Inflammation is a biological response of tissues in the body to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. Its purpose of inflammation is to restrict and eliminate the harmful stimuli and to remove damaged tissue components so that the body can begin to heal. The response consists of changes in blood flow, an increase in permeability of blood vessels, and the migration of fluid, proteins, and white blood cells from the circulation to the site of tissue damage.
Myth One: Inflammation is Always Bad
Inflammation actually is good in the short run. It is part of your immune system’s natural response to heal an injury or fight an infection. It’s supposed to stop after that. But if it becomes a long-lasting habit in your body, it becomes bad and can begin damaging your organs. Long-term, or “chronic,” inflammation is seen in many diseases and conditions.
When your body encounters an offending agent (like viruses, bacteria or toxic chemicals) or suffers an injury, it activates your immune system. Your immune system sends out its first responders: inflammatory cells and cytokines (substances that stimulate more inflammatory cells).
These cells begin an inflammatory response to trap bacteria and other offending agents or start healing injured tissue. The result can be pain, swelling, bruising or redness. But inflammation also affects body systems you can’t see.
Inflammation is an essential part of your body’s healing process. It occurs when inflammatory cells travel to the place of an injury or foreign body like bacteria. If inflammatory cells stay too long, it may lead to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a symptom of other health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Myth Two: There is only one kind of inflammation
There are two types of inflammation: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.
Acute Inflammation comes on suddenly and can last anywhere from days to weeks. However, acute inflammation settles down once the cause is under control. Common causes of acute inflammation include injury or infection, and this type of inflammation is generally the result of the body attempting to restore the health of the affected area.
Chronic Inflammation can develop for what appears to be no clear apparent reason. This type of inflammation can last a lifetime and cause harm, instead of helping the body during a healing process. Typically chronic inflammation is linked with chronic diseases such as excess weight, autoimmune diseases, cancers, stress (both psychological or physical), infections (like hepatitis C), diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, including strokes and heart attacks. Cholesterol levels ( LDL, HDL and Triglycerides) and Sugar levels (HbA1c),
Image From: Cleveland Heart Lab
Acute and Chronic inflammation each have their own symptoms. Acute inflammation may cause: Flushed skin at the site of the injury, pain or tenderness, swelling, and/or heat. Chronic inflammation symptoms may be harder to spot than acute inflammation symptoms. Signs of chronic inflammation can include:
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Mouth sores
- Skin rash
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a substance known as a biomarker that is produced by the liver in response to inflammation in the body. Elevated CRP is a concern because it is associated with an increased risk of heart issues, including heart attack. This and other inflammatory proteins can be measured in your blood and provide your health care provider with an understanding of your overall clinical risk.
According to Dr. Nicolas Chronos, “We are seeing a great deal of chronic inflammation in the lungs of patients with pulmonary COVID infection. Concerns as to the long term outcomes include the development of long COVID.”
Talk with your provider if you have ongoing pain, swelling, stiffness or other symptoms. A healthcare expert can narrow down the cause and find ways to help you feel better and manage chronic inflammation.
Myth Three: Inflammation Is Not Affected by Diet
There are certain foods that can fight inflammation. Try out a few simple changes to your diet or even a new eating plan. Below are some examples of food for an anti-inflammatory diet, examples of food to try and reduce that cause inflammation, and a specific eating plan that follows anti-inflammatory eating habits.
“Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.” (Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, Foods that fight inflammation 2021)
Your diet matters. The types of foods you eat can affect how much inflammation you have. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins (like beans and nuts), fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines), and healthier oils, like olive oil. Also eat foods with probiotics, like yogurt (just check that it doesn’t have too much sugar). Limit saturated fats, found in meats, whole-fat dairy products, and processed foods.
Ginger root has anti-inflammation perks. So do cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and turmeric (which gives curry powder its orange-yellow color). Scientists are studying how much it takes to make a difference. These spices are safe to enjoy in foods. If you want to try them in supplements, ask your doctor first. They can check on whether they might affect any medicines you take or conditions you have.
Dr. Nicolas Chronos encourages his patients to follow the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean Diet. This diet focuses on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy oils.