Why we Need to Talk About Inflammation

Inflammation

Inflammation is an important line of defense against pathogens and yet its presence in our bodies can also be a warning of something more sinister  

What is Inflammation?

We hear the term a lot, in fact, it’s a bit of a health buzzword. So what is it and why should we pay attention?

We tend to think of inflammation as a response to a clear trauma or cause – an obvious swelling or bruising around an injured joint, redness, or warmth around an infected cut, for example. 

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Inflammation is actually part of our body’s natural and necessary immune response to toxins, infections, and injuries. This is the right kind of inflammation we want in our bodies helping to speed up the healing process. 

When your cells are distressed due to the presence of pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and substances they consider to be harmful, those cells release a chemical signal to the immune system which sends white blood cells (leukocytes) to protect the area and destroy the pathogen. The same chemical signal may increase the body’s temperature and the resulting fever also speeds up the immune response. 

This kind of short-term inflammation, known as acute inflammation, is relatively straightforward to treat with over-the-counter medications, compresses, and antibiotics for bacterial infections. 

However, when inflammation persists long-term or goes wrong if your immune system continues to release white blood cells that prolong the response, it can become your body’s enemy. 

What happens when you have lingering inflammation in your body? 

You can’t feel it or see it, but chronic inflammation can have serious implications. 

It is associated with a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and dementia. And persistent inflammation has been linked with women’s fertility. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have a type of “low-grade inflammation that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems.” 

In certain situations the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy cells, causing the chronic inflammatory response we see in autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Symptoms and Treatment

Are there obvious signs you might have chronic inflammation in your body and can it be treated? Symptoms of chronic inflammation include ongoing fatigue and low energy, flu-like symptoms, body pain, rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, and poor digestion.

Where chronic conditions have been diagnosed doctors will prescribe targeted medications. And a healthy lifestyle can play an important role in reducing inflammation. Regular exercise and stress reduction are recommended alongside an anti-inflammatory diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils. Certain foods can worsen the symptoms in those with inflammatory disorders – refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, red and processed meats, trans fats are to be avoided. 

If you have been experiencing symptoms of chronic inflammation you should speak to your doctor who will review your health for any underlying conditions and may run blood tests for inflammatory markers. These may include tests for c-reactive protein (CRP), white blood cell count, and sedimentation rate (ESR). If you want to find out for yourself if you have inflammation, you can take the at-home Vitamin D and Inflammation test. 

References

Polycystic ovary syndrome (pcos), Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439

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