Is there a connection between modern day health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s dementia? If there is, you may not need to look any further than inflammation. More and more research shows just how detrimental chronic inflammation is for human health and how it underlies virtually every major chronic disease—and accelerates the aging process to boot.
Keep reading to learn what inflammation is, what causes it, how to tell if you or a loved one is dealing with it, and what you can do about it.
What is Inflammation?
Acute inflammation is a normal and essential part of the body’s defense. It occurs when the immune system produces cells and other compounds that recognize, attack, and destroy harmful agents within the body. Acute inflammation—which can last for hours, days, or up to a few weeks, depending on the underlying cause—explains why our toe becomes red, swollen, and painful when we stub it on a door jamb, or why our throats get scratchy and our nose gets runny when we catch a cold. These are normal and healthy responses that are necessary for healing.
But if acute inflammation is like a fire that burns up and destroys harmful invaders, chronic inflammation is like a bed of hot embers, which burns more slowly but for much longer (as much as several months or years). The problem with low-grade, longer lasting inflammation is that over time it causes cumulative damage and oxidative stress (“rusting”) in cells, tissues, and organs. Chronic inflammation can even damage your cells’ DNA!
The widespread impact of chronic inflammation explains why its associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases affecting multiple systems in the body, including the metabolic, hormonal, endocrine, reproductive, musculoskeletal, digestive, and neurological systems.
Causes of Inflammation
Many things trigger and perpetuate chronic inflammation, including:
- Exposure to environmental toxins, allergens, and irritants
- Advancing age
- Certain types of food and beverage, especially refined sugar, trans fats, and alcohol
- Excessive UV radiation
- Insufficient sleep
- Psychological stress
- Untreated or recurring bouts of acute inflammation
- Autoimmune disorders, which occur when your body’s immune system falsely recognizes its own tissue as a foreign invader and launches a defensive attack against it (examples include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis)
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Inflammation
Is your body suffering from chronic inflammation? If you have a chronic illness like diabetes or arthritis, then you almost certainly do. But there are many other subtle signs of chronic inflammation to look out for:
- Stiff, swollen, achy, or painful joints
- Frequent colds and illnesses
- Sores, rashes, and other wounds that are slow to heal
- Stomach cramps and gastrointestinal distress
Look to your lifestyle, too: if you don’t exercise, don’t get enough sleep, smoke, are highly stressed, or eat a lot of refined and processed foods, then it’s likely you’re suffering from chronic inflammation.
Helpful Tips for Treating Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is scary, but the good news is that there’s plenty of things you can do to quell the flame and get your body back to a healthier state. Here are a few high priority anti-inflammatory tools and strategies to use:
- Eat a diet that’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (powerful anti-inflammatory foods include fatty fish, leafy green vegetables, olive oil, berries, and nuts), but low in refined sugar and other processed foods
- Enhance your diet with high quality antioxidant supplements
- Get enough sleep—about 8 hours of uninterrupted Zzz’s (try sleeping in a cool pitch black room)
- Exercise regularly
Lastly, find a way to manage your stress! Whether that’s by meditating, journaling, or doing some other mindfulness practice, having a routine that can help you keep your stress at bay will hugely cut down on inflammation and help keep your body healthy and energized.
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