Inflammation is supposed to be our body’s natural weapon against injury, pain, illness and stress. The minute we cut our finger, get the flu, or sprain an ankle our body jumps into action to try to eliminate the harmful stimulus and begin healing. So how can it be that the same system that was designed to protect and serve can also lead to serious health problems like chronic pain, depression, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few? Let’s review some inflammation basics and learn to recognize the danger signals of unwanted inflammation and how to eliminate it from our bodies.
“Inflammation” has become an infamous buzzword in recent years, synonymous with ill health and disease. But not all inflammation is created equal. When one of my children recently suffered an ankle sprain in a sporting event, I watched the inflammatory process unfold step-by-step and was reminded that inflammation is a natural and necessary part of healing.
Inflammation means “in flames” or “on fire”. Immediately after an injury, the body sets a cascade of biochemical reactions in motion geared to make the injured person feel it, stop moving it, and allow healing begin. This “acute” type of inflammation usually lasts a short time, and is characterized by these typical signs:
- Pain– if it didn’t hurt you might make things worse by using it when it is injured;
- Red and Hot- increased blood flow warms the injury and carries leukocytes to help clean up the injury site;
- Immobility-some loss of function prevents you from re-injuring the area;
- Swelling– the excess fluid carries an abundance of healing substances and also makes using the injured part clumsy and sensitive.
The problem arises when inflammation becomes prolonged, chronic and low level. An inflammatory process without an “off” switch turns a useful system into one that contributes to all sorts of health crises. Since a big part of the inflammatory process involves targeting and breaking down damaged tissue and unwanted pathogens, an unregulated system can get out of control and target healthy tissue too. This is what eventually can lead to illness. Some of the risk factors for rogue inflammation include:
- Prolonged Stress
- Poor Sleep (quantity and quality)
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Toxic Diet
By paying attention to your body’s signals, you can receive clues about whether inflammation might be affecting your health. For instance, ongoing, irritating body pain, especially in the muscles and joints, can be a signal of chronic inflammation. Similarly, constant fatigue or lethargy is another alert. Other signs include: allergies or asthma, especially if they keep worsening; skin problems, red, irritated eyes, and generalized swelling are also said to be possible indicators of unwanted inflammation. If you have concerns that your health might be affected by inflammation, talk to your primary health care provider. Specific tests can determine your levels precisely.
We also have the power to control and reduce unwanted inflammation with small, gradual changes and daily choices. Here are a few suggestions to get the process started:
- Exchanging some processed foods with fresh produce and whole foods at each meal;
- Adding some form of movement each day, be it stretching, walking, gardening, weight training, aerobics, or any other activity that you enjoy.
- If you engage in daily strenuous exercise, schedule time off to let your body recuperate—your performance and your health will improve.
- De-stress–and be creative about it–meditation and regular bodywork are excellent, so are watching your favorite funny show, relaxing with a book, trying something new, and spending quality time with positive, supportive friends and family.
Inevitably, we will all encounter inflammation at various times in our lives. Sometimes it helps us overcome a health issue, and other times it could bring on trouble. Use our suggestions as a starting point to create balance in your body and keep inflammation in check. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list for more tips and information on handling inflammation and other health problems naturally and effectively.