When I say “inflammation”, you say …
No really, what would you say? Who even knows what inflammation actually means? It’s one of those things we can all generally recognize and we get the idea, but do we really know what’s happening during inflammation? Is it a good sign? No, it’s definitely a bad thing… right?
The simple answer is “it’s both”. There is, in fact, “good inflammation” and “bad inflammation”. So what’s the difference? To answer that we need to take a look at what inflammation is:
In short, inflammation is your body’s immune response to a “foreign assault” — whether internal like infection or external like injury, inflammation acts in the same way.
An acute inflammatory response or “short-term” inflammation is your body defending you against an invader (be it some type of virus or a simple splinter).
There are generally four cardinal signs that you want to see to know your immune system is hard at work: heat, redness, swelling and pain. In this type of inflammatory response the immune system has been activated (pain) and blood is rushing to the affected area (heat, redness) carrying with it immune cells like white blood cells and other agents to help take on any foreign substance that has entered your body, fluid (swelling) helps to flush any virus or invader away.
These are all good things. Your body is a freaking genius. Those nasty, oozy substances that happen after an injury or infection are byproducts of your body working to keep you healthy. You’re welcome.
Chronic inflammation is another story. It’s the same concept as acute inflammation, but it just… keeps… going… This is a prolonged response that is triggered over and over by a perceived threat or persistent, untreated actual threat — anything from unaddressed food allergens to overgrowth of bad bacteria, to continual intake of toxins (like cigarette smoke, for example). Those. Are. Invaders.
Prolonged inflammation has been linked to anything from arthritis to IBS to certain types of cancer. The mechanism behind all of this is that there is continual tissue destruction, repair, scarring and repeat… This process is taxing on the body, damages DNA and causes build-up of “plaque”, which can all potentially be catastrophic.
I know all that may seem pretty sensationalist, so even if you’re not concerned about disease of great magnitude at this point — chronic inflammation could still have immediate impacts on your life and health. Your immune system working overtime takes a huge amount of energy so along with chronic inflammation, you’re likely to see chronic fatigue… I don’t know about you but with everything I have to do, I can’t exactly afford to spend my energy fighting inflammation. With your immune system occupied with ongoing major battles, a simple cold virus that you could normally fight off may take hold far more easily. If you’re one of those people who feels like you’re constantly sick, that may be a signal that your immune system is focusing elsewhere. Constantly — or “chronically”.
It’s worth noting that inflammation can occur anywhere in your body for any number of reasons. Skin inflammation is known as psoriasis; headaches can be a result of inflammation in the sinuses; “atherosclerosis” is inflammation of the arteries and plaque build up. This list goes on and on…
Now that we’ve talked about what inflammation is, as a holistic nutritionist, the next question to answer is…
Where does our food play into this?
Research suggests that 70-80% of our immune system resides in and around the gut. Makes sense when you think of the fact that we are constantly ingesting “foreign” substances — better known as food. Our immune system is just as responsible for not reacting as it is for reacting.
Alright, so how do our bodies do it? How do they determine how to respond? Whole foods — high in nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, all the things we physically and mentally need— are “self”, they recognizable to the body, and therefore to the immune system. Processed foods, manufactured sugars, artificial flavour/colour, damaged oils, etc. are not recognizable, to the body or “non-self” and so the immune system chronically reacts to “invaders” and sets off an inflammatory response in your gut. Over and over and over.
You can probably imagine if we’re continually ingesting processed, unrecognizable substances or things we’re allergic to the assault we’re launching on our immune system and the inflammatory response that follows.
Like I said, your body is a freaking genius.
Long story short, your body is equipped with a powerful “Immunity Army” constantly fighting for you (acute inflammation — good). It’s your job not to over extend or confuse (chronic inflammation — bad) that army.