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Understanding inflammation and how to avoid it

The term inflammation comes up a lot in both our blog and across the health and wellness industry. It’s easy to get the impression that inflammation is innately negative, and something to be feared. However, inflammation (or specifically acute inflammation) is a normal and healthy response from our body to help us fight pathogens and infections that can make us seriously ill. But chronic inflammation, where the body regularly experiences prolonged or localised inflammation, can cause serious and even debilitating pain. In this week’s blog, I’d like to take an in-depth look at what causes inflammation and what we can do to reduce inflammation for a more comfortable, happy, healthy lifestyle.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is part of our body’s immune system response. Our bodies are equipped with specialised immune cells that can detect the presence of harmful bacteria, pathogens, irritants or damaged cells. When these cells recognise a threat, they transmit a message to other immune cells to flock to the area of injury or infection. As these immune cells race to the area of infection, our bodies allow our blood vessels to widen, in a process called vasodilation. This widening of our blood vessels, allows blood to move more freely around the body, helping to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the affected area. Alongside this process, inflammation makes your blood cells more permeable causing fluid to leak into the surrounding tissue and causing the classic raised red skin that we associate with inflammation. This helps to isolate any harmful stimuli and prevent an infection from spreading to the rest of the body. 

Once your body has isolated the contaminant, it will flood the affected area with white blood cells which remove debris, consume infectious cells, and repair damaged tissue. Inflammation can occur due to a variety of sources: dirt getting into an open wound, exposure to irritant chemicals, or the harmful pathogens we come across in the outside world. Short bouts of inflammation that last only a few hours of a day, we call acute inflammation. 

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a persistent and harmful condition that can develop from several factors. Some harmful microbes such as certain kinds of fungal infections are particularly hard for the body’s defences to process which can lead to prolonged bouts of inflammation. Chronic inflammation can also occur due to prolonged exposure to certain irritants mostly found in industrial chemicals such as silica dust. One of the most common and aggressive forms of chronic inflammation is caused by autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune diseases trick the body into thinking that healthy tissue contains a contaminant, triggering the inflammation response. Unable to resolve the issue that isn’t there, your body continuously attacks the same area of your body with inflammation which can lead to discomfort or pain that can make regular movement difficult. 

Gut health is important

Several external factors can also encourage inflammation and increase your risk of developing conditions that promote inflammation. Our immune system works to provide us protection from harmful bacteria, pathogens and foreign objects that can cause inflammation. Therefore we must try and keep our immune system as happy and healthy as possible, As we know from previous blogs, our immune system and our gut health are fundamentally linked. Our gut is home to millions of microorganisms that help us break down food into the individual nutrients and components we need to sustain ourselves. Certain types of bacteria produce acids that help maintain the integrity of the gut, stopping harmful fluids from leaking into the bloodstream and triggering inflammation. Eating a variety of fruit, leafy green vegetables, fermented and whole foods can help fuel a healthy gut, leaving you less prone to chronic inflammation. It is also important to avoid highly processed foods, sugary drinks and trans fats that can increase your likelihood of inflammation. 

Stress less, sleep more

Many of the changes you can make too help fight inflammation are things we should be doing regardless. Studies have found a clear link between not getting enough quality sleep and chronic inflammation. Sleep plays a vital role in regulating the body’s circadian system (a natural release of hormones based on our day/night cycle) which is responsible for various psychological processes including inflammation. Not getting enough sleep, or sleeping at irregular times can disrupt your regular inflammatory response. Lack of sleep can also activate the body’s stress responses, causing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. High cortisol levels can promote inflammation and contribute to the development of inflammatory diseases. So making sure you get a good night’s sleep is essential to reducing inflammation. For more information on your circadian cycle and getting a good night’s sleep, check out our blog on this topic.

Herbs, spices and supplements

Many of the things we do to avoid or mitigate inflammation come in the form of lifestyle changes. However,  nature has also given us some tools to help fight inflammation in the form of herbs and spices. People have used spices and herbs such as turmeric and ginger to fight inflammation and swelling for over four thousand years. Turmeric is packed full of a natural anti-inflammatory called curcumin which decreases inflammation by blocking inflammatory pathways around the body. Ginger is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which can be consumed fresh, dried, or in supplement form. It contains bioactive compounds like gingerol, which have been shown to alleviate symptoms of inflammation. It is often more beneficial to eat herbs and spices in their whole form, but if you’d like to kickstart your anti-inflammatory routine, you can find supplements that can fulfil the same purpose. If you’d like to know more about the power of herbs and spices for keeping you healthy and your immune system functioning you can read more here

Conclusion

Understanding inflammation is crucial for maintaining optimal health and well-being. While acute inflammation serves as a protective response against harmful invaders, chronic inflammation can lead to debilitating conditions and discomfort. By adopting proactive measures, we can effectively manage inflammation and improve our quality of life. Wholesome lifestyle changes that promote a healthy immune system and a calm mind are great ways to naturally reduce inflammation and ease pain and discomfort. Addressing your diet by eliminating inflammatory foods whilst also eating foods that help us fight inflammation is another great way to make sure that inflammation doesn’t stop you from doing what you love. If you’d like to know more about what you can do to combat inflammation and stay mobile, there is loads of content on our Better Living blog to help you get started.

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