Inflammation is the body’s natural healing mechanism. Once the body recognizes damaged cells, irritants, toxins and pathogens, it initiates this defense system in response to these invaders. When normal levels of inflammation are present there is little threat to health. The problem arises when this response continues beyond the ordinary healing process. Research shows that prolonged inflammation is the foundation of countless health concerns both short and long-term from infections and injuries to signs of aging, neurological changes, mood and cell damage.
When you jam your finger or bang your shin, biochemical processes release proteins call cytokines as “emergency signals” which sound the alarm that sends your body’s immune system rushing to the rescue. The troops called to action include white blood cells and the enzymes they produce, which cover the area for protection.
Signs of Inflammation
Virtually any part of the body can become inflamed, from the pinky toe to the brain. Inflammation is commonly associated with injury or infection. This is considered acute inflammation and symptoms are often easily identifiable.
- Redness: Capillaries in a specific area are filled with more blood than usual, which causes visual signs of redness.
- Pain: The body becomes more sensitive as chemicals that stimulate nerve endings are released.
- Swelling: The build-up of fluid underneath the injury causes swelling.
- Immobility: There could be some loss of function in the affected area
- Heat: Increased blood flow to the specific area makes it feel warm to the touch.
If left untreated, these symptoms can progress to become more serious conditions. Any noticeable amount of inflammation is worth being addressed and monitored to ensure it is kept under control.
Inflammation on the inside of the body is less easily identifiable but very important. Toxins that are introduced into the body via diet or environment often cause this type of inflammation, which can present itself in a number of ways. Here are just a few:
- Abdominal pain
- Joint Pain
- Mood Changes
Inflammation and Free Radicals
Chronic or extended inflammation can produce an abundance of free radicals, which in turn creates more inflammation. When one free radical arises it seeks to steal an electron from another to find balance. This creates another free radical and the inflammatory cascade commences. Once this ball gets rolling, it can be difficult to stop.
Antioxidants are able to interrupt this vicious cycle by donating an electron to free radical molecules, which restores balance. Free radicals are responsible for a condition called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has a significant effect on overall short and long-term health. This condition can cause a number of serious issues including mental and physical signs of aging, and increased risk of several diseases and health conditions including cardiovascular concern, joint issues, DNA damage and mutations to DNA.
Natural Ways to Combat Inflammation
Because free-radical producing toxins are everywhere, it is not easy to keep inflammation at bay. There are a number of over the counter medications that serve the purpose of reducing inflammation. Each has their pros and cons, but many like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and corticosteroids have been linked to unwanted side effects. Here are some natural ways to combat inflammation.
Getting up and moving improves circulation and lymphatic flow, which helps to reduce inflammation. Staying active has a number of overall benefits including weight loss. Body fat can also add to the vicious inflammatory cycle. There are different types of fat and not all are bad. White fat is the type that contributes to weight gain and health issues. Obesity puts the body under metabolic stress, which causes fat cells to become a factor in initiating an inflammatory response. Likewise, chronic inflammation can also trigger hunger signals and slow the metabolism. Eating more and burning fewer calories results in continued weight gain and can also increase insulin resistance.
The body essentially recognizes stress emotions as foreign invaders and sends in the inflammatory defense system to take care of the situation. Continually high levels of stress equate to high levels of inflammation. This vicious cycle leads to increased production of free radicals which can cause decreased production of the “bliss molecule” serotonin. People who are less happy tend to have higher stress levels and lower motivation to do all of the other things that reduce inflammation. Identifying and addressing causes of stress could make a big difference in levels of inflammation.
Antioxidants are crucial for inflammation reduction and thus overall health. The body naturally produces antioxidants to assist in the management of free radicals, but sometimes it is not enough. The body is exposed to a large number of toxins on a daily basis. This exposure comes through dietary intake, environmental factors, and lifestyle. It is often more than the body can handle all on its own.
Food choices can make a big difference. There are a number of foods high in natural antioxidants. Typically, the more vibrant the color, the more antioxidants the food contains. No, this is not the case in the bakery section. Sprinkles and frosting don’t count. Check the produce section for bright berries such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and more. Spinach and other greens, pomegranates, walnuts, kidney beans, coffee and even dark chocolate (take it easy on that one) all have high levels of antioxidants.
The body needs time to heal from the physical and emotional traumas of the day. Quality sleep provides this opportunity. Too little sleep is associated with an increase in cytokine inflammatory messengers, sending inflammation responses throughout the body. Getting a normal amount of sleep (typically between 7 and 8 hours) will help the body to achieve a state of balance, called homeostasis. When the body is fatigued, normal functions become compromised and the inflammatory cycle continues.
Many of the toxins absorbed by the body are self-induced. Alcohol consumption and tobacco consumption are two major sources of toxins. Food allergies and sensitivities can create a similar toxin response. Breathing polluted air or consuming chemicals in food or water can also introduce toxins into the body. Therefore, being aware of your personal habits and surroundings may help reduce toxins and thus inflammation.
Though inflammation has an important place in the healing process, keeping it under control can be crucial to living a happy and healthy life. Small adjustments in your day such as more berries in your diet, sleeping more and daily use of CBD oil can make a big difference in overall health and quality of life.