Let's talk about inflammation, is it a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, it’s not that simple. Inflammation happens in everyone, whether you’re aware of it or not. Your immune system creates inflammation to protect the body from infection, injury, or disease. There are many things you wouldn’t be able to heal from without inflammation. In brief, inflammation is a natural and beneficial reaction to harmful stimuli, such as irritants or pathogens. It is a protective response that helps the body rid itself of the offender and rally to protect the body. However, if inflammation isn’t resolved and or persists, it can damage the cells and tissues that it is designed to protect.
Inflammation is classified into two main types:
Acute inflammation- acute, meaning it has a beginning, middle and end. It usually occurs for a short (yet often severe) duration, like a cut on your arm. It often resolves in two weeks or less. Symptoms appear quickly and this type of inflammation creates redness, heat and even blood to rush healing blood cells to the area to inspire healing. This type of inflammation restores your body to its state before injury or illness.
Chronic inflammation- meaning consistent over a period of time. This is a slower and generally less severe form of inflammation. It comes on slower over time and can be accumulative and it typically lasts longer than six weeks. It can occur even when there’s no injury, and it doesn’t always end when the illness or injury is healed. Chronic inflammation has been linked to autoimmune disorders and even prolonged stress and if not resolved, it can and does lead to other diseases of the organs or systems. Long-term inflammation can lead to a number of symptoms over time and affect your body in different ways.
Common symptoms of chronic inflammation can include:
Joint aches and pains- If you feel achy in your muscles, joints or all over, especially upon waking, you can bet your body is inflamed. When your immune cells or fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, you will experience pain sensitivity, stiffness and sometimes swelling like in the joints. Arthritis and Fibromyalgia are classic symptoms of excess inflammation but generalized pain when getting out of bed in the morning is another symptom. Pain in the soles of the feet (plantar fasciitis) is another classic sign of inflammation. Again, there is a difference between injuring your foot and waking up hurting chronically for no apparent reason at all. Often these chronic conditions are referred to as autoimmune disorders or disease. With autoimmune disorders like certain types of arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, your immune system attacks healthy cells.
Itchy skin- Redness and itching are classic signs of inflammation. These symptoms can be caused by allergies or autoimmune disease or be due to an unhappy liver. Itchy skin is very common in people with hepatitis but can occur if the liver is inflamed for a variety of different reasons. An inflamed liver produces greater quantities of an inflammatory chemical called C reactive protein. Often at night, itchy skin is a clear sign of liver inflammation and toxicity. There are many options for clearing up these issues as the liver takes on a lot of burden in healing bodily systems and health issues. Therefore, it needs to be optimally functioning.
Constant fatigue and insomnia Fatigue can be caused by many different factors, but you may not realize it’s a typical sign of inflammation. When your immune cells are continually busy secreting large volumes of inflammatory chemicals or antibodies, fatigue is the natural consequence. Think about the fatigue you experience with the flu. Chronic allergies also typically result in some degree of fatigue. Any health condition that causes inflammation usually results in fatigue. Fatigue can interfere with sleep both duration and quantity. There is a difference in being tired or sleepy and fatigue. Fatigue is more of an exhaust and results in an interference of getting proper rest. This is why insomnia often leads to inflammation.
Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders I mentioned the inflammatory marker, C Reactive Protein enzyme produced by the liver in response to inflammation. Individuals who have higher levels of this inflammatory marker (CRP) are at a higher risk of developing depression within five years. When bacteria, viruses, and parasites invade the body, the immune system recruits white blood cells, cytokines, and proteins to fight off the unwelcome invaders. The immune system works to mark certain areas as injured, as a way to bring more attention or “help” for healing, to the area. Inflammation puts stress on the body, and this often results in individuals experiencing a lack of pleasure, sleep disturbances, impairments to cognitive abilities and social withdrawal. Individuals who do not respond to anti-depressants are known to have treatment-resistant depression and often show higher levels of inflammatory markers in their bodies.
Gastrointestinal issues- like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux are a direct result of inflammation in the digestive track. Inflammation is the main culprit of autoimmune diseases and the digestive system. When you eat certain foods that are not favorable to your system, hard to digest, fake foods, chemicals and other toxins found in foods an inflammatory response begins and swelling, bloating and other digestive indications of inflammation begin to occur. Your autoimmune system views this inflammation as a toxin or a disease that it needs to treat. It attacks that organ, in the case the digestive system, to stop the inflammation but actually makes the issue worse and creating unwanted side effects. Dairy products, processed foods, wheat gluten, sugar and alcohol are great examples of items that cause inflammation. When you suffer from a common digestive issue and eat a slice of pizza with a glass of wine, your intestines may begin to swell hours later. As the body fights back, the swelling can worsen. These foods are not the only foods that can trigger an immune attack, there are food allergy and sensitivity test to pinpoint the exact cause, every individual is different.
You can also suffer from any of these conditions because of a lack of good bacteria in your digestive tract. While many people assume that all bacteria is bad bacteria, the human body actually relies on some types of good bacteria in order to absorb essential nutrients and have a strong immune system. A healthy balance of good bugs within your digestive tract keeps your bowel movements regular and helps you healthy. Taking a laxative or antibiotics can be quite harmful to your digestive system since many good bacteria are eliminated from your body. Your immune system will then send more agents to fight the bad bacteria, which can leave you feeling sick. Even consuming an unhealthy diet can eliminate the good bacteria from your body.
Weight gain - It was once thought that the sole purpose of fat cells was to store excess calories and provide your body with a bit of warmth and padding. We now know that fat cells operate like chemical factories. Toxins and chemicals are stored in fat cells. Fat cells are also able to produce many of the same chemicals your immune cells make while your immune system is trying to battle with an infection. If you have a lot of fat on your body, you’ll produce a lot more of these chemicals daily. Unfortunately, those inflammatory chemicals tend to create insulin resistance, thicker than normal blood, which makes losing weight extremely difficult. If you want to lose weight, it’s important to reduce inflammation first. There is a difference between “fat” and inflamed. And most people who are overweight, carrying around extra pounds of adipose tissue are inflamed. Once we get this inflammation under control, have the lymphatic system moving, weight loss is achieved.
Allergy symptoms and frequent infections- If you suffer with allergies, you are definitely inflamed. Allergies tend to produce the most obvious symptoms of inflammation – swelling, redness, itching and pain which all cause a histamine response. The symptoms are the result of your immune response to normally harmless substances such as grass, pollen or foods. Infections are a very common cause of inflammation, particularly chronic infections that linger. Some viruses and bacteria have a habit of lingering in your body for years, chronically stimulating your immune system while also releasing toxins into your bloodstream. Examples include hepatitis, Epstein Barr virus, herpes viruses and parasitic gut infections. Chronic infections put an enormous strain on your immune system and liver. Addressing these toxins and infections are necessary to then begin the strengthening of the immune system.
The specific inflammatory symptoms you have depend on where in your body the inflammation is and what’s causing it. Research shows chronic inflammation plays a key role in most major chronic diseases, some of these include:
Inflammatory bowel disease
There are tests that can help you determine if inflammation is a cause of concern or contributing to your health problems.
C Reactive Protein test- (CRP) is a protein that increases when there are inflammation and infection in the body. It’s made in the liver in response to inflammatory molecules called cytokines. CRP binds to damaged tissue or microbes and tags them so the immune system can clear them away. Highly sensitive CRP (hs-CRP) is a test that is able to measure CRP levels below < 10 mg/L, which a regular CRP test is unable to do. This makes it a great test to determine if you have any systemic, low-grade inflammation.
Sedimentation Rate test- The Sedimentation rate test also called a sed rate test, indirectly measures inflammation by measuring the rate at which red blood cells sink in a tube of blood. The quicker they sink, the more likely you’re experiencing inflammation. This test is rarely performed alone, as it doesn’t help pinpoint specific causes of inflammation. Instead, it can help identify that inflammation is occurring.
Plasma Viscosity test- This test measures the thickness of blood. Inflammation or infection can thicken plasma.
Fibrinogen testing- fibrinogen is a protein in the blood that is activated by the enzyme thrombin to help form clots in the blood. It is important for new blood vessel development and healing damaged tissue. Like CRP, fibrinogen is a protein that increases in response to inflammation (acute-phase reactant). Fibrinogen and its byproducts are also able to activate many different immune cells. Fibrinogen is increased during chronic infections and inflammatory diseases such as gum disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and many types of cancer. Your doctor may order a fibrinogen test to help diagnose or exclude bleeding or blood clotting issues. In some cases, fibrinogen can also be tested when your healthcare practitioner wants to have additional information to help evaluate your risk of cardiovascular disease. A high level is not used to check for chronic inflammation, but can point to it nonetheless.
Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha is a pro-inflammatory cytokine, meaning it stimulates the immune response. TNF-α is one of the earliest responders in the immune response and is rapidly released after infection, trauma, or exposure to bacterial toxins (lipopolysaccharides or LPS). In the process of destroying microbes, TNF-α can also cause damage to nearby cells. TNF-α levels are commonly elevated and play a key role in many inflammatory disorders, including diabetes and heart disease. TNF-α test is currently being developed. It is available from certain labs but is currently used only for research purposes. There are not enough studies to establish valid ranges or health effects associated with those ranges.
IL6 Cytokines are small proteins that help immune cells “talk” to each other. They help the body coordinate an immune response to infection and trauma. Interleukin-6 (IL-6) is a cytokine that has both pro- and anti-inflammatory properties. It is important for immune system function and deficiencies can lead to increased susceptibility to infections.
IL-6 also stimulates the breakdown of bones and helps to reduce inflammation caused by.
IL-6 plays a key role in the transition from acute to chronic inflammation. It also causes the release of CRP from liver cells, furthering the cycle of inflammation.
The IL-6 test is not frequently ordered. CRP is the most commonly ordered test to check for inflammation. However, your doctor may order IL-6 in conjunction with or following a CRP test if you have a condition associated with inflammation, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or an infection, such as sepsis.
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Your Healthy Concepts Board Certified Certified Functional Hormone Specialist, Nutritional Consultant, Board Certified Natural Health Professional, Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner, DUTCH Testing Interpreter, Certified Genetics Interpreter, and Certified Pilates Instructor