What is Inflammation and Can It Affect Your Health?
Inflammations also serve a very beneficial purpose. Inflammations are closely tied to our immune systems. Essentially, inflammation results as our bodies attempt to heal and protect itself and when our bodies attack stimuli that it perceives to be harmful.
An inflammation also occurs when we are wounded and is vital in order for our wounds to heal.
The medical community has however been giving greater to attention to the effect that inflammation has on our health. The benefits of our immune system responding in this way is evident. On the other hand, prolonged inflammation is detrimental to our health. For many people, the response to the harmful stimuli continues long after the harmful effects of the stimuli has been contained. For this reason, even healthy cells will be affected.
Some doctors describe excessive inflammation like a dangerous fire that burns within us and slowly erodes our health. A poor diet, stress and a lack of exercise adds fuel to this fire each day. Illnesses such as arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer had been identified as being caused by inflammation decades ago.
Modern medicine has however identified inflammation as the root cause of almost all diseases – at least to some extent. It thus goes without saying that we need to learn more about the various factors which contribute to prolonged inflammation. One such factor that needs to be addressed is our diet. As the sayings the goes, ‘we are what we eat.’
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
There are many reasons that may lead to chronic inflammation, such as:
Bacteria, Viruses, and Parasites
These microorganisms are known to lead to long-term inflammation, that if unchecked and uncontrolled, lead to common physical ailments and even cancer.
Excessive Smoking and Alcohol Consumption
Too much smoking and alcohol consumption increases the risk of chronic inflammation which in turn increases the risk of diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Excessive alcohol consumption, especially if done on a regular basis, increases systemic inflammation and multiple organ damage.
Imbalanced Intake of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fats
Omega-6 acid, found in polyunsaturated vegetable oil like soybean and sunflower, is usually converted by the body into arachidonic acid, which in turn is used to generate pro-inflammatory cells. Omega-3 acid, on the other hand, is found in anti-inflammatory foods such as wild salmon and sardine. It provides the body with EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acids), which increases the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body. Having more of Omega-6 than Omega-3 in your diet, which is what is common, is therefore dangerous as it promotes inflammation.
Environmental Pollutants and Toxins
Polluted air that contains toxic particles and chemical irritants can lead to chronic inflammation when inhaled. The body takes longer to remove the toxins, overworking the immune system. As the inflammation that helps remove them does not subside, this results in chronic inflammation, especially in the lungs.
Psychological stress makes us vulnerable to infections by slowing down the production of pro-inflammatory hormones.
Understanding Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation that happens once in response to a threat and then goes away is called acute, whereas inflammation that doesn't go away on time is considered chronic. There are some key differences between the two.
Acute inflammation is just reacting to a one-off threat, which it gets rid of quickly. Acute inflammation lasts no longer than a few days. Chronic inflammation doesn't go away, lasting anywhere from months, to life. This could be because the threat is too strong for the immune system to defeat, because the threat is a virus that has taken full control of the body, because there are many dangerous foreign bodies that can't be got rid of, or because the immune system is making a mistake and attacking normal or healthy cells (known as an auto-immune condition).
Acute Inflammation Potential Result
Acute inflammation calls in a wide variety of specialized cells, some lighter ones, some heavy-hitters, and wipes out the attack. Acute inflammation has three potential results. It can resolve the condition, and everything goes back to normal except for maybe a bit of scar tissue.
It can kill all infected and damaged tissue, but also the infection, resulting in an abscess. The abscess may collect pus and become secondarily infected, but if treated well it may heal over. Or, finally, acute inflammation can keep on going and turn into chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation almost exclusively calls in the heavy-hitters of the white blood cells, and almost always after acute inflammation has failed to resolve the problem. The results of chronic inflammation are always harmful. They will destroy tissue, resulting in an abscess or ulcer which will not heal, as the new, healthy cells keep getting attacked. Chronic inflammation will also cause fibrosis and necrosis, killing healthy tissue until it begins to scar and rot inside the body, slowly stopping your organs from functioning.
For this reason, even though inflammation is our friend, if we suffer inflammation that lasts over a few days, we need to fight it. This is even if the causes of inflammation are different! If you have an inflamed cut that lasts three days, and an inflamed gut for two days in that lasts five days, this does just as much harm to our bodies as if we had suffered eight straight days of either. This means that even if your inflammation is because of multiple small events, you still need to address it.
The Dangers of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic Inflammation slowly wears down and destroys the body’s cells, tissues, and immune system. This happens gradually and is often unnoticed since it rarely causes pain. Chronic inflammation has been linked to ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, kidney and lung destruction, asthma, stroke, among others.
Why should we be worried about chronic inflammation? As we have seen above, it directly causes many conditions. But it also increases your risk of others, and makes some ailments worse when you already have them.
Chronic Inflammation Increases Health Risks
Chronic inflammation causes fibrosis. Fibrosis is where connective tissue starts growing excessively, invading other tissues in your body. Normally this is a healthy mechanism, like scarring after an injury. But when inflammation causes many tears in tissue and our bodies start scarring too much internally, this can stop our organs and muscles from working properly.
Chronic inflammation causes necrosis. Necrosis is where perfectly healthy cells start spontaneously dying en-masse, resulting in large amounts of dead tissue inside your body. When enzymes or bacteria reach this dead tissue, you can even start rotting from the inside out, which is why necrosis in the digestive tract is particularly dangerous.
Chronic inflammation increases your risk of cancer by promotion rapid cell proliferation. When your cells are inflamed and multiply quickly, there is greater chance of a mutated cell being formed. And when your immune system is taxed, this mutated cell may be allowed to multiply out of control, resulting in cancer.
Inflammation and Heart Disease
Chronic inflammation increases your risk of heart disease. All this swelling hardens your blood vessels and pumps up your heart, increasing blood pressure and limiting your ability to increase your heart rate. The two together put you at risk of a heart attack, even if you are slim and otherwise healthy!
Chronic inflammation increases your risk of diabetes. Inflammation affects your body's insulin production, resulting in hypersensitivity or insensitivity to glucose, raised blood sugar, and a high predisposition to diabetes.
Chronic inflammation increases your risk of Alzheimer's. Not only do raised blood pressure, a weak immune system, and a predisposition to diabetes put you at risk for dementia, but inflammation around the brain increases the risk of plaques forming in the brain, which is a key cause of Alzheimer's.
Inflammation and Obesity
Chronic inflammation makes obesity worse. When you are obese, every bit of movement you can get improves your health. So naturally when your organs are taxed, your joints are sore, your blood pressure is up and you're storing water weight, you will suffer the effects of obesity even more. This can create a cycle of ill health, as obesity also causes inflammation.
Chronic inflammation makes insomnia worse. If you suffer insomnia, inflammation will make you sleep poorly. People who sleep 7-8 hours a night, which is the healthiest amount, have less inflammation than people who sleep more or less than that. Poor sleep is not just a sign of ill health, but causes other complications.
Chronic inflammation makes osteoporosis worse. It won't give you osteoporosis, but too much swelling stops your body from repairing bones properly, resulting in less robust bones. If your bones are brittle from osteoporosis already, then inflammation may make them even more likely to break.