Almost all diseases known to humankind have one thing in common: inflammation. It’s the number one reaction in the human body that signals something out of order is going on.
Whether it’s due to stress induced by exercise, a specific food that isn’t beneficial to your digestive system, or an unknown, harmful pathogen, inflammation shows up as a first sign for you to make a move and do something about it.
Dealing with inflammation depends on a variety of factors, such as what caused it, whether or not it’s acute or chronic, is the reason behind it benign or harmful, and what side effects can prolonged inflammation impose on the body. These factors will determine whether or not you should act fast or implement slower anti-inflammatory techniques that will do better in the long run.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
There are two major types of inflammation, acute and chronic, and they couldn’t be more different from one another.
- Acute Inflammation occurs immediately after an injury, trauma, or infection and it shows up as redness, swelling, warmth, fever, and pain around the area that’s been affected. It’s a sign of your body’s immune system responding to an attack by releasing a large number of white blood cells in order to protect the body from harm. In most cases, acute inflammation is only short-lasting and goes away when properly dealt with.
- Chronic inflammation develops over time, and it causes your immune system to constantly be in a state of alertness, releasing white blood cells and trying to fight an enemy, even if it’s basically invisible. It’s the type of inflammation we should worry about as it keeps us more prone to developing serious and chronic diseases such as cancer, autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and others.
Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation does not happen overnight. It’s a slow and gradual process that’s a combination of a variety of different factors such as:
- Poor nutrition with predominantly ultra-processed and sugary foods and drinks
- Sedentary lifestyle with a lack of exercise or daily movement
- Poor sleep quality and chronic sleep deprivation
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Alcohol, nicotine, and drug abuse
Many people won’t know they’re dealing with chronic inflammation in their bodies before they start experiencing some of the most common symptoms such as:
- Brain fog
- Inexplicable weight gain and water retention
- Sleep disorders
- Chronic pain
- Gastrointestinal issues and distress
- Depression, anxiety, irritability, or other mood-related disorders
- Elevated heart rate and blood glucose levels
- High cortisol levels
Even though there aren’t specific tests that diagnose chronic inflammation, there are blood markers for inflammation or inflammatory biomarkers that indicate a strong immune response. C-reactive protein (CRP) is one of them, so whenever these levels are high, that is a sign of a strong inflammatory response to an infection or a disorder causing harm and damage to the body.
How Do You Treat Chronic Inflammation?
Depending on how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms of inflammation, you might have to take a different approach when it comes to treatment. Sometimes, like in the case of many cardiovascular diseases and cancers, the damage is irreparable and all you can do is use anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation and prevent it from wreaking havoc even further.
That being said, there are some less-invasive ways you can help deal with chronic inflammation and help support your immune system. Some of the most common include:
- Cleaning up your diet and adding nourishing, nutrient-rich superfoods to your meals that will promote your overall health and wellbeing, keeping inflammation at bay and fighting infections and free radicals from creating any more harm.
- Increasing the level of exercise to improve blood flow and lymphatic drainage, increasing nutrient absorption and aiding in recovery.
- Paying attention to sleep quality and implementing routines that will help you get restful and deep sleep.
- Implementing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, journaling, or epsom salt baths to help your body easily transfer from fight-or-flight mode to rest-and-digest, promoting recovery, rest, repair, and recharge in every cell of your body.
- Anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin, omega 3 fatty acids, and even spices like ginger and cayenne pepper.
In addition to these lifestyle changes that can do so much to help reduce inflammatory processes in the body, some people have already experienced a lot of damage in their cells and tissues which makes them unable to treat chronic inflammation with just anti-inflammatory food and exercise. In these situations, the treatment includes using medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are known to effectively reduce inflammation and pain as well as corticosteroids that strongly suppress the immune system and prevent it from attacking healthy tissue.
Chronic Inflammation and Serious Diseases
If left untreated, chronic inflammation can cause a plethora of serious diseases which can severely impact the quality of your life and overall longevity. Some of the most common inflammation-related diseases include:
- Type 2 diabetes – even though it was previously thought that elevated blood glucose levels was the main culprit for type 2 diabetes, new research sees the root cause in chronic inflammation.
- Cardiovascular disease – inflammation causes pressure and build-up in the arteries, clogging them and reducing blood flow. This can cause a plethora of cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease, stroke, or a heart attack.
- Cancer – it is now clear that tumors and cancerous cells thrive in an inflammatory environment, causing the immune system to weaken and lose the ability to fight them off. Even more so, tumor cells seem to have integrated some of the signaling molecules of the innate immune system and their receptors in order for them to successfully invade, migrate, and metastasize throughout the body. That’s why new cancer treatments now focus on anti-inflammatory therapy as one of the main drivers of treatment.
- Autoimmune diseases – when your immune system goes into overload, it creates a strong inflammatory response that starts attacking your healthy cells, mistaking them for harmful agents. This leads to cell, tissue, and even organ damage that can be irreparable and almost impossible to treat but simply manage for life.
- Alzheimer’s disease – chronic inflammation has been named as the central mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease, not only causing it to form in the first place, but also speeding up its progression and exacerbating symptoms
Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system to any sort of threat to your health and wellbeing. And although it’s necessary in order for your body to fight off actual infections and heal from injuries, when it’s long overdue and becomes chronic, it’s even more dangerous than those infections and injuries in the first place.
Most people don’t pay attention to signs of chronic inflammation before it’s too late and their immune response isn’t as strong as it was before. Take the matters into your own hands and prevent inflammation from becoming chronic through healthy, anti-inflammatory foods, moderate and consistent exercise, stress-reducing techniques, and improved sleep quality.