What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s way of healing and defending itself. If that is so, you might be wondering why we would want to reduce inflammation at all.
Inflammation isn’t a disease. It’s a symptom of disease or a sign of a deeper issue such as an autoimmune condition, or the effect of an unhealthy lifestyle in which disease is about to occur, such as pre-diabetes. In advanced inflammation, the underlying condition may advance to become chronic, which can eventually cause cancer and some autoimmune conditions, so its a good idea to treat the cause of the inflammation as soon as possible.
Inflammation is part of your body’s immune response to get rid of irritants, damaged cells and pathogens, and to begin the healing process. Inflammation can be beneficial when you need to heal a wound, or an injury, but a longer lasting chronic response needs to be treated.
Symptoms of inflammation
There is an acronym for acute inflammation, especially of external sites: PRISH.
Pain: The area feels sore especially when the muscle or joint is being used and during or after being touched. Nerve endings are stimulated by specific chemicals , the function of which is to make you slow down and rest your injury.
Redness: The capillaries in the area are filled with more blood than usual.
Immobility: The joint or muscle may feel stiff or difficult to move.
Swelling: Fluid builds up in the area as various chemicals are carried to the site to aid in healing.
Heat: More blood flow to the affected area increases the warmth of the injury site, making it warm to the touch.
Internal organs can also have inflammation, but some of the above symptoms may not be felt in the same way due to differences of nerve endings at different sites. Here are some different ways that inflammation may manifest in various internal parts of the body:
- mouth sores
- chest pain
- abdominal pain and bloating
- rash and pimples
- joint pain
Causes of inflammation
What can cause inflammation?
- Stress: Long time exposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, can damage cells, increasing inflammation as your body tries to heal the effects. Cortisol is the ” fight or flight” hormone which readies our body to kick into gear in an emergency situation. Unfortunately modern living creates many situations which our brains interpret as emergencies, so we produce too much cortisol over long periods of time due to constant stressful situations. In our everyday life, we no longer have to run from predators like our ancestors once did. However, we do need to avoid dangerous drivers, walk through dangerous areas, work with people who raise our stress levels and face daily issues of survival such as financial worries, etc. These emotional stressors can produce as much cortisol as physical stress. In such situations blood flow is increased to our capillaries in the large muscles of our legs and to our hearts in preparation for running away. It also liberates sugars from our liver into the bloodstream to give us an energy jolt. The dilated blood vessels can become damaged and the sugars, if not used, can also cause damage, as well as causing us to crave more sugar as we produce more insulin to cope with the stress sugars. These are occasions when our bodies release inflammatory compounds to help with healing the damage.
- Untreated infection or injury: Inflammation is a part of the healing mechanism of your body, thus if you have an underlying infection or injury that is taking a long time to heal, this can be a root cause of chronic inflammation.
- Long term exposure to environmental irritants, such as pollution, chemicals, or mold: Environmental irritants are often overlooked when people are searching for a cause of inflammation. Living around smokers, in an area with a lot of air pollution, a house with mold growing in the walls, working in a factory where you inhale lots of dust from cutting wood or stone, working with harsh cleaning chemicals or even living in an old house full of dust and dust mites – these can all be the cause of inflammation as your body tries to rid itself of potentially harmful invaders.
- Smoking: Smoking irritates the lining of the lungs creating ongoing chronic inflammation.
- Alcohol: Regular exposure to alcohol increases the inflammatory response as the body has to heal the damage it causes in the liver and veins.
- Obesity: Obesity is an overabundance of calories. Not all calories are equal and some types of foods do more damage than others. Deep fried or high-sugar foods, and foods with inflammatory oils like margarine or refined starch products create deposits of the more damaging kind of fat. This kind of fat is stored internally around the organs such as the liver and heart, and is known as visceral fat . Visceral fat is a big cause of inflammation as the body works to heal the damage caused by the deposits in the organs and veins. You may not look as if you are carrying copious amounts of fat, but if your diet is high in these damaging foods, you may still have high inflammation from visceral fat deposits. This may also explain why some people who eat healthy may look overweight, but may not have the same health problems as those with an inflammatory diet. Your body needs some fat to function. Your brain is nearly 60% fat, and subcutaneous fat under the skin has a protective aspect as well as helping to regulate your hormones. So you don’t want to get rid of all fat. Simply switch to an anti-inflammatory diet, and spend some time every day without eating (fasting), to give your body some time to heal damage and remove the fat deposits around your organs. Further along in the article I’ll give you some ideas on how to go about this.
- An autoimmune disorder: Some autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease, are caused by your immune system becoming overstimulated and attacking your body instead of an actual disease. While we know that some of these types of diseases have a genetic component, we also know that infection, viruses and damage from other causes can be the first step to developing these conditions. The immune system tries to heal the damage and chronic inflammation develops. This is a very simplified explanation of course, but you get the idea.
How does chronic inflammation affect your body?
- Heart Disease
- Rheuamtoid arthritis
- Neurodegenerative disease
- Other autoimmune conditions
- Allergies and intolerances to food and other things
Fastest way to reduce inflammation in the body
Fasting or restricting your eating hours: This is the latest thing that everyone is talking about. We have been taught that we need to eat all throughout the day to have enough energy, but our bodies are made to store excess energy as fat, and then go for periods of time without eating. Eating too often reduces the time in which our bodies can stop digesting and put more energy into regulating our immune systems, reducing inflammation by repairing tissue, and autophagy which is when our bodies trim excess or damaged cells. If you have chronic inflammation, you may not be giving your body enough of a chance to rest from food and heal the problem area. Eating for a certain amount of hours every day, and giving your body a chance to trim the unnecessary or damaged cells, as well as use up fat deposits for energy, will be the best thing you can do to turn around your chronic inflammation. One recommendation is an eating window of 8-10 hours, and 14-16 hours of not eating, out of every 24 hour day. A lot of the not-eating hours will be spent sleeping, and the other part can be arranged so that its most convenient for you. In your eating window you should concentrate on anti-inflammatory foods and drinks.
Eat and drink anti-inflammatory foods and drinks: Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, both raw and cooked, are well known for being anti-inflammatory. Some that have been specifically studied are tomatoes, green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, collards and cabbage, broccoli, avocados, capsicum (bell peppers), mushrooms, cherries, grapes and berries. Other anti-inflammatory foods include oily fish, nuts, chia and flaxseeds. Oils that are particularly good include extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil. Cacao is also anti-inflammatory, just as long as it isn’t accompanied by too much sugar. Spices are also really good at cutting down inflammation, particularly turmeric paired with black pepper, ginger and cayenne. Add them to your food daily.
Some drinks that are really good for reducing inflammation include plain water, tart cherry juice, lemon water, water with apple cider vinegar and herbal teas. Herbs and spices that reduce inflammation include cacao, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cat’s claw, white willow bark, cayenne and chili, green tea, hibiscus, rosehips, dandelion and rosemary. Some of our herbal teas have been specifically designed to aid in the reduction of inflammation. These include: Golden Turmeric Chai, Aztec Chili Chocolate, Chocolate Chai, Kashmiri Green Chai, White Willow Balm Pain Relief, Joint Function, Sarsaparilla Detox and Blueberry Hibiscus.
Cut down or eliminate inflammatory foods and drinks: Refined starchy foods such as refined grains and flours, fried foods, foods and drinks sweetened with sugar, sauces with hidden sugars, processed meats, margarine and other trans fats.
Control blood sugar levels: Glucose that doesn’t get cleared right away from the blood stream can cause damage. Insulin is the hormone whose job it is to clear glucose from the bloodstream, from the sugars that you eat. However, if you eat sugar and starch too often, your body will not be able to keep up with the demand for insulin. This is called insulin resistance and can develop into diabetes. Most people can avoid this by not eating sugar and starch every day (low carb or low glycaemic load eating), and by time restricted eating, or intermittent fasting. If you are already diabetic, please consult your doctor about any new eating regimen, especially when taking insulin or other medications. Some of the herbal blends we have which can help with blood sugar balance are Essiac, Triphala and French Lilac.
Exercise: Exercise is well known for reducing inflammation. Studies have shown that when you start moving your muscles, they release a protein called interleukin 6. IL-6 is instrumental in reducing the production of other protein cells which aggravate inflammation and IL-6 even helps protect the cells that produce insulin, which is very good news for those who are healing themselves from insulin resistance and diabetes. The longer your exercise session, the more interleukin 6 is released. A minimum of 30 minutes a day is recommended, build up to longer for better results.
Manage stress: Stress is one of those words that is bandied about a lot. What is stress and how does it increase inflammation? Stress is necessary to increase your body’s ability to adapt and grow, and to help remove us from dangerous situations, such as in the case of the fight or flight response. Good stress includes stress on the muscles when we lift weights, or on the vasculature system when we exercise. Also psychological stress can be good if it keeps us alert when driving in bad weather etc. Bad stress happens when we don’t properly recover from good stress. An example is not giving your muscles enough rest and protein between weight lifting sessions, or constant alertness (worrying), not getting enough sleep etc. Prolonged stress causes prolonged high cortisol levels which, in turn, reduces the ability of cortisol to regulate your inflammatory and immune response. When stress becomes chronic, it leads to tissue breakdown and chronic inflammation as your body constantly tries to heal itself. So to recover properly from stress means to take time away from stressful situations every day. Part of this means getting enough restful sleep, but other de-stressing activities include meditation, yoga, a walk outside in nature, art activities, dancing, listening to music and basically anything that helps you to relax without putting extra stress on your body (alcohol in moderation). If you have trouble turning your mind off while going to sleep, or have constant worries throughout the day, try our Serenity blend for night time, to increase restful sleep and heal the nervous system or our Meditation blend for reducing worrying thoughts while still functioning appropriately during the day. Other herbal blends which are useful for reducing stress and the effects of stress are: Peace Love and Ginger, Tranquil Rose, Blueberry Vanilla Green Tea, and Blueberry Hibiscus.
As you progress in your healing, you will realise that each person’s body and needs are different, and what worked for your sister in law, or your favourite internet influencer, may not be what you need. Hopefully learning some of the basics about inflammation, has given you somewhere to start in your healing journey.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal circumstances and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see your doctor about symptoms, new diets, and/or herbal regimes.