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What is Inflammation?


What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a defense mechanism your immune system uses to protect you from infection, injury, and illness (Britannica, 2020). The formation of a scab after a scraped knee, a fever, and swelling after a bump to the head are all inflammatory responses intended to help you heal. In short, the immune system sends white blood cells to the injured area to fight off invading bacteria, for example, or to surround the damaged area and protect it from further harm (Nall, 2020). These are examples of acute inflammation which is a healthy and normal immune system response.


Chronic Inflammation

Although inflammation can protect us, too much inflammation can be harmful. According to Dr. Schmerling, quoted in Harvard Health Publishing, when the body believes it is under “consistent attack the immune system keeps fighting indefinitely” (Harvard Medical School, 2020). This might not sound like a bad thing. You might think, “What is so wrong about our immune system always fighting for us?” Think about it this way, if the immune system’s inflammatory response never turns off, not only does that preoccupy and hinder the immune system from performing other duties, but it may also cause white blood cells to accidentally target and damage the surrounding healthy tissues.


Causes of inflammation

Even if you are not ill or injured, your body may still be inflamed due to poor nutrition. According to Dr. Axe from DrAxe.com, some of the top foods that cause inflammation are, fried foods, processed meat, alcohol, refined carbs, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oil, and high-fructose corn syrup (Link, 2020). If you eat a steady diet of these foods, you may be heading towards chronic inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation also identifies MSG, saturated fats, trans fats, aspartame, gluten and casein as inflammatory ingredients (Arthritis Foundation, 2020). It is very important to read nutrition labels because foods that may be marketed as "healthy" might still contain inflammatory ingredients.


Markers of Inflammation

Inflammation, as its name suggests, is typically recognized by heat, redness, swelling, and pain (Britannica, 2020). However, inflammation is often an underlying cause of many chronic conditions. If you are not experiencing noticeable pain, your body might still be inflamed. Read on to for some associated symptoms of chronic inflammation.


Symptoms Associated with Chronic Inflammation

You may be surprised to learn that chronic inflammation can lead to serious diseases like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (Harvard Medical School, 2020). Although the best way to determine if you are suffering from inflammation is to see a doctor, there are some signs you can watch for at home that may indicate chronic inflammation. According to an article reviewed by Dr. Scott Zashin, chronic inflammation can cause things like excess mucus production, balance problems, low back pain, dry eyes, skin problems, brain fog, to name a few (Barhum, 2020). Some of these symptoms might either be ignore or explained away, thinking they are a result of a bad night of sleep or a caffeine craving. In some cases this might be true or it may also be our body's asking us to get our inflammation under control.


How to reduce inflammation

Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep can keep inflammation to a minimum. In addition to avoiding inflammatory foods previously listed, you can incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet. According to Harvard Medical School, foods “high in antioxidants known as polyphenols can lower inflammation.” Examples of these foods are turmeric, green tea, cherries, dark leafy greens, to name a few (Harvard Medical School, 2020). The main thing to remember is that the more processed a food is, the more likely it is to contain inflammatory ingredients. Stick to the basics and strive to eat foods in their most unprocessed state to avoid consuming unwanted ingredients and chemicals. Vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, rice, oats, quinoa, nuts, seeds, etc., are examples of whole foods that can be prepared in a variety of delicious meals and may even help reduce existing inflammation.


References:

Arthritis Foundation. (2020). 8 Food ingredients that can cause inflammation. Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-to-limit/8-food-ingredients-that-can-cause-inflammation

Barhum, L. (2020). 11 Atypical signs of chronic inflammation. VeryWellHealth.com. https://www.verywellhealth.com/11-atypical-signs-of-chronic-inflammation-5075765

Britannica. (2020). Inflammation: Pathology. Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/science/inflammation

Harvard Medical School. (2020). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation

Link, Rachael. (2020). 7 Foods that cause inflammation to avoid (plus healthy swaps). Dr. Axe. https://draxe.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-inflammation/

Nall, R. (2020, January 9). What to know about white blood cells. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327446.

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