What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the immune system’s protective response to injury, disease or irritation of the tissues.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
All of our human life happens inside our very tiny human cells. Each cell wall consists of a membrane made of a phospholipid bilayer that functions similarly to soap with a hydrophobic interior and a hydrophilic exterior. The food we eat gives the cells the fuel – in the form of sugars, glucose and fats. We breathe air to give the cells oxygen. The spark – which are the electrical impulses from our nervous system – create the energy we need. Through the membrane, our cells eliminate the burned fuel, metabolic waste, and any harmful substances that have entered the cell through the membrane.
Chronic inflammation is more common than we think.
If our body is using energy to unnecessarily fight a perceived “invasion”, then it has less energy for normal functions. More importantly, with less energy available, our bodies cannot produce anti-inflammatory compounds such as glutathione, one of our bodies’ major antioxidant. In addition, adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP)— the energy molecule used by our cells is being used to fight a threat that isn’t real. At the end of the day, we have less energy and lower levels of antioxidants creating vulnerability for potentially diseased states.
How do you know if you are chronically “inflamed”?
You may not always be able to visually see the effects of inflammation, but there are signs that indicate its presence.
Chronic inflammation can manifest itself in many ways, including digestive issues and skin problems, exhaustion, and recurring infections.
Genetics play a role in inflammatory responses.
Chronic inflammation is believed to play a role in the development of several long-term illnesses like cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and even brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Triggers for chronic inflammation.
Digestive: Since the majority of your immune system is located inside your digestive tract, it is important to keep this healthy. Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will encourage good digestive enzymes and healthy microbiota and enable your digestive system to process your food and effectively eliminate waste. A poor diet high in many processed foods, including hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, high in sugar and white flour causes your immune system to respond with an inflammatory response to protect its healthy cells. If you have been tested by your doctor and suffer from specific food allergens, like gluten or dairy for example, these foods can also trigger an inflammatory response.
Obesity: Having excess body fat, especially visceral fat around the hips and abdomen, contributes to chronic, low-grade inflammation, which can cause DNA damage and an increase in risk factors for certain types of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity is linked to at least 13 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).
Fat tissue will create inflammation that uses up nutrients and makes it more challenging for your body to clear toxic substances. It also switches how cells grow and use energy. Dr. Bongiorno
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 then eventually your healthy cells. While our bodies can handle a certain amount, an overload can cause healthy tissue and cell membranes to become inflamed and damaged. Additionally, processed foods and an unhealthy gut will negatively affect your body’s ability to process exposure to toxic substances. If you are exposing yourself to more toxins than your body is eliminating, this may create inflammation.
How should we fight chronic inflammation?
Foods to eat include plenty of colorful vegetables and greens, and foods containing healthy fatty acids, such as those found in nuts and avocados. Additionally, drink plenty of clean water so your cells stay hydrated and can perform at their optimal level!
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 increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
In addition to lack of sleep, excessive levels of long-term stress can negatively affect your gut and compromise the production of enzymes that aid in the digestive process. For your best performance, it is optimal to get eight hours of sleep each night, with at least five of those hours being continuous or uninterrupted.
The Bottom Line:
Research suggests that chronic inflammation contributes to the development of many diseases and various types of cancer. Genetic risk factors, a compromised immune system, stress, obesity, lack of sleep, and a poor diet all play a role in the onset of chronic inflammation. Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, staying physically active, monitoring your genetic risk factors and staying on top of treating acute inflammation are steps to take to prevent an onset of chronic inflammation.
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