Are you Inflamed?
Inflammation… It’s a word that’s becoming more and more frequently used- in fact, according to google trends, searches for the word ‘inflammation’ have increased at least 9x in the past 10-15 years. So, what exactly is inflammation? Are you inflamed? Is it all bad? Read on to discover all this and more!
What is Inflammation?
Generally speaking, inflammation is an immune process that occurs in our bodies to protect us from infections caused by outside invaders. A good visual example is a new wound- our bodies flood the site with blood cells (and the things they make) to help prevent bacteria and viruses from causing an infection by killing evaders and repairing the damage. We need this acute inflammation to help our body to protect themselves against pathogens or injury. When our body undergoes an inflammatory response, there are 4 signs which show acute inflammation is occurring: redness, swelling, pain and heat. Once the acute inflammation is over (when the pathogen has been removed and/or the tissue has been repaired), anti-inflammatory signals are sent out to stop the inflammation by deactivating. This is essential so that the body can return to its normal state. If the inflammatory state is not resolved and the site remains inflamed, this inflammation will begin to damage the tissue surrounding the site and then eventually the whole body in a state known as ‘chronic inflammation.
It is important to distinguish that acute inflammation is a beneficial, protective response (as above), whereas chronic inflammation is potentially damaging.
What is Chronic Inflammation?
Our immune cells, even in states where there is no injury or invasion, circulate through our body in case there is damage. Chronic inflammation is caused when whatever has induced the inflammation has not been removed. When our bodies experience constant inflammatory responses (particularly those caused by diet and lifestyle choices rather than occasional exposure to invading pathogens), a whole host of challenges may potentially develop. When the body is exposed to high inflammation levels for extended periods of time, damage to DNA, cells, and tissues within the body can occur.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
Diet and lifestyle are the most influential factors on our inflammation levels. Consuming excess sugars, trans fats, highly processed foods, omega 6 fatty acids (the inflammatory omegas), alcohol, and drugs, all increase our exposure to oxidative stress and therefore inflammatory responses. Excess emotional or physical stress, reduced sleep, lowered physical fitness and toxin exposure (pollution, cleaning chemicals, pesticides etc.) also increase our exposure to oxidative stress inflammation.
These poor diet and lifestyle choices contribute to chronic inflammation by causing more inflammatory responses to occur, reducing our ability to remove pathogens, and diminishing healing processes- creating a situation that makes it near impossible for our bodies to bring inflammation levels back down to a healthy normal. Since many people encounter these diet and lifestyle factors daily, chronic inflammation is almost certain unless we implement interventions to manage our exposure.
What Challenges does Chronic Inflammation Create?
Damage that ensues from chronic exposure to excess inflammation is linked to an increased risk of some chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. Chronic inflammatory diseases have been recognized as the most significant cause of death in the world today: worldwide, 3 of 5 people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Even in the short term, excess levels of inflammation can present as fatigue, poor concentration, pain (e.g. joint and muscle pain), digestive symptoms, frequent infections, depression, anxiety and mood disorders, and even weight gain or weight loss.
So, we can see that we do need a small degree of inflammation to help protect us from invading pathogens and to repair damage (acute inflammation). However, it is just as important to be able to remove invading pathogens and inflammatory responses to bring our bodies back into balance/homeostasis (otherwise, chronic inflammation develops). This is why our bodies have anti-inflammatory responses.
Am I Inflammed??
After reading this blog so far, you’re probably wondering the extent to which this all applied to you? As we stated earlier, 3 of 5 people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases, so the chances are that we all have some level of inflammation- the extent of which is very personal! Answer the questions below to see how inflamed you are likely to be. Some factors below are stronger signs of inflammation than others, but everyone is different and general speaking, the more times you answer ‘yes’, the more likely you are to have some level of chronic inflammation that needs rebalancing.
- Do you feel tired and/or fatigued often?
- Do you feel low moods for no apparent reason?
- Are you less motivated/interested in things you usually enjoy?
- Do you wake up feeling groggy?
- Do you have any problems sleeping?
- Are you more anxious or worried than usual?
- Do you experience brain fog?
- Are you more forgetful than usual?
- Do you experience gas, bloating or general stomach distress?
- Do you experience diarrhoea and/or constipation?
- Do you experience heartburn or acid reflux?
- Do you experience painful, heavy or irregular periods?
- Do you have any allergies, food intolerances, hay fever, or asthma?
- Do you experience any rashes, acne, dry, itchy, red and/or blotchy skin?
- Do you experience any swelling or puffiness?
- Do you experience muscle fatigue (non-exercise related)?
- Do you experience muscle or joint aches and pains?
- Do you get shaky, dizzy or lightheaded?
- Do you experience headaches and/or migraines?
- Do your hands and feet feel cold?
- Is your waist circumference equal to or greater than your hip circumference?
- Do you experience frequent colds or flus?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you crave sugar and/or carbs?
- Do you eat red meat, processed meat (i.e. sausages, deli meat etc), smoked meat or BBQ meat more than once a week?
- Do you eat sugary food/drinks most days (i.e. soft drink, chocolates, lollies, cookies/biscuits, ice cream, etc.)
- Do you eat fried or overly oily food more than twice a week (i.e. chips, chicken wings, cheese sticks, burgers, pizza, potato chips, chinese and other takeaway)
- Do you drink more than 5 alcoholic standard drinks per week?
- Do you have heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis, heartburn or other chronic conditions?
- Has your doctor ever told you that you have high levels of inflammation (based on clinical analysis or blood tests)?
We hope that this exercise helps clarify things for you, but rest assured there is a lot you can do to take control of your inflammation. Just by taking the quiz alone, it is clear that there are a large number of diet and lifestyle factors that play a role, all of which we have the ability to optimise. We will dive deeper into this in part 2 of this blog: Fighting Inflammation with SBN