We have all experienced inflammation—you cut your finger and then it swells up as an experienced internal triage team sanitizes and heals the cut. Or you catch a cold and your immune system sounds the alarm for all hands-on deck to fight off the cold, a process that inevitably makes you feel stuffy and weak. Acute inflammation is healthy in the sense that it mounts an immune response, heals the tissue, and then goes home. It is chronic inflammation that we worry about since that type of inflammation has been found to be the underlying cause of many of the degenerative diseases we face today.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to some threat: pathogens, toxins, injuries, or even stress. When inflammation occurs, chemical messengers called cytokines are released to call your body’s immune cells, hormones, and nutrients to the affected area. White blood cells ingest germs and damaged cells while other cells cause capillaries to leak blood plasma that surrounds and slows down the invaders. Hormones such as prostaglandins help create blood clots, initiating the repair process. The pain we experience during this healing phase is due to substances leaking into nearby tissues and putting pressure on our nerves.
When you understand what acute inflammation is, you can easily imagine what chronic inflammation must do to the body: low levels of inflammation keep the immune system triggered even if there is no injury to heal or disease to fight, leading to the breakdown of normal tissue and a loss of function.
Researchers have yet to understand all of the possible ways in which inflammation affects the body. And excess fat stores themselves may be a huge source. According to 2016 John Hopkins Health Review, fat cells trigger a release of messengers that “…go after healthy nerves, organs, or tissues. As we gain weight, the release becomes prolific, affecting our body’s ability to use insulin, sometimes leading to Type 2 diabetes.”
Inflammation doesn’t just affect localized areas. “Inflammatory cells can have an effect elsewhere in the body—for example, chronically infected and inflamed gums in the mouth can cause damage that leads to heart attack and stroke. And [we] know that inflammation contributes to congestive heart failure and uncontrolled hypertension, and that it somehow has a role in the tangled cells that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Infections such as herpes, Lyme disease, and viruses keep the body in a low-grade inflammatory state. “HIV triggers chronic inflammation in the body even after medications have rendered levels of the virus undetectable in blood tests. Certain cytokines involved in that inflammation process can profoundly decrease testosterone levels, leading to muscle loss. ‘It’s possible that the chronic inflammation in people with HIV is similar to the chronic inflammation we see in aging.’”
In addition, inflammatory processes generate the production of free radicals that in turn damage our DNA. These mutated cells then go on to reproduce, possibly forming tumors that increase our risk of developing cancer. They also increase the bodies need for glutathione, our master antioxidant, at the expense of other important functions such as methylation. This can lead to detoxification and cardiovascular issues, mood and pain disorders, etc.
What causes inflammation?
Inflammation can be derived from anthing that causes stress the body be it food sensitivities, insulin surges, excessive fat stores, limited sleep, etc.
As a matter of fact, according to Dr Gant, MD, each types of stress can contribute to another leading to sources of inflammation:
- Emotional stress
- Cognitive stress (remember the way we think matters)
- Sensory stress (pain, posture, etc.)
- Lifestyle stress (diet, sleep, social life)
- Metabolic stress (blood sugar, methylation, nutrients, etc.)
- Toxic stress (heavy metals, fungicides, herbicides, trans fats, etc.)
- Inflammatory stress
- Endocrine stress (hormones, thyroid, and adrenals)
- Neurotransmitter stress
- Oxidative stress (reactive oxygen species, anemias, etc.)
- Infectious stress
What can I do to minimize inflammation?
To address inflammation, pay attention to the basics: minimize body fat, control blood sugar, consume a diet rich in phytonutrients, reduce stress, uncover infections, and get plenty of quality sleep and exercise. Supplementation with essential fatty acids, vitamin D, resveratrol, and curcumin as well as a host of others (depending on the individual) has been shown to help reduce inflammation.
Unfortunately, there are no one test for inflammation. We can look to general markers found in a complete blood count (CBC) test, erythrocyte sedimentation rate or SED, high sensitivity CPR or hsCRP, alkaline phosphate or others depending on the process involved. Testing can delve deeper into autoimmunity, immunity to chemicals and foods, a deep dive into the types of immune cells and response, etc. If you suspect underlying inflammation, please consult with your healthcare provider.