Do you or someone you know suffer from arthritis, asthma, eczema, acne, heart disease, bowel disease or cancer?
These are just some of the diseases which can be traced back to chronic inflammation and there are many more. In fact most diseases have some kind of underlying inflammatory cause, affecting the gut, brain, joints and skin.
So what is inflammation? The body is amazing and will always try to heal itself. Inflammation is the body’s immune response to attempt to protect itself and repair any damage that has occurred. It is the first step in the process of self-healing. If you have an accident, which results in a physical injury, and it swells up, this is your body trying to protect the tissues that have been harmed. This is an acute case of inflammation, that should only last a few days. Tonsillitis (or any condition with the suffix ‘itis’ ), or a cut to the skin are also types of acute inflammation.
Similarly infections and wounds will also lead to an inflammatory response. Blood flow will increase and white blood cells will flock to the area affected and ingest the damaged cells or bacteria to rid them from your body. The white blood cells are accompanied by fluid, this is what causes the swelling and can cause pain as more pressure is put on the nerve endings. This type of acute inflammation is positive and useful to the body.
Sometimes however, inflammation lasts longer than necessary and causes more harm than good, leading to damage in the body. This can happen if it’s triggered by something external, and the external element disappears, yet the immune system carries on reacting and inflammation continues.
It is often characterised by redness, swelling, heat and sometimes pain, but it also occurs internally where it might remain unnoticed for years. In this case the length of time it is left undetected has a bearing on the severity of the inflammation, often leading to chronic disease. Such diseases may include osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, crohn’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, painful periods, alzheimers, cancer or asthma for example.
Chronic inflammation can occur when the body is overloaded with internal and external stresses. It sends an inflammatory response to a perceived threat, which doesn’t actually require an inflammatory response, so when the white blood cells invade the area, they sometimes can attack healthy normal cells and tissues by mistake. Yet other times the threat to the body is genuine and it may have been reacting to an acute inflammation which it hasn’t been able to resolve and the inflammatory response persists.
Our adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. One of cortisol’s functions is to reduce inflammation triggered by the immune system when it is trying to attack a pathogen. It does this by keeping inflammation in moderation, regulating it. Chronic stress leads your body to produce increased amounts of cortisol. Too much however can lead to chronic inflammation as well as regular infections.
The majority of inflammatory diseases however start in the gut. 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive system and these immune cells are able to influence inflammatory cells throughout our body.
There are many factors that can lead to chronic inflammation such as stress, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, pollution and a poor diet. Many of these however, you can influence and take control of.
Inflammation (Part 2) on my blog looks at how diet can influence inflammation in the body.