Are You Inflamed?

Oct 10, 2016 | Health and Diet | 1 comment

The Dirt:

Chronic inflammation has been labeled as one of the leading causes of long-term health issues. At D2D, we have read about how various foods and diets can help either fight or cause inflammation.  We were curious about inflammation and how to protect our bodies against it. In order to protect ourselves against chronic inflammation we need to better understand how it is caused, how it negatively affects our health, and how to best avoid it.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is an immune response to harmful stimuli. In order to properly protect itself against foreign invaders, the “at risk” part of your body will become swollen or reddened. The process of inflammation allows for increased blood flow to the area. As blood flow increases, white blood cells are able to flow more fluidly.  These white cells act as an army that essentially ingests the damaged cells, pathogens, or irritants that may have entered your body. Where it gets complicated, however, is understanding the various triggers for inflammation and whether you are afflicted with acute or chronic inflammation. 

Chronic vs. Acute Inflammation

There are many different stimuli that can trigger inflammation into action. For example, when you cut yourself shaving and the cut becomes red and slightly raised, that is your body preventing bacteria from entering into the bloodstream. Or if you twisted your ankle, you might notice that it has swollen from the injury to your tissue. Both scenarios are examples of acute inflammation, which is good for you! It allows your body to heal itself. When acute inflammation sets in, it protects the healthy muscle and allows for increased blood flow to the wounded area.

Inflammation in the short-term is there to get rid of infection, help clean an infected area, and repair your tissue. On average, an acute inflammatory response should only last a few days. Your body knows to trigger acute inflammation in order to get rid of things that may be harmful. The trouble begins when inflammation becomes chronic.

credit: Ricochet Creative Productions

Chronic inflammation is what you want to avoid. Unfortunately, unlike acute inflammation, it is far less noticeable to the naked eye because it is hidden inside your body. For example, when your body is infected with a virus, bacteria, or toxins, inflammation will occur inside the infected area as the body attempts to protect itself. However, if you continue to consume or inhale the harmful stimuli, the specific organ or muscle tissue inside your body will remain inflamed. Eventually, your healthy cells start to degenerate. Chronic inflammation can last from several months to several years.

It is very difficult to pinpoint the exact location of inflammation. Every person is different and genetics play a major role in inflammatory responses. While chronic inflammation is understood to be the underlying cause of many long-term diseases such as, cancer, heart disease, and auto immune disease (i.e. the immune system getting triggered by inflammation) the source or storage of this inflammation depends on the individual.

Everything is arguably related to inflammation. It can cause cancer, skin conditions, allergies, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches and painful menstruation. So what exactly is inflammation? It’s a combination of heat, pain, redness and swelling that happens externally or inside the body.

Dr. David Samadi

Lenox Hill Hospital

To better understand the primary reasons our body could have chronic, low grade inflammation we spoke to Dr. Peter Bongiorno of Inner Source Health. He discussed the three primary triggers for chronic inflammation that we should all be aware of:

Triggers for chronic inflammation:

1. Digestive. This is the most important cause of chronic inflammation because the majority of your immune system is located inside your digestive track. If you are eating heavily processed foods or food you are sensitive to (even if they are considered healthy foods) your gut will try to protect its healthy tissue by becoming inflamed. Heavily processed foods include white sugar and flour, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, and fast food. So, keeping a poor diet that is high in refined sugars, white bread, and Twinkies will certainly disrupt your gut health.

You can also be predisposed to inflammation of the digestive track. If you suffer from food allergens, like gluten or dairy for example, and continue to consume those foods you can compromise your gut health. In order to combat this, it is important to help your digestive system by eating nutrient dense, whole foods. Good digestive enzymes and healthy microbiota will keep your system moving.

Additionally, you want to always be aware of your stress levels. Remember, when you are stressed out your gut shuts down meaning that it stops creating enzymes. As we’ve reviewed, your gut is your second brain! In order to fight chronic inflammation, you need to keep it healthy.

Your white blood cells have inflammatory properties. According to Medical News Today, “neutrophils (white blood cells) move around the body through the blood stream to fight infections, but in order to do this they must travel through the blood vessel walls of sites of inflammation, infection, or injury.” If you are suffering from chronic inflammation and your body is unable to heal itself, these white blood cells can accumulate inside the blood vessel. Eventually this build-up (which can include dead cells and LDL cholesterol particles) will restrict blood flow. If this restriction becomes severe it can result in heart attack or stroke. 

2. Fat tissue. Your fatty tissue is a hormonal organ that can promote an inflammatory reaction. Having excess fatty tissue may contribute to chronic inflammation. If there is a significant amount of fat being stored, the body has trouble digesting and functioning properly.  Additionally, fat cellscreate an environment that helps cancer survive. Essentially, chronic inflammation pushes cancers buttons and excess fatty tissue triggers chronic inflammation. According to CNN, cancer rates are expected to rise 57% worldwide in the next 20 years and the obesity epidemic has actually been linked to 12 different cancers. However, half of all cancer cases could be avoided using the information we already know (…i.e. keep a healthy diet, don’t smoke, and get good amounts of sleep and exercise.)

3. Toxins. As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,” if you are inhaling or ingesting large amounts of toxic substances, they can be stored in fatty tissue and eventually healthy cells (if intake is excessive). This process can cause healthy tissue to become inflamed. Smoking, pollutants, cosmetics, creams, parabens, are all examples of toxicants that can affect internal, chronic inflammation. Additionally, processed foods and an unhealthy gut will affect your body’s ability to process exposures to toxic substances effectively. If you are taking in more toxicants than you are eliminating (through your kidneys and liver) this may create inflammation.

Fat tissue will create inflammation that uses up nutrients and makes it more challenging for your body to clear toxins. It also switches how cells grow and use energy.

Dr. Bongiorno

How should we fight chronic inflammation?

Keep a healthy digestive system. Eating whole foods (particularly rich greens), skipping the white bread, and eating sugar in moderation will keep your gut on track. You can also incorporate foods that are high in omega-6 and omega-3. Healthy fatty acids will help your body fight inflammation.  Remember: healthy fat is our friend!

Regular exercise is also an important part of fighting inflammation. A recent study performed by Mark Hamer, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University College London, examined the long term effects of exercise with regards to inflammation. The study lasted for 10 years and included 4,000 middle-aged men and women. Ultimately, Dr. Hamer found that subjects that completed approximately 2.5 hours of “moderate” exercise per week reduced their inflammation markers by a minimum of 12%. Additionally, some study participants began exercising midway through the study period and were able to significantly lower their inflammation levels as well— meaning it is never too late for the benefit of working out! (Prevention, 2012).

Get enough sleep and reduce stress. Poor sleep and stress are known triggers of inflammation. According to a study performed by Emory University and presented at the 2010 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, getting less than six hours of sleep per night is associated with higher levels of inflammation. This is also linked with an increase risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to lack of sleep, excessive levels of long-term stress can cause your gut to shut down and compromise the production of enzymes that aid the digestive process.

Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases including heart disease, autoimmune diseases (like lupus and Crohn’s disease), cancer, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. That’s a terrifying list! And while inflammation may not be the primary cause for each, maintaining chronic, low grade inflammation allows for a weakened immune system and compromised overall health. 

Modern day life is stressful on our biology. Yes, our bodies are very resilient but we need to give our body restorative rest. Today, there is more electronics than ever before, our diets are less nourishing, we certainly sleep less, and we work more than ever. If your body is on high alert your immune system is always working to protect you. Therefore, you can run down your immune system. It is so helpful to protect your sleep and have restorative sleep in order to keep your body functioning at an optimal level.

Sophia Ruan Gushee

A-Z of D Toxing

Your white blood cells have inflammatory properties. According to Medical News Today, “neutrophils (white blood cells) move around the body through the blood stream to fight infections, but in order to do this they must travel through the blood vessel walls of sites of inflammation, infection, or injury.” If you are suffering from chronic inflammation and your body is unable to heal itself, these white blood cells can accumulate inside the blood vessel. Eventually this build-up (which can include dead cells and LDL cholesterol particles) will restrict blood flow. If this restriction becomes severe it can result in heart attack or stroke.

There is no solution for inflammation comparable to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. And we are certainly not proponents of the “quick fix”, particularly if there is an underlying issue that is not being addressed. However, if you are typically fairly active and a healthy eater that has indulged and looking to get back on track there are some antidotes that may help fight inflammation. Cryotherapy and baby aspirin are believed to reduce swelling.  “Cryotherapy takes advantage of the body’s natural tendency to vasoconstrict (vessels tighten) when exposed to cold. This is why we apply ice to a trauma, like a swollen ankle, after hurting it. When we apply cold, the vessels tighten, which limits swelling. This is a good counter to the body’s natural tendency to swell and heat up an area of injury.” (Dr. Bongiorno) Additionally, baby aspirin is often prescribed to help reduce pain and swelling.

The Bottom Line:

Acute inflammation is a healthy auto immune response that your body has in order to protect itself. The issue comes if acute inflammation becomes chronic and begins to affect your health. If you maintain a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and stay physically active your cells and tissue will stay healthy and your body will have no reason to trigger a chronic inflammatory response.


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