Short-term inflammation is helpful, but too much of a good thing can turn into something harmful.
What you need to know about chronic inflammation.
What it is
You may be familiar with the term inflammation as a physical response to a bumped knee or twisted ankle, but the phenomenon goes much deeper into the molecular levels of your body. Inflammation is part of a complex response
process that the body undergoes when facing an assault of harmful stimuli, such as toxins or a cut finger, pathogens
like bacteria and viruses, or other irritants, such as allergies or cigarette smoke.
When the alarm bell sounds within your body and your immune system, inflammation rushes in armed with leukocytes and plasma proteins (antibodies) to fight infection and repair damaged cells. This causes the usual symptoms you experience when under attack from a cold or flu virus, or repairing tissue in damaged ligaments, such as pain, redness, swelling, heat, and perhaps immobility. When something harmful or irritating affects part of your body, the biological response of inflammation attempts to remove it, and while the effects can be unpleasant, they’re a sign that the body is trying to heal itself.
However, sometimes inflammation can persist longer than is necessary, causing a number of other problems,
including the formation of many life-threatening diseases and autoimmune conditions.
Acute vs Chronic
When your body triggers an inflammatory response, it happens on a short-term basis called acute inflammation.
This aims to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, allowing the tissue to return to normal and the body to
Acute inflammation usually lasts for a few hours to a couple of days before the symptoms go away.
However, if the body fails to turn off the inflammatory signal it becomes like a slow-burning fire, continuing
to stimulate pro-inflammatory immune cells that attack healthy areas of your body, resulting in chronic
inflammation setting in. And unfortunately, our modern lifestyles, stress, poor dietary choices, loss of quality and
quantity of sleep, and lack of exercise all feed the fire of chronic inflammation.
This overactive response is the body’s attempt to fight all these terrible stimuli, which we force onto it on a daily basis. Your body no longer has the ability to turn off the inflammatory response and it starts damaging healthy tissue. This is evident in the development of autoimmune diseases where the body starts attacking its own healthy cells, believing they are foreign invaders.
Chronic inflammation interferes with the natural anti-inflammatory processes within the body, such as
the balance of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol functions to reduce inflammation in the body, which, over time,
also suppresses the immune system. An unchecked immune system responding to unabated inflammation can lead to a myriad of problems.
Inflammatory cells are powerful (remember, their job is to attack invaders before they can do harm within the body) – and produce a constant, low-grade flow of strong inflammatory markers into the blood stream that can cause damage over time. Oncethe balance is disrupted, the immune system’s inflammatory hyperactivity can self-perpetuate and prolonged, chronic inflammation, if left unchecked, can eventually lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and many other chronic diseases that can have severe, life-threatening consequences, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Inflammation and depression
A new study published by The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry supports the results that increased inflammation may play a role in depression. It found that people who had depression had 46% higher levels of C-reactive protein
in their blood samples.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation
Unlike acute inflammation, which presents itself in the usual manner of fighting off infections, chronic inflammation manifests in other ways around your body as it attempts to deal with the constant attack of the inflammatory response system:
- constant fatigue
- mouth sores
- chest, abdominal or joint pain
- rash or skin conditions
- digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhoea
- high blood glucose levels
- weight gain, especially around the midriff
- signs of depression or increased anxious behaviour
- increase in allergies and food sensitivity
If you think you could be suffering from chronic inflammation, your doctor can measure your level of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation, to indicate whether it may be a cause of concern for you.
Did you know?
Pro-inflammatory cytokines (proteins that regulate immune and inflammatory responses) cause autoimmune reactions in the brain, which can lead to depression, autism, poor memory, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
How to combat it
Keeping your body in balance and immune system in check will assist with combating chronic inflammation, and it comes down to everyday choices you make when going about your life. What you eat, breathe in, how you exercise, think and manage the daily stress of modern life impacts on how your body internalises and reacts to these various stimuli, and whether it feeds the fire of inflammation or helps keep it under control.
- How we feed and nourish our bodies has a great impact on its processes. Fight inflammation by
avoiding highly processed foods and carbohydrates, fried foods and trans fats, sugar and sugar
substitutes, gluten, grain-fed meat, vegetable oils (like corn, sunflower, canola and soy), margarine
- Opt for foods that have anti-inflammatory properties and can combat the symptoms of chronic inflammation: olive oil, herbs and spices – especially ginger, turmeric (contains curcumin,
one of the best anti-inflammatory compounds), cinnamon, cayenne pepper, thyme and rosemary
(immune boosters), vegetables and fruits with high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids (think
blueberries, tomatoes, spinach and broccoli).
- Lower your body’s accessibility to toxins like chemical sprays, insect repellents, cigarette smoke, alcohol and recreational drugs. Pesticides, environmental pollution from industrial waste, and hormonally altering plastics all stimulate the immune system to varying extents and disrupt optimal production of energy and hormones.
- Regular exercise (not excessive, which can put stress on your body and fuel chronic inflammation).
- Have a positive attitude and outlook. Negative thoughts and feelings can also contribute to inflammation and stress within the body.
- Find time to manage stress. Meditation, deep breathing exercises and activities such as yoga all aid in keeping the mind and body in a relaxed and neutral state.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep habits over a period of time has dire
consequences for the body.
A cup a day keeps inflammation at bay
Fight inflammation with a daily cup of turmeric tea:
Mix 5ml ground turmeric with ¾ cup hot water, ¼ cup coconut milk and 5ml raw honey. Drink hot or cold. Add raw or ground ginger for an extra boost.
FEATURE: TARYN DAS NEVES PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM