Nutrition Terms Explained: Inflammation
When you get a splinter your skin gets red, swollen and hot. These are all signs of inflammation, our immune systems response to the splinter. Inflammation serves a purpose for our immune system, it helps to protect our bodies from foreign invaders- namely bacteria and viruses- during infection or injury.
This is a good thing.
To a certain extent, inflammation and the immune response keeps us healthy, and is a necessary response to damaging stimuli that can make us sick. Inflammation and the immune response helps keep the body balanced, or in a state of homeostasis. During an invasion, white blood cells, inflammatory proteins and hormones are released to protect the body. Some of these cause narrow blood cells to expand, allowing more blood to reach the injured tissue ad resulting in redness and warmth in the injured tissue.
Remember, this is a good and normal response. So why does inflammation get a bad rap? The problem comes when that inflammation goes from being a temporary immune response to a chronic occurrence. Continuous inflammation over time can lead to a decline in tissue function and contributes to other diseases that come about when the body is out of homeostasis. Inflammatory cells, proteins and hormones end up in places that they are not normally found which can lead to tissue damage as well.
Inflammation relies on metabolism, as it uses energy to release the hormones. Ever wonder why when you are sick you have absolutely zero energy? It’s because your body is using all of the energy it can get its hand on to fight the disease. Your body is breaking down stored fats and sometimes protein to get the energy it needs to launch an attack. While this is temporarily beneficial for fighting infection, if the inflammation is chronic, over the long term this altered lipid metabolism can be damaging. Over the long term, chronic inflammation can lead to cancer, heart disease, hair loss and a variety of other nasty diseases and unpleasant side effects.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Oxidative stress– free radicals attacking the body, which triggers the immune response to stop the damage.
Refined Sugar/ White flour– when sugar is processed in the body it reacts with amino acids and forms advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These are essentially damaged proteins with a glucose molecule attached to them. The body tries to break these apart which stimulates an immune response.
Obesity– fat cells release inflammatory proteins called cytokines on a continuous basis leading to that low grade inflammation. This can lead to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. As bonus bad news, chronic inflammation can actually increase the risk of obesity.
Stress– Just the act of being stressed primes your body to fight infection or injury by altering immune cells and setting your immune system into high gear. From the time they are formed, these immune cells are pro-inflammatory and ready to fight infection or injury… even though there is nothing there to fight.
Sometimes, the immune response just backfires and the body can end up damaging healthy cells and tissues, for example arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.