We hear the term ‘inflammation’ a lot, but how clear are you on what it is and its health effects? More importantly, what are the signs that you have acute or chronic inflammation, and what can you do about each?
For starters, inflammation is defined as a physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful. While sometimes annoying, acute inflammation is an essential tool in the body’s self-protection; without it, wounds would fester, and infections could become deadly. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can be a silent and deadly culprit.
Acute inflammation tends to be short-lived and localized to a specific area of the body. It typically begins within seconds to minutes following injury to body tissues due to trauma of some kind (like a broken bone, sprained muscle or sore throat) or as a result of a perceived threat (like an allergic response or microbial infection of some sort).
Chemicals known as cytokines are released by the damaged tissue. Cytokines signal immune cells (including mast cells), hormones (including histamine) and nutrients to swarm the area and fix the damage. The inflammatory response increases blood flow to the area due to dilation of blood vessels supplying the region, increases the permeability of the capillaries, allowing fluid and blood proteins to move into nearby tissue, and migrates white blood cells into the surrounding tissue for added support against invaders.
Sometimes, whitish-yellow, yellow, yellow-brown or greenish pus accumulates at the site if the tissue is aggravated by the presence of a foreign body. The color varies depending upon the type of white blood cells dominant in the vicinity.
In addition, hormone-like prostaglandins induce blood clots to thwart the advancement of invaders, trigger pain, and instigate fever to help kill infectious microbes that cannot withstand higher temperatures.
As the body heals and the threat is contained, the acute inflammation gradually subsides.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, tends to linger and may spread throughout the entire body or even move around. Dr. Scott Walker, a family practice physician at Gunnison Valley Hospital in Utah, states that, “low levels of inflammation can be triggered by a perceived internal threat, even when there isn’t a disease to fight or an injury to heal, and sometimes this signals the immune system to respond. As a result, white blood cells swarm but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they may eventually start attacking internal organs or other healthy tissues and cells.”
Symptoms of chronic inflammation are varied and generally involve excess heat, redness, swelling, pain and possible joint and tissue disintegration. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), symptoms include:
- Body pain
- Constant fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Gastrointestinal complications (constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux)
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
While symptoms may exist under the radar for many years, blood tests can measure C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for inflammation in the blood. High levels of CRP have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, infection, or chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Chronic inflammation is known to play a role in many serious health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. It may also contribute to COPD, arthritis and diabetes, making chronic inflammation the most significant cause of death in the world.
While scientists are still unclear why the body’s intelligence system goes awry, it is believed that there are genetic implications. Other contributors may include: failure to eliminate the cause of acute inflammation, recurrent episodes of acute inflammation, prolonged low-level exposure to irritants and foreign bodies that cannot be eliminated from the body (such as silica dust), molecules in the body that lead to cellular stress and DNA damage, and over-sensitivity and resistance to normal components of the body as is seen in autoimmune disease.
Ayurveda offers an energetic explanation. The ancient science suggests that Pitta, the fiery force in the body that increases when the body is hot, intense or fighting, becomes aggravated. Excess Pitta increases the body’s heat and inflammation. Additionally, chronic inflammation, and the allergies and autoimmune conditions it can create, worsen when the body’s immune system and vitality (Ojas) is compromised.
SO YOU HAVE CHRONIC INFLAMMATION, NOW WHAT?
Here are the top 5 things you can do to reduce or prevent the symptoms and diseases caused by chronic inflammation:
- Foster more compassion toward yourself and others. We live in a highly competitive and aggressive world. Sometimes we all get caught up in the aggravation, frustration and intensity of life. Ayurveda teaches that the state of our minds influences our bodies and health. So cooling and calming ourselves with a more reasonable schedule and lifestyle is THE most important thing we can do to reduce systemic inflammation.
- Eat cooler foods and reduce heating foods (herbs too!). Cooling the body naturally through the chemistry of what we eat makes perfect sense to most of us, and is something we tend to do quite naturally. This is why we switch to cooling salads and sweet, light fruits in the heavy heat of summer. Cooling the internal environment of the body can even influence our genetic predisposition toward inflammatory factors; the relatively new science of epigenetics demonstrates how environmental factors, both internal and external, impact an individual’s genetic expression. Translated: we are not slaves of our DNA!
- Strengthen your immune system with rejuvenative herbs and a well-balanced digestive system. In Ayurveda, we recognize that 85% of all disease begins in the digestive system. So staying aware of your eating habits and digestive symptoms can help prevent the majority of serious health conditions. In addition, Ayurveda has numerous rasayanas (rejuvenative herbs) at its disposal to help build strong tissue and immunity. Ashwagandha, Guduchi, Shatavari are a few of the more common nervine tonics that allow you to withstand more stress and prevent sickness naturally.
- Get plenty of rest. Research has shown that getting enough quality sleep is one of the best ways to prevent inflammation in the body. One of the reasons is that a good sleep routine allows your body to naturally detox on a regular basis, reducing excess bacteria and free radicals in the body on a nightly basis.
- Annual detoxes. We live in a toxic world, and we are all regularly exposed to air pollution, toxic chemicals, processed food, etc. While the body, lead by the liver, does a phenomenal job of detoxing itself, from time to time it could use a vacation and an assist. Ayurveda relies upon one or two annual detoxes, typically during the Spring and Fall, to help give the body an essential reboot that helps rectify the body’s natural intelligence system.
For assistance with any of these steps, contact Positively Ayurvedic for a personalized treatment plan and guidance. Also, check out Karen’s blog posts on Foods That Inflame and Cooling & Calming Foods.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at info@positivelyayurvedic.