflammatory molecules in the blood during the daytime. Devote time to sleep well.
  • Aim to achieve a healthy weight. Excess body fat releases inflammatory messengers, partly explaining the link between obesity and chronic disease.

Inflammation and Your Health

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.