Chronic Inflammation: The Enemy Inside

When the body is injured or at risk from bacteria, germs and viruses, your cells swell to isolate the injury and protect it from outside attack. This alerts your white blood cells to rush to the site and defend the body against intruders. Inflammation is the body’s natural defense against injury and illness, but when it becomes chronic, it can be your greatest enemy to optimal health.

When inflammation works properly, the cells are able to swell by releasing chemicals that cause inflammation like prostaglandins, histamine and bradykinin and do so to isolate disease and injury to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the body. However, this is intended to be a short-lived phenomenon and when inflammation becomes chronic, it negatively affects many other aspects of your well-being.

Preventing Inflammation

How Chronic Inflammation Affects You

Chronic inflammation has been associated with life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and obesity and with serious illnesses such as depression and arthritis. The Heart Foundation acknowledges that inflammation is associated with heart disease and stroke: Deepak Bhatt, M.D. “It appears that the inciting event in many heart attacks and some forms of stroke is buildup of fatty, cholesterol-rich plaque in blood vessels. The body perceives this plaque as abnormal and foreign — it does not belong in a healthy blood vessel,” he said.

“In response, the body tries to wall off the plaque [inflammation] from the flowing blood. However, under the wrong set of circumstances, that plaque may rupture, and its walled-off contents can come into contact with blood and trigger a blood clot formation. This combination of plaque and blood clots causes the majority of heart attacks and certain types of stroke, if the blood clot obstructs blood flow to the heart or brain.”

Deborah Enos from Live Science: “…research indicates that it [chronic inflammation] may be at the very core of chronic diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. There are even studies showing that inflammation plays a part in heart disease, clogged arteries, gum disease, stroke and cancer, but the jury is still out.”

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Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Stress: A recent study from Carnegie Mellon University found that the stress hormone cortisol has been linked to many chronic diseases. Head Researcher, Sheldon Cohen: “When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well.”

Reduce your stress by meditating daily, exercising and reducing your outside stressors. Take a much-needed vacation in the short-term and practice deep breathing to restore your inner balance.

Lack of Sleep: Cytokines are released when we don’t get enough sleep and these cause inflammation. During sleep, the body has a chance to repair and the immune system slows down. However, a lack of sleep can aggravate inflammation.

Meditation, exercise and a healthy diet will help to restore your natural circadian rhythms so you can get enough sleep in the long term. In the interim, try valerian root and chamomile tea to help you relax before bed.

Poor Nutrition: Fatty foods, sugar, foods cooked at high temperatures and processed foods can actually promote inflammation. Opt for organic foods (some chemical pesticides cause inflammation) and foods high in probiotics. Foods high in fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, sprouted grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables all help to relieve inflammation.

Super foods that really impact inflammation are ginger, omega-3 oils found in fish, blueberries, bell peppers, spinach and turmeric.