INFLAMMATION – SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Inflammation has become a hot topic in the news and social media and has become a growing trend in medical research. One reason is that chronic inflammation has been found to exist in a vast amount of health conditions including persistent pain, obesity, mental health, heart health, gastrointestinal issues, and cancer. The role of chronic inflammation is still evolving and not well understood but numerous studies have indicated that addressing chronic levels of inflammation has beneficial effects on disease and overall health. We will be discussing chronic inflammation over a series of articles to help you understand how it may relate to your health and well-being. We will also provide various options for trying to address any possible chronic inflammation you may have to help you be a better version of you.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
Inflammation is a normal immune system response in our body. It is essential in protecting our body from harmful stimuli such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins. It also is a normal response to injury and contains the building blocks for new tissues. But sometimes our bodies do not respond efficiently to stimuli or injuries. Our bodies may create too much inflammation or not get rid of inflammation when it is no longer beneficial. And in autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, or multiple sclerosis, the immune system incorrectly believes there is a threat to the body and starts the inflammatory process when there really is no reason to. Any of these situations can result in chronic inflammation.
ACUTE VS CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
Acute inflammation is short-term inflammation. It usually lasts a few weeks. Acute inflammation occurs when you sprain an ankle, get a splinter in your finger, or get an infection. It will present with heat, redness, visible swelling, pain, etc. Chronic inflammation may or may not start as acute inflammation, but it persists for more than a few months. Unlike acute inflammation it often does not have obvious signs or symptoms. There are blood tests that can be performed to try to measure inflammatory levels but results are often quite general and do not always accurately identify or rule out chronic inflammation. Below are some signs that may suggest you have chronic inflammation:
- Body pain
- Constant fatigue and insomnia
- Frequent “brain fog”
- Depression, anxiety, or mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or acid reflux
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
- High blood sugar
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS OF DECREASING CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
Many of the health impacts of chronic inflammation are still being studied. Below is a list of some benefits that are thought to occur with lowering chronic inflammation. Some of these benefits have been demonstrated in randomized controlled studies but many of these benefits are still more based off clinical observation and have minimal research to back them up.
- Decrease pain
- Improve energy/decrease fatigue
- Decrease the effects of depression and anxiety
- Reduce cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve blood vessel function
- Prevent heart arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation)
- Decrease insulin resistance
- Improve immune system function
- Improve gastrointestinal function
- Decrease the risk for some types of cancer
- Reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease
HOW DO I LOWER MY CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
There are many ways that have either been shown or are thought to help lower chronic inflammation. These can include things such as:
- Losing weight
- Consuming fewer pro-inflammatory foods
- Increasing the intake of anti-inflammatory foods/supplements
- Reducing stress
- Increasing moderate-paced exercise
- Decreasing exposure to toxins such as cigarette smoke and alcohol
We will be going into ways to combat chronic inflammation in much more detail in upcoming articles. Stay tuned!!!
Dr. Heather Sieler is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion