If you read health news or follow any sort of medical conversation, you’re likely to have heard the terms “inflammation” or “anti-inflammatory diet”. But what exactly is inflammation?
Inflammation is a general term used to describe the accumulation of fluid, plasma proteins, and white blood cells. Usually, it is an initiated response to a foreign exposure or injury. And manifests as heat, redness, swelling, pain, or loss of function. Picture when you fall and scrape up your knee then it gets all red and swollen – that is inflammation at work!
The inflammatory process can get quite intricate, but to keep it simple, when your body has an inflammatory response it signals the activation of a ton of different pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators (think of them as chemical messengers). The mediators/messengers are both innate and acquired. They get activated in a coordinated way through signaling from various pathways, like the famous NF-kB pathway (that bad boy is inflammatory).
To avoid getting too deep, I’ll briefly mention that there are other important players in the inflammation game. Including increased levels of several different cytokines (the connection between inflammation and our immune system) and other inflammatory responders, like acute phase reactants (think C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and others). Even though it all sounds scary, not all inflammation is bad!
What is the “bad” inflammation?
Inflammation can be classified as acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived, like falling and scraping your knee or the redness of your finger after a paper cut. It is a good thing and inflammation is part of our body’s fighting and healing process. Whereas chronic inflammation is long-term, this is the kind we’re worried about. Inflammation can then be further identified as either low-grade, which means it is localized to one area (one part of your body) or low intensity. High-grade inflammation on the other hand, is systemic (could take over a whole system or body) or high intensity.
With time and research, chronic inflammation, whether low-grade or high-grade, has been found to be the root cause of (most) diseases.
What causes inflammation?
We know inflammation is the root cause of diseases, but what is the root of inflammation? AKA what is causing this bodily process that causes us harm in the long-term?
- Our microbiome/gut permeability
- Gut dysbiosis (imbalances of our gut flora)
- Chronic allergies and/or food sensitivities
- Environmental toxins
- Excessive alcohol
- Oxidative stress or damage
- Genomic SNPs (genetic variations)
- Excessive exercise
- Physical trauma (repeated physical trauma or poor healing)
- Medications (like antibiotics)
- Inflammatory diets – like the Standard American Diet (SAD)
- Sedentary lifestyles
- Negative thoughts and emotions
- Stress and lack of sleep
As you can see by the list, it is not one thing by itself that causes inflammation. Normally it is an accumulation of multiple factors. And let me point out that negative thoughts or emotions are harmful, just like excessive alcohol or toxin accumulation. Emphasizing the importance of holistic care. Preventing or targeting inflammation needs to be a multi-factorial approach by assessing and paying attention to lifestyle influences as much as dietary, emotional, and physical ones.
Would you be interested in seeing more information on inflammation? Comment below and let me know!
- Image from: https://www.cedarmountainherbs.com/healing-chronic-inflammation/