Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system’s response to injury and infection. It is the body’s way of signaling the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue, as well as defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Acute inflammatory processes are what cause a sprained ankle to swell (and ultimately heal), and what allows you to recover from a bacterial infection in a cut.
However, if inflammation goes on for too long or occurs in places where it is not needed, it can become problematic. Chronic inflammation means that your immune system is always in overdrive, which can lead to autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The most-commonly accepted model of heart disease is now based in inflammation, according to the American Heart Association. When inflammatory cells stay too long in blood vessels, they promote the buildup of plaque. The body perceives this plaque as a foreign substance that doesn’t belong, so it tries to wall off the plaque from the blood flowing inside the arteries. If the plaque becomes unstable and ruptures, it forms a clot that blocks blood flow to the heart or brain, triggering a heart attack or stroke.
Cancer is another disease linked with chronic inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to some forms of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.
It is often said that inflammation is at the root of ALL chronic disease. And not only does it affect the body, it takes a toll on the brain.
Research was recently published in the journal Neurology that shows a new connection between chronic inflammation and cognitive decline–meaning, those who live with chronic inflammation have worse memory and thinking skills. The study followed 12,000 adults of an average age of 57 for 20 years, measuring their cognitive skills at the beginning of the study, in the middle, and at the end. Researchers also measured inflammation markers in the blood. Those with high levels of inflammation showed an 8 to 12 percent decline in cognitive skills over time, with memory skills taking the worst hit.
How do you know if you’re inflamed? Some of the common signs include:
- skin issues like eczema or psoriasis
- puffiness and unwanted weight, especially in the midsection
- gum disease
- joint pain or arthritis
- chronic headaches
- chronic digestive upset
- recurrent urinary tract infections
- enlarged prostate
- feeling tired, anxious, depressed
Of course, these symptoms can be present for a variety of reasons, so testing inflammatory markers on a comprehensive blood panel is my preferred way to root out inflammation. Markers like C-reactive protein, cholesterol, uric acid, liver enzymes, homocysteine, vitamin D, ferritin, and glucose/A1C/insulin can tell me a lot about what the immune system is doing, and help us identify areas for improvement. I recommend everyone have a blood panel at least once a year, twice if you are actively managing some chronic health issues.
The best ways to fight inflammation include food: dark leafy greens, healthy fats, and spices like turmeric and ginger are all helpful. Proper hydration is critical. Stay away from sugar, refined white grains, gluten, and highly-processed vegetable oils (like those used in restaurants). Addressing stress via mindful yoga or meditation, incorporating appropriate movement daily (overexercising can be highly inflammatory), and ensuring quality sleep are all important areas to address.
One of my favorite inflammation-busting supplements is fish oil. Not all fish oil is created equal, as quality and sourcing makes a world of difference here. But the proper fish oil, given in the proper doses, can make a world of difference for those dealing with inflammation. In particular, I find it really helps people with joint pain quickly and noticeably.
Interested in getting a look at your inflammatory blood markers? Contact me to discuss how we can get you tested!
Think fish oil could help you, but worried about “fishy burps”? Reach out and let’s talk about some great products that might be right for you! You can also sign up for a free Fullscript account at the link below, and get access to my catalog of favorite products at less-than-retail prices (with free shipping over $50!).
One thought on “What is inflammation and why should you care?”
Hi there! I am into day 5 of recording food. My observations are that I eat a high carb/fat coupled with a low protein diet. But I would like to do a few more days to get more insight into what is going on. For example, I am under some stress and laaate last night I was sure some wine, cheese and chocolate would help.
It. Did Not.
I got the salvia test in today. Can I do that anytime or do it after you get the results of my food log?