I am often asked about inflammation – what is it exactly? How do I know if I have it? What does it do to me?
Inflammation is part of your body’s natural immune response, and occurs when your body tries to heal damaged cells, and fight off irritants and pathogens. Your arteries dilate, blood flow increases, and white blood cells, hormones, and nutrients flow freely. The injured area is swarmed by white blood cells, along with fluid that causes the often-painful swelling.
In a situation like an injury, inflammation can be a good thing.
For example, if you injure your toe, it gets red, swollen, and inflamed.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute is what happens when you have a sudden injury, as in the example above.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body thinks there is an internal threat, that doesn’t really need an inflammatory response. Then the swarming white blood cells have nowhere to go, and sometimes attack other organs or tissues.
Inflammation is your body’s response to stress, whether that stress comes from your environment, diet, or lifestyle. Chronic inflammation occurs when your body or environment get – and stay – out of balance in some way.
If you are under constant stress – emotional or physical – it raises your cortisol level, which creates a cascade of events in your body. Increased cortisol is how your body prepares for fight-or-flight; it inhibits some body functions, like insulin production, and increases other body functions, like the heart rate.
Some of the possible results of long-term stress due to increased cortisol levels and inflammation include: suppression of your immune system; digestion problems; heart problems; obesity; and fertility problems. Chronic inflammation may also cause disease.
If you have chronic inflammation, you may experience symptoms like these:
● Acid reflux
● Skin conditions like psoriasis or acne
● High blood pressure
● Signs of aging, like wrinkles
● Frequent illness due to colds and flus
● Chronic pain
● Urinary tract infections
● Mouth sores
● Chest or abdominal pain
● Joint pain…
Chronic inflammation can be improved with diet or lifestyle. If you eat too much sugar, processed foods, drink too much soda or caffeine, and don’t get enough exercise, sleep, and water, it can cause all kinds of inflammation problems. Think balance in all things.
Many people don’t even know they suffer from chronic inflammation. Our bodies try to tell us through these various maladies but sometimes we don’t listen or we take it at face value.We chase down medicines to try to help the problems rather than looking at our diet and lifestyle that might be contributing.
How do you prevent chronic inflammation?
Some things you can’t control but some things you can. It’s all about the choices you make, every day. Here are a few things you can do to give your body a fighting chance to avoid chronic inflammation, and the resulting maladies:
Watch what you eat. Don’t overeat, especially sugars, processed foods and caffeine. Eat more “real foods”. In fact, the fewer ingredients in your food, the better. The best thing is one ingredient: carrots; celery; apples; etc. Next time you suffer from some of the above maladies ask yourself “what has my diet consisted of the last few weeks?” Often times, if we are honest with ourselves, cleaning up our diet would result in an overall feeling of better health.
Figure out if you have some food sensitivities. Many people suffer from inflammation due to a sensitivity to a particular food .
If you think this might be you, an elimination diet can help determine for sure.
Floss your teeth. Just like your dentist tells you to. Gingivitis is a form of inflammation, and can actually contribute to inflammation in the heart and blood vessels; not a good thing.
Get more sleep. Your body needs this time to repair and restore. It’s when your body “takes out the trash”, all the toxins and damaged cells. You don’t want those floating around, do you?
Smoking, recreational drugs, and excessive alcohol will definitely harm your health. If you over-indulge when you’re stressed, you’re not just calming yourself down, you’re putting extra stress on your body.
Lose weight. Obesity actually creates more inflammation, which in turn, makes it harder to lose weight. Reduce inflammation in other ways, and it will be easier to lose weight.
Reduce stress in your life. Yes, easier said than done. Do meditation, yoga, and daily exercise, and develop stress-coping strategies. Yoga, specifically the deep breathing, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the body and thus reducing inflammation.
In the end our well being always goes back to the basics – what we put in to our bodies, how much sleep we are able to get to repair the body and a consistent exercise and deep breathing practice to reduce cortisol levels.