Inflammation is a common term, but what is it? What causes it? How does it affect me? Although inflammation can be caused by multiple different things, it can all come back to stress. There are three main types of stress that affect our bodies: physical, emotional, and chemical. Emotional stress stems from things like work, money, and relationships. Chemical stress can come from toxins in the environment, pesticides on food, cleaning products, etc. Physical stress mainly comes from trauma to the body, whether it be acute or sustained over time.
So what is inflammation? Inflammation is a natural response within the body to an injury or infection. The word inflammation is derived from the Latin word inflammare, which means “to set fire.” The two types of inflammation that affect the body are acute and chronic. The goal of the acute inflammatory process is to increase blood flow to the area, which increases the permeability of the vessels and allows white blood cells to leave the blood vessel and “clean up” the damaged or infected tissue. Using a sprained ankle as an example, the injured tissues (ligaments and muscles in this case) send a chemical signal to start the inflammatory cycle. From the outside, we might see swelling and redness. This is because underneath the skin the blood vessels are increasing permeability to allow the “clean up” cells to reach and remove the injured tissue and allow the body to start healing. In this case, inflammation is a good and vital part in allowing the body to heal itself. Inflammation becomes a problem when the process lasts over a longer period of time.
Long-term or chronic inflammation is generally caused by emotional and/or chemical stress. The initial process of acute and chronic inflammation is the same, but when the response is prolonged the tissue will begin to attack itself, and the healthy and functioning tissues will become fibrous. One of the main issues with prolonged inflammation is that it has no apparent outwardly symptoms and can vary from person to person. Generally, with chronic inflammation you will notice a prolonged healing time, increased frequency of colds, fatigue, weight gain, etc.
How can you help fix chronic inflammation? Unfortunately it is not a one and done fix, but there many things you can add or change about your daily routine that can help reduce that inflammation. A major player is diet: you can reduce your intake of inflammatory foods such as dairy, fried foods, and added sugars and grains, and replace them with anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish. Taking some supplements can also help you fill in certain holes in your diet. Fish oils are a high in omega-3 fatty acids which help redce overall inflammation. Turmeric supplments are made from the root of a plant (Curcuma longa) and have been long used in Chinese medicine to reduce inflammation in the body. Unlike NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), they are safe to use long term and can be a great addition to your daily supplementation.
In all, inflammation can be traced back as the root cause of many illnesses and diseases. The best treatment for inflammation is to identify the cause of your inflammation and treat it with a lifestyle change. That can sound like a daunting task, but a lot of small steps can add up to big and noticeable change in your health.