What Is Inflammation?

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What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a term used frequently in the health world, but do we really understand what it means? From the perspective that inflammation is associated with just about every health condition, it is an important, but fairly simple, concept to grasp. For example, arthritis is basically inflammation of the joints, while heart disease is attributed to inflammation of the arteries. So instead of just taking a medication to reduce joint pain or lower cholesterol, wouldn’t a better solution be to understand what inflammation really is and then work towards fixing the underlying cause?

While inflammation is often portrayed as a terrible condition, it is actually just the body’s natural response of protecting and healing itself. It is simply a warning that there is something harmful going on in the body. Take for instance the example of a basic inflammatory response that occurs when you sprain your ankle. The ankle becomes hot, red and swollen as blood flows to the area, bringing with it white blood cells to help clean up the damaged tissue. As these white blood cells move from the blood vessels into the damaged tissue, blood plasma leaks out as well, causing the area to swell. The swelling makes it difficult to move the ankle, creating stability, while the pain you feel is just a little reminder for you not to move. These sensations, the heat, redness, swelling, pain, and loss of function are all frustrating, but absolutely necessary for proper healing.

After a couple weeks of limited mobility, the ankle begins to heal and you are able to start living life as normal. The inflammatory response has done its job. So then what’s the problem with inflammation being linked to chronic illnesses? How does an implicitly natural and beneficial process get to be so out of control and at the root of many of our most detrimental issues?

Simply put, the inflammatory response is meant to be relatively short lived. Problems occur when inflammation continues to go on in the body for an extended period of time. This is due to the fact that a primary action of the inflammatory response is breaking down damaged tissue, before building it back up. Therefore, if inflammation occurs for an extended period, there is potential for it to damage the body.

So what are some of the factors that promote this state of chronic inflammation? Primary culprits include dietary and environmental toxins which build up in the body, leading to constant stimulation of the immune system. Other factors include poor sleep, high stress lifestyle, lack of exercise along with eating high glycemic and highly processed foods. By taking steps to clean up your diet, incorporate exercise and stress reduction techniques into your lifestyle and making sleep a priority, you really can start to quell the inflammatory response occurring in your body. Certain anti-inflammatory nutrients including DHA, tocotrienols, vitamin C, vitamin D, quercetin, grape seed extract, and curcumin are also beneficial when trying to put out the inflammation fire.

Now that you understand the basics of the inflammatory response, hopefully the link between chronic inflammation and health problems such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, autoimmune disorders, is a little more apparent. Liken preventing chronic inflammation to taking steps to avoid starting a fire in your home. You always unplug your curling iron or coffee pot when you’re done using them and probably don’t leave your house without turning the dryer off. These are all preventative measures you perform every day and you can do the same for inflammation. Going for a walk, eating some greens, and taking your DHA are all beneficial practices that can help reduce inflammation. No change is too small, every little bit counts, especially when it comes to putting out the fire of inflammation!

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