Inflammation is a fundamentally crucial part of our immunity. At its core (and purest state), inflammation is a very natural, normal part of life. Generally speaking, inflammation is the immune system’s response to an irritant. The irritant could be a germ, but it could also be a foreign object, such as a splinter in your finger.
Inflammation isn’t just normal, it is essential. It’s your body’s safeguard, a natural first line of defense to protect yourself. In fact, infections, wounds, sore throats, and tissue damage require an inflammatory response in order to heal.
The immune system constantly monitors for anything that appears to be a foreign intruder, ready to rapidly signal to its masterfully orchestrated inflammatory process. Inflammation, then, is the immune system’s natural and correct response to foreign invasion.
The Inflammatory Response
Inflammation changes blood flow to bring white blood cells and specialized proteins to the source, that not only attack the intruder but heal the injured tissue. So when you have a sprained ankle, a flesh wound, or a sore throat, inflammation increases temperature and pain sensitivity, leaving affected tissues red, hot, painful, and swollen. Those are the normal, appropriate responses of our defense system to infection or trauma. We need inflammation to survive.
Inflammation is a closed-loop. A beginning, middle, and (importantly, as the threat is resolved) and end should occur in a proper inflammatory response. This is inflammation in its normal sense: a vigorous, feet-first approach; fast, but not very specific.
This lack of specificity, though, means inflammation does have the potential to be as damaging to our own tissues as it is to invaders. Triggered incongruously, it can cause problems long after the initial danger is gone.
Acute Inflammation is Good Inflammation
By design, when working as it should, inflammation is the immune system working properly. It’s the literal, physical manifestation of your immune system reacting to something wrong in your body as the body works to heal itself. This is acute (and correct) inflammation.
It’s a minor battle being waged inside you and ends shortly thereafter (when your body works properly, this usually means a few days). This acute inflammation process has been carefully constructed by evolution to only exist as a short-term affair. When it does what it’s supposed to do and only sticks around for a few days, inflammation is a very good thing.
When you experience acute inflammation the symptoms are pretty obvious, all localized to the site of the injury or infection like a sprained ankle or sore throat. Symptoms of acute inflammation look like:
- Swelling: when the immune system senses an injury or pathogen invader, chemicals are released to allow white blood cells to be released from the bloodstream into the damaged area. Fluid escapes along with the white blood cells. The various kinds of white blood cells are charged with neutralizing and removing the toxin/pathogen from the tissue so it can heal
- Redness: caused by increased blood flow to the area and may be caused by damage to blood vessels at the site of injury
- Pain: can be caused by increased pressure on nerve ending from fluid accumulation or chemicals released by some white blood cells which stimulate the nerve endings
- Increased temperature: caused by increased blood flow to the area
- Immobilization: caused by an increase in fluid accumulation impeding function and most often occurs when a bone breaks
When the body is in this acute state, it’s important to let the inflammatory process work so the body can properly heal. Taking anti-inflammatory medications at this stage is counter-productive because it halts the good that is taking place.
Acute inflammation is good inflammation. It means your body’s immune response is working properly. The problems start to arise when we get into chronic inflammation territory. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Acute Inflammation Versus Chronic Inflammation
The real concern is not our acute inflammatory response to injury, infection, or insult, but the chronic, smoldering inflammation that slowly destroys our organs and leads to rapid aging.
We may feel healthy, but if this prolonged inflammation is raging inside of us, then we have a problem. Extended or chronic inflammation lasts for periods of months, even years. And, most importantly, it’s a key factor in almost all chronic conditions.
However, it can be prevented and even stopped. Some of the most rudimentary steps can easily and effectively heal and rid the body of its chronic inflammation. The first, perhaps most crucial step? Recognizing food as medicine. Not just anti-inflammatories, but all whole foods.
Consuming a nutrient dense, unprocessed diet, along with exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep nightly, and lowering stress levels are all factors that aid in not just reversing inflammation, but paving the way for a healthier, longer life.