Explanation of Inflammation

Written by: Superior Physical Therapy

We’re going to tell you about something you’ve heard talked about before. But it is important and we want to emphasize it; because this topic can be debilitating in so many ways.

We’ll be talking about inflammation. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural defense system.

When your body senses foreign invaders (not those from space), a specific cascade of events sets off in which your white blood cells and some special chemicals called cytokines mobilize to protect you. You’re probably familiar with the pain, swelling, redness, and heat that classically signify inflammation. It’s something just about everyone out there has experienced.

We have all had injuries such as a swollen knee after a fall or a fever due to a cold. In such cases, inflammation is not an issue. On the contrary, it is just the cells of our body doing an extra effort to help us heal. Acute inflammation itself is not the issue. The problem begins when things go wrong and it becomes chronic.

The symptoms of chronic inflammation vary widely depending on its stage and the organs affected. They can be easily mistaken for common allergies, tiredness and joint pain. Chances are that these reactions are in fact the manifestation of inflammation in the person’s body. More and more research is being conducted specifically on chronic inflammation and the body’s responses to it.

Chronic inflammation may cause diseases such as cancer, diabetes and depression just to name a few. Read about the most common triggers of inflammation below. Inflammation and Its Discontents: The Role of Cytokines in the Pathophysiology of Major Depression

So what causes the body to have chronic inflammatory responses? Here are some common triggers:

  • Sugar
    Research shows that many Americans are eating more than double the recommended allowance for sugar (Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health – A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association) everything from our favorite breakfast cereal, to those delicious low-sodium crackers, to that microwaved bowl of soup contain added sugars, mainly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. Excessive sugar can cause an immune response and lead to inflammation and diseases such as diabetes.
  • Processed Foods
    How many times do we choose fast food or delivery simply because we are just too tired to cook or running late? The consumption of processed foods is a reality that’s almost impossible to escape. Many foods cause inflammation, but especially processed meals because they contain high levels of sodium, fat, empty carbs and added sugar. At first they might give a boost of energy, but it does not last long and hunger quickly returns. Since they do not have the ingredients our body needs to function, it keeps on craving more, leading many to overeat.
  • Fat
    Before starting any discussion about fat, it is very important to understand that fat itself is not the problem. Our body needs fat to function. Our brain craves fat. Unsaturated fats, such as the ones found in olive oil and almonds, are essential for our well-being. Trans fats, found in anything battered and fried, can be highly toxic and should be avoided as much as possible.
  • Gluten
    The grains produced today are not the same as 50 years ago. In order to feed the ever-increasing population, genetic manipulation has created stronger and more resistant seeds. The side effect is that those grains, that were for centuries the main source of food, have changed dramatically. Even patients who do not have celiac disease can show similar symptoms (such as pain, bloating and fatigue) after the intake of gluten.
  • Alcohol
    The effects of excessive alcohol consumption are well-known to anyone who has gone through a hangover. Most of the consumed alcohol is broken down in the liver. In this process, certain toxins that are even more harmful than the alcohol itself are generated, which damages the liver cells. Inflammation is only the beginning since these by-products weaken the body’s defenses. Having a weak immune systems leaves room for more dangerous inflammations such as alcoholic hepatitis and fibrosis.
  • Smoking
    It is highly recognized by the medical community that smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer (https://www.heart.org). What most people do not realize is these diseases are triggered by the inflammation of the arteries caused by nicotine.
  • Stress
    In modern society, the constant rush against the clock is a reality. We force our mind and body to stay alert non-stop. There is little chance to rest in our hectic lives. This never-ending state of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which influences our metabolism and can trigger chronic inflammation. From Stress to Inflammation and Major Depressive Disorder: A Social Signal Transduction Theory of Depression
  • Poor Sleep
    Sleeping less than six to nine hours every night is associated with higher coritsol levels (Impact of Sleep and Its Disturbances on Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Activity). The higher your coritsol levels, the more likely you are to suffer from chronic inflammation.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
    Unlike our predecessors, we do not have to grow and harvest our food or hunt for our next meal. We spend the majority of the day sitting, whether at work or in the car. These sedentary habits combined with poor diet can lead to inflammation associated with heart disease and diabetes. Many of our patients have heard me say, “A desk job is the most dangerous job in the world.” It may be an exaggeration, but the sedentary life style has a deep impact on the way we feel. Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk
  • Pollution
    Very few places around the world are free from pollution. Breathing in pollutants in the air causes our body to fight back with an immune response. Extended exposure to these pollutants can lead to long-term inflammation.

Because so many health problems have been associated with it, it’s tempting to think of inflammation as a disease. But of course inflammation is not always a bad thing. It’s a vital part of a healthy immune response. Your body depends on inflammatory responses to defend you from bacterial and viral invaders and even cancer cells. Inflammation also helps the body heal from injuries.

The problem is one of balance. As a result of diet and lifestyle, our bodies tend to over-produce inflammatory chemicals. Healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and minimizing stress all help to reduce inflammation. If you need help with creating a healthy lifestyle plan, we’re here to help. Superior Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab (https://frederickpt.com/) has certified strength and conditioning specialists that help you create a safe and functional exercise plan; provide advice for monitoring/managing inflammatory responses and provide general recommendations for nutrition. At Superior we believe for total wellness you must treat not only the body, but the mind and spirit too.