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 it has been found to be the underlying cause of many of the degenerative diseases we face today.
Also note that many of us experience “subclinical inflammation”, so subtle that we either do not know it is there or we just have become acclimated to it.
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.
How does inflammation affect my health?
When you understand what acute inflammation is, you can easily imagine what chronic inflammation must do to the body— as low levels of inflammation keep the immune system triggered even if there is no injury to heal or disease to fight. This leads 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. 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.”
Inflammatory processes also 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 degenerative disease and cancer.
Inflammation increases 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?
Excess fat stores may be a huge source of inflammation. 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.”
Infections such as herpes, Lyme disease, EBV, 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.’”
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.
How can I test for inflammation?
Unfortunately, there are no single test for inflammation. We can look to blood chemistry; complete blood count (CBC) test, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (SED), high sensitivity CPR, alkaline phosphate for inflammation status as well as possible underlying root cause. Chronic immune dysfunction may require more advanced testing. If you suspect underlying inflammation, please consult with your healthcare provider.
Inflammation is often associated with the gut, so if there are issues you may want to order stool testing to look at pathogenic load as well as overall gut function and detoxification abilities.
Testing can delve deeper into autoimmunity, immunity to chemicals and foods, etc