Your immune system is a complex network of different cells with a range of signals that help guide the proper upkeep of your entire body. Most are familiar with the inflammation of a swollen twisted ankle or sore throat – the kind of reaction that involves swelling, redness and heat, this is an acute or short-lived inflammatory reaction.
However, more and more, we are faced with a low-grade chronic or extended inflammation that burns perpetually, typically associated with pain or other chronic symptoms. This chronic version is associated with what are the common chronic diseases of our current society: cardiovascular, joint-related, cancers, Alzheimer’s, auto-immune, diabetes and even obesity. In this article, I’ll explain the basics of inflammation and how it relates to your current and future health.
How Inflammation Works
The inflammatory process is a healing process, it’s the intention of the body to address what’s infected or damaged (eg: by a bacteria or physical injury). For instance, if there is an injury, the damaged tissues release compounds that are sensed by local immune cells which send their own signals to the local blood vessels to allow blood and fluid and protein to enter the damaged area.
This swelling allows focused attention by the immune system to work on the area; just like how police cordon off the area around a motor vehicle accident. Other immune cells called macrophages, B-cells and T-cells also sense the signals and enter the area to coordinate degrading the damaged tissue, fighting any local microbes that may have entered the area and coordinating the rebuilding of the damaged tissue.
Many chemical signals are released that allow the immune cells to communicate with each other, these chemicals are called cytokines.Once the healing has completed, specific cytokine signals are released to turn off the inflammation to reverse the swelling and bring the area back to normal function.
Inflammation and Immune Imbalance
Inflammation involves the tools of your immune system and several factors can disturb the balance of your immune system. This may include the presence of a variety of toxins which can confuse or damage the immune system (eg: radiation, pesticides, aluminum, mercury, etc.). Nutritional deficiencies can also predispose your immune system to act atypically; low amounts of vitamin d, vitamin a, zinc, selenium and several others can handcuff your immune system from functioning normally.
Having poor digestive functions and a leaky intestine can lead to additional microbial attacks from the bowel which can over-activate your immune system and lead to immune imbalance, which can promote inflammation. Exposure to viruses or bacteria while you have inadequate nutrition or excessive toxins can lead to incomplete inflammation when the body doesn’t get the ‘off’ signal to stop the inflammation. Just the quality of your tissues themselves (made by the quality of the foods you ingest) can predispose you toward an ‘inflammatory state.’
When you are overweight or overstressed, then your body similarly doesn’t get all the signals and can lead to a state of low grade inflammation, or chronic inflammation.
When your body gets triggered by one or typically a wide assortment of imbalances, then your immune system can easily inflame. Think of your local community, are there many who are obese (even children), are there many with allergies, many who suffer constant or recurring infections? These are all signs that the immune system is at risk of being in a chronically inflamed state.
Your immune system has evolved to react to injuries and infections so it thinks it’s solving an infection or trauma, but the chronic inflammation may really be due to an assortment of imbalances that are leading to the irritating symptoms, like a constantly running nose, or irritable bowel, or lingering pain.
Keep in mind that it’s not really the inflammation that’s the problem; we need to find and address the cause underlying the inflammation; what is the set of imbalances that are leading to an inflammation-prone body. Again, the intention of inflammation is to heal, we just need to make the right dietary and lifestyle choices to make our bodies healthier so we have a healthier functioning immune system which coordinates a temporary and limited level of inflammation.