Inflammation; What do we need to know?
Inflammation is not always linked to infection. A strained muscle will cause inflammation without any infection for example. Atherosclerosis (inflammation of the heart blood vessels) is also without infection. Excess inflammation is connected with the aging process and the sped up deterioration associated of cells. To slow down ageing and maximise health, inflammation needs to be identified and reduced.
I am a naturopath and see many clients with inflammation in their whole body picture. I advise you to see someone who can recognise the drivers in your symptoms and adapt a whole body holistic approach in your personal treatment. The following information is to be used to further your education about how you can take responsibility for your health. It is best to work one on one with your naturopath to come up with a plan that is achievable and personal to you. Also read on with Heal from Inflammation and Natural Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients.
Acute; The body when injured begins a necessary process called the inflammatory cascade. This process is necessary to help localise healing and protect the rest of the body by providing a blockade. Normal signs of inflammation are; redness, swelling, pain and heat. All necessary to promote healing and all signals to the immune system to get to work. When the area is healed the inflammation subsides and everything goes back to normal. This signals that the body is healing and the immune system is functioning optimally. Loss of function is sometimes necessary to rest and heal the area and is only temporary. For example inflammation after a sprained ankle makes it impossible to walk on it giving necessary time to heal.
When this inflammatory cascade is interrupted (trying to reduce fever, by using anti-inflammatories, pain killers, antihistamines etc) then the body can start to get confused (recurrent fevers, illness spreading, bypassing the natural immune system with antibiotics and so on). By masking inflammation to keep going may cause further and more serious injury. The body is not able to ‘switch’ off inflammation and this leads to chronic inflammation. Swelling does not diminish and your body remains on high alert- even when there is no immediate danger.
Chronic; Chronic inflammation is also known as low-level prolonged inflammation. It is very destructive to the body and damage progresses and worsens over time. Swelling does not diminish and your body remains on high alert- even when there is no immediate danger. This impacts the cells in the area as the prolonged inflammatory response simultaneously destroys and heals tissue until it destroys all affected tissue. However when it happens without the presence of an acute need (ie the body is under stress or is lacking nutrients for cell repair) it can result in chronic illness. The immune system attack never stops. Since the immune system is mostly based in the digestive system, weaknesses in this area can often be the root cause of chronic inflammation. Other causes may be excessive impact on the digestive system to process too much food consumption without necessary enzymes and bacteria, elevated blood sugar levels, and oxidative stress from excess toxins in the body.
Since the digestive system is the place where food is turned into nutrients needed to be absorbed and used by the body. It is also susceptible to weakness since it is also the first port of call for all toxins and foreign substances entering the body, causing damage and alerting and stimulating the immune system. When the immune system is constantly switched on- inflammation cannot switch off. When the inflammatory process can’t switch off it further exacerbates the situation. Bloating, excess gas, pain, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and acid reflux are all indications of inflammation in the digestive system. It is worth remembering this when it comes to our children too- including infants.
Chronic illnesses related to chronic inflammation are arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, asthma, heartburn, ulcers, allergies, diabetes, gout and acne.
Systemic; Systemic inflammation occurs when chronic inflammation moves beyond local tissues and into the lining of blood vessels and organs. Rampant systemic inflammation has been shown to lead to autoimmune diseases, food intolerances and even obesity. Heart disease, obesity and even cancer can be linked to the stress of systemic inflammation.
Stress and Inflammation;
Stress is well known as a cause of chronic inflammation. Your body reacts to stress universally, whether they are biological or psychological, perceived or subconscious. The more acute the threat to safety feels , the more dramatic the body’s response will be. Instinctual reactions to moving too fast (in a plane, train or automobile) proximity to strangers (in an office, train, bus, shopping centre), distance from ground (office block, residential block, aeroplane), distance from nature (in a concrete block with un-natural lighting) are perhaps not noticeable as we have conditioned ourselves to these situations. However instincts will still switch on the body’s fight or flight mode. Part of that mode is alerting the immune system for potential attack and danger. The body is unable to switch off the inflammatory process when under perceived threat- even if we don’t ‘feel’ stressed.
Working to deadlines, constantly in front of screens with sensory stimulation (phones, computers, tv), lack of sleep, worry and other forms of perceived stressors are also going to prolong the fight or flight mode. Whilst some of these stressors may not be going away immediately- for the health of our body we need to learn to manage this excess stress. Recognising emotional and physical stresses and working in ways to return to rest and recovery (the opposite to fight or flight) is key to allowing the body to ‘switch off’ inflammation and allow necessary healing. Whether this is a daily 5 minute breathing exercise, using Bach Flower Remedies such as Rescue Remedy, Gentle exercise, taking your shoes off and feeling the ground with your feet, getting into nature or using visualisation exercises to feel safe and protected. It is necessary to find a daily practice to give your body a break.
No wonder we always get sick when we go on holiday- it is the body telling you to stop and heal.
Grains, nuts, seeds and beans and inflammation;
Since the above foods are not designed for human consumption (ie they are for the plants to continue their own life by being eaten, poo’d out and can then grow a new plant) we have to ensure that we prepare them properly for consumption. The body will view them as foreign and the coatings on them to restrict animals (all animals- livestock, humans, pets, and animals in the wild) to digest and absorb their nutrients. The above foods all contain nutrients useful to the body in moderate amounts however food processing today (farming methods, gmo’s, pesticides and soil quality as well as harvesting, storage and packaging foods) greatly affects its ability to be recognised by the body as actual food.
Corn and Wheat are great examples. Their genetic makeup is so far removed from what our body recognises it is not a surprise why so many of us react to them. Especially when they are given to our children in formula, cereals and so on when the digestive system is just developing.
Please also be aware what your food is eating. Consider that a cow, chicken pig and so on eating a diet of grains will also have systemic inflammation that will be recognised by the body when we consume it (milk, meat, eggs and so on). Our pets also become inflamed with a diet which also includes these foods (wheat and corn are commonly seen in most pet foods). If your pet is showing signs of arthritis, skin issue, dental health, digestive weakness, immune weakness, mood and blood sugar imbalances consider adapting a diet closer to what they would eat in nature.
If you are going to consume the above foods, buy organic to ensure they are not gmo (especially corn) and take the time to prepare them traditionally. Soaking, spouting and cooking them as our ancient ancestors did. Consume them sporadically rather than at every meal every day and you may be able to enjoy a healthier relationship with them.
Sugar and inflammation;
The relationship between insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels) and the inflammatory messengers is complicated. It also is related to stress as above. Refined sugar put the immune system on high alert. Not only are refined sugars not recognised by the body (as they are so far removed from their natural substances) they also spike insulin levels. This alerts the cell messengers (called eicosanoids) to man battle stations. The bodies protective armour is the inflammatory process.
If you are constantly consuming refined sugars and do not have balanced sugar levels you can imagine the cells are on high alert and in protective mode all the time. This does not allow much time (or indeed energy) for what the cell should be doing. Insulin resistance is a result of this so you can see the link between insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes), central weight gain, water retention and chronic/systemic inflammation.
Reducing refined and man made sweeteners like zylitol, liquid stevia (stevia leaves are different they are natural), cane sugar (organic or not), brown sugar and artificial sweeteners will hugely reduce inflammation in the body. Eat real, fresh and whole foods (meaning foods very close to nature) that have been allowed to grow and develop naturally (including meat, eggs, vegetables) and have been prepared appropriately (such as soaking and sprouting any seeds and nuts) is the way forward
Allergies and inflammation
Since we already appreciate the link between inflammation as a protection mechanism for the immune system, it should be no surprise that allergy presentation is inflammation. the body trying to protect itself from foreign invaders. Like gluten and other man-made foods (refined flours, sugars, processed foods, oils like canola and vegetable, pasteurised foods like dairy and gmo foods like corn and soy) and toxins (pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and cosmetics). Constant contact with these foreign invaders and the combination of them is why we can sometimes see a reduction in the allergy response as these factors are removed.
Digestive repair is paramount as it restricts the amounts of foods that are able to slip through the leaks of a weakened digestive system. Balancing bacteria to moderate the immune system and help eliminate toxins is also key. Allowing the body to stop trying to protect itself all the time can do so much towards reducing inflammation affecting whole body health and repair.
Chemicals and inflammation
As we have mentioned man-made irritants several times it is no surprise to see that chemicals also have an impact on inflammation. Both externally manufactured chemicals and chemicals made in the body as a result of digestion, detoxification and metabolism. All need careful handling and excretion from the body. Inflammation can sometimes trap these chemical and recirculate them which both increases damage and in turn more inflammation. Stopping this vicious circle is very important.
Reduction of chemicals in things you can control (cleaning products, cosmetics, air fresheners, clothes, furniture, bedding, laundry products and so on can all be replaced with natural alternatives. Culture You Life has many recipes for cleaning products and cosmetics using simple and cheap ingredients like Kefir and Kombucha.
Environmental pollutants are less easy to control so you have to have a plan to prevent damage by boosting your immune system and digestive system whilst supporting your liver on a daily basis. By running air purifiers and constantly trying to eradicate bacteria we are placing our body under stress. We cannot live life in a bubble (it is not what we are designed to do) and swapping extremes of environment is more harmful than is currently appreciated.
Sources and further reading;
Eat Naked Now- Ending the Fire Within
Mix Wellness; Inflammation, the new silent killer and how to stop it in its tracks
Mary Vance; Inflammation; why is it bad?
Kula Mama; How to become a medical detective