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Inflammation is an important  function of the body’s immune response, but it can be double-edged sword.

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Acute inflammation occurs when you experience an injury or you’re exposed to harmful bacteria or allergens.  For example, bump your knee on your coffee table and it OWWEE, it hurts!  It may swell, bruise and feel tender, but eventually it heals.  Or, it’s ragweed season and you’re allergic so you sneeze, cough and your eyes and nose run as your body tries to expel the allergen.  These responses are attempts to protect the body and examples of acute inflammation (rapid onset and symptoms which present for a short time, until healing occurs).

So what’s the body actually doing during this process?

  • Blood vessels around the affected area begin to dilate, resulting in increased blood flow (which means more plasma and white blood cells to aid repair)
  • Blood vessels actually temporarily become more permeable  which allows the plasma to move into the injured tissue to do its work!  (I think that’s kind of amazing in itself – what a machine.)
  • Various leukocytes (white blood cells) rush to the area and begin a series of immune inflammatory activities which hopefully result in effective healing.

At the same time you may notice PRISH, the 5 signs or acute inflammation:

  1. Pain
  2. Redness
  3. Immobility
  4. Swelling
  5. Heat

While annoying and perhaps uncomfortable, these signs are your reminders to protect the area and void using it in ways that may make it worse.  They’re also obvious external indications that your body is working to repair damage.  Acute inflammation is temporary and usually results in healing.

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Chronic Inflammation is different.  It’s when the body fails to turn off the immune system response which may begin to interfere with healthy cells.  Autoimmune diseases like Celiac’s and Type 1 diabetes are examples of how an out-of-control immune system can do damage.  But other serious chronic health conditions are linked to this type of inflammation, including:

  • Some cancers
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary disease
  • even Alzheimer’s and autism

to name a few.

So, what’s happening?  Part of acute inflammation is targeting and destroying damaged tissue or pathogens and rebuilding.  It’s designed to be a short cycle which ends when healing occurs.  But if the body somehow misreads signals, it can lead to long, persistent  low levels of chronic inflammation – only now the target is healthy cells. This may result in an imbalance in pro and anti inflammatory chemicals.  Unchecked this imbalance may be linked to serious health problems like the ones listed above.

Causes of chronic inflammation include poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, inadequate rest and too much stress.  Unlike acute, chronic inflammation doesn’t exhibit easily detected external signs (PRISH), so many of us are totally unaware that we’re inflamed.

So, what can you do?  Assess yourself.  If you’re overweight (especially around the belly because that’s a particularly unhealthy fat), and your lifestyle is sedentary and stressful, it may be time to evaluate your diet and habits.  It’s not about going on a “magic, pick-a-#-of days, lose?pounds, no exercise diet”.  It’s about understanding that a healthier lifestyle may provide benefits far more satisfying than a smaller pant size.  It’s also realizing that you may be able to reverse and/or prevent chronic conditions before serious damage is done.

Of course, consult with your physician before making any serious changes in your lifestyle, especially if you have underlying health concerns.


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