What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a physiological process that is meant to be protective for your body against disease and foreign invaders. It is essentially your body’s immune response to a stimulus. The most well-known stimuli include pathogenic agents like bacteria and viruses where the inflammatory response is beneficial and mounts your immune response to eliminate these pathogens. his is the body’s way of getting more nourishment and immune activity into an area that needs to fend off infection or heal. Signs of localized inflammation include redness, swelling and warmth to an area. However, when you are having generalized inflammation the signs might not be so obvious.
Signs of generalized inflammation can present in many different ways. Symptoms of generalized inflammation that may be present include chronic fatigue, joint or muscle pains, dementia, depression or anxiety—to name a few. Generalized inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein or sedimentation rate have been used as measures of health for many years. We now are beginning to discover why these are good indicators of generalized inflammation and how to reduce them. Inflammation and its relationship to chronic disease is continuing to be studied and it is now understood that generalized body inflammation plays a major role in many chronic medical illnesses, including autoimmune diseases, cancers, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity.
When does inflammation stop being helpful and begin to wreak havoc on our health?
Inflammation becomes harmful to your body when there is an uncontrolled inflammatory response. Your body is unable to eliminate the inflammatory stimulus. We are exposed to inflammatory stimuli everyday. However, when the stimulus becomes repetitive, it becomes overwhelming to our bodies, leading to a generalized inflammatory state and leading to chronic disease. There are many things that expose us to inflammation on a daily basis: physical and emotional stress, dietary sugars, sedentary lifestyle, food additives, processed foods, tobacco smoke, exposure to toxins and allergens. By limiting the exposure to inflammatory agents, you are able to reduce your inflammation and, therefore, your risk of disease.
How can we treat and prevent inflammation?
In conventional medicine, inflammation is treated with medications like NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen) or steroids. These medications blunt the inflammatory response and, as with most medication, can come along with side effects, like intestinal upset, bleeding or rash.
The integrative approach is different because it focuses on reducing inflammation by eliminating your specific inflammatory triggers. The first step is generally to look at your diet. An anti-inflammatory diet consists of whole foods high in vegetables, fresh fruits, fish, healthy fats and lean meats. It is important to tailor a diet specific to you, eliminating any inflammatory agents, such as food sensitivities or allergens. One huge step for most people is reducing one very inflammatory agent in the American diet: SUGAR. By limiting your sugar to no more than 40 grams per day, you can reduce your body’s inflammation significantly. Another effective way to reduce inflammation is by reducing or managing stress in your lifestyle. For many of us with families, demanding jobs and/or active lifestyles, it is difficult to eliminate the stress altogether in our daily lives. Focus on your body’s response to stress by working to manage it. This can be achieved with yoga, acupuncture and massage, or simply just spending a few minutes every day to focus on just you. Finally, some great supplements and foods you can include to reduce inflammation include grape seed oil, turmeric, ginger and omega fatty acids.
The Future of Medicine
Prevention and reduction of generalized inflammation is a key to preventing and treating major chronic diseases. As we continue to strive to prevent disease and promote general wellness, reducing generalized inflammation will continue to grow as a key component in medical practice. The future of managing health and disease is to manage inflammation.