Inflammation and Your Immune System

The word inflammation comes from the Latin inflammare, to set on fire. In the context of our immune system - heat, redness, pain and swelling form as a reaction to either injury, or a perceived threat in the body.

If you've ever accidentally cut your finger with a knife, the body responds with an "acute" inflammatory reaction. The upside is that inflammation activates white blood cells, which protect against infection, and also stimulate the healing process. But in chronic inflammation, whether it's low grade or acute, the body fails to turns off this response. Your body literally does a silent  "slow burn," sometimes for years.

In some cases, the immune system can get confused. Chronic inflammation can cause the immune system to start attacking various parts of the body that it sees as a threat. In turn, that inflammation can lead to damage and leave you open to more illness and even disability.

Picture what happens when you hit your thumb or get a cold happening all over your body, all day, every day. What could the health consequences of persistent chronic inflammation be? It turns out that inflammation is involved in nearly every disease process either as a contributing factor or as a consequence. Most inflammatory diseases use the suffix "itis," such as in arthritis, allergic rhinitis, dermatitis or gingivitis. But other inflammatory disorders don't have this suffix including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, periodontal disease, autism, various forms of cancer and even viruses have been added to the list.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one example of the effects of inflammation in the body being clearly visible. With RA, the body attacks the tissue that lines the inside of joints, known as the synovium. The synovium create synovial fluid, which helps lubricate your joints and keep them moving like a well-oiled machine. If the synovium are damaged, the joints are not lubricated properly, leading to pain, swelling and friction, which in turn leads to more pain. Due to the friction, the cartilage and bones can even become damaged. If you've ever seen someone with gnarled and twisted looking fingers and hands, you can see the effects of RA on the body.

In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the immune system starts to attack the myelin sheaths that protects the nerves. If these get damaged, it is like wires short-circuiting, leading to a range of symptoms all over the body including:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Clumsiness
  • Lack of coordination and muscle strength
  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or tingling in a foot, arm or leg

RA and MS are just two examples of the effects of chronic inflammation. There are many more illnesses in which inflammation has been discovered to play a key role.

Our immune system is therefore a delicately balanced system, with inflammation being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it can be helpful in keeping germs under control so we do not get sick. On the other hand, if the immune system gets confused, inflammation will increase as the body starts to attack itself. Studies have shown that inflammation can affect almost every system in the body.

Your body has built-in mechanisms to regulate inflammation, and under ideal circumstances, it turns on the inflammatory response when needed and off when not needed. All of these innate ways of regulating inflammation are built on a foundation of nutritional building blocks.

Anti-Inflammatory Nutrients

  • Omega-3s
  • Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)
  • Anxioxidants
  • Curcumin
  • Pycnogenol
  • Boswellia
  • Ginger
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C and E

Fortunately, you can modulate inflammation by avoiding foods that trigger inflammation, steering clear of harsh chemicals, reducing your stress, not smoking, and exercising more. Focus on reducing inflammation and see what a difference it can make to your health.

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