Inflammation – what’s it all about?
Inflammation seems to be a “buzzword” today, so I thought it would be good to take a closer look at this critical process. The word “inflammation” has its roots in Latin and means “set afire.” With some conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, you can actually feel heat and pain and see redness and swelling. But in other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, it may not be so obvious. You needed to be tested, in fact, to find out if it’s present. People with dementia often have chronic brain inflammation. Although scientists don’t know exactly how the process works, they are investigating whether anti-inflammatory medicine will affect Alzheimer’s. The full results aren’t in yet.
Good and bad inflammation
Have you ever cut yourself or been stung by a bee? If so, you’ve experienced “good” inflammation – the type that heals. Inflammation is your body’s immune system fighting against things that harm you, such as infections, injuries and toxins. Your body releases antibodies and proteins and increases blood flow to the damaged area. In the case of acute inflammation, the entire process usually lasts a couple of hours or days. But there’s a bad side to inflammation that has nothing to do with healing – chronic inflammation.
The greatest threat to health
So, if you’re trying to stay healthy, pay attention to inflammation because chronic inflammation plays a significant role in heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and many other chronic diseases. You can’t easily see this type of inflammation, and it can harm you severely. How serious is this? The World Health Organization calls chronic inflammatory diseases the greatest threat to health and the most significant cause of death worldwide (https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/part1/en/index11.html).
Difficult to pinpoint
It’s usually easy to see when we have acute inflammation because of pain, redness, swelling, etc. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is much more difficult to pinpoint. Symptoms can include fever, rashes, fatigue, chest and/or abdominal pain. And they can last for months or years! Some types of chronic inflammation don’t have a clear cause while experts believe others might be caused by smoking, chronic stress, alcohol and obesity. Other possible causes – I say possible because they don’t cause chronic inflammation in everyone – are untreated infections or injuries, long-term exposure to polluted air or industrial chemicals and an autoimmune disorder, (when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue).
Did you know?
Would you be surprised to hear that white cells enter the walls of your arteries and contribute to cardiovascular disease, meaning it’s not just about cholesterol build-up? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986484/). The world seems to consider Cholesterol to be the sole cause of all that’s evil, but scientists are now seeing that there’s much more involved. For example, when LDL cholesterol makes its way into the lining of an artery and white blood cells follow and rather than fixing the problem, they make it worse by causing the plaque to become unstable and more likely to rupture. Did you also know that cancer often forms in chronically inflamed areas? How about that inflammation is a factor in osteoarthritis (wear and tear of the bones), hypertension and depression?
Get blood tests
Dr. Lilli Link, a board-certified internist and functional medicine practitioner, states “not only do we listen for inflammation in our patients’ histories, but we also test for it in every patient we see using these three biomarkers:
• White blood cell count
• Sedimentation rate (ESR)
• High sensitivity c-reactive protein (hsCRP). (Note: About 1/3 of the adult U.S. population has an elevated CRP.)”
Each one of these tests looks to see if you have inflammation in your body. Now, they can’t tell us where the inflammation is coming from, but taken together, they give us a pretty good idea as to whether inflammation is an issue. Moreover, they can track the inflammation to see if it’s getting better or worse.
Adopt an anti-inflammatory lifestyle
Inflammation is common to most chronic diseases, so if you want to be as healthy as you can be, you’ve got to minimize inflammation. Check for inflammation with blood tests and do your best to adopt an anti-inflammatory lifestyle by removing foods that are known to cause inflammation, eating foods that are known to be anti-inflammatory, avoiding foods you are sensitive to, exercising regularly, reducing stress and optimizing how you respond to it. The last part is crucial. Stress is stress – what counts is how you respond to it! And by the way, your mom was right: You need to get your rest. Research has shown that healthy people who are sleep-deprived have more inflammation. Again, scientists aren’t sure exactly how this works, but it’s one more reason to make sleep a priority!