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An Overview of Inflammation: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Of all the wonders of life, the human body is one of the universe’s magnificent creations (and the mind too, but we’ll discuss more on this in another post before we digress 😄).

For instance, think about how our musculoskeletal structure permits us to move about the world, given the strategic arrangement of muscles and joints providing leverage. Also, consider the circulation and respiratory system working together in concert to draw in Earth’s elements – water and air – and assist in the delivery of nutrients to body cells and remove waste. Your body has a way to defend against injury and pathogens such as bacterial, fungal, and viral infection where the immune system recognizes and mounts a response, working to put out the fire metaphorically speaking.

The redness and sensation of heat followed by a papercut or a bruise are visual signs of the inflammatory process where white blood cells are localized to speed up the healing process. Inflammation also occurs when a person has strep throat, pneumonia, or the flu, and immune cells are working hard to clear out the active infection. Indeed inflammation has its upside to get you well soon, but that ends there.

Suppose the fire doesn’t get put out soon enough. Instead, ongoing inflammation can result in the body attacking its own cells, with example conditions including rheumatoid arthritis (inflamed joints), psoriasis (chronic skin disease), and inflammatory bowel disease (InformedHealth.org, 2018). Causes of these autoimmune disorders remain unknown as there are many factors from genetics, environmental, dietary preference, to habits at play here.

You can protect yourself against chronic inflammation by addressing the following if any applies according to Harvard Health Publishing (2019):

  • Cut back on sugar consumption and avoid food products containing high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Treat high cholesterol levels.
  • Quit smoking (harmful toxins can cause inflammation).

Without keeping inflammation in check and any intervention, chronic diseases could result in the future involving critical organs when things could turn ugly. What’s worse is that the way such conditions progress ‘silently’ and may have unnoticeable signs and symptoms. The following is a list of potential complications, according to StatPearls, a medical information database for healthcare professionals (2020):

Cardiovascular Disease
High cholesterol is one of the elements of atherosclerosis, which refers to the hardening of the arteries due to combining with fats and leading to less efficient blood flow.

Diabetes
Chronic inflammation of the pancreas can result in more inflammatory cells circulating within the body, affecting the eyes, nervous system, and kidney; All resulting in an increased risk for strokes and heart attacks.

Chronic Kidney Disease
The kidney filters blood, but when it is overwhelmed with clearing out excess inflammatory cells over a long duration, the body becomes less effective in removing waste and excessive fluids. A cascade of other conditions could result, such as swelling of the arms and legs, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
A breathing condition mainly attributed to smoking due to the direct inhalation of chemical irritants.

Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to become affected by this chronic health condition, but smoking and infections could worsen inflammation and therefore exacerbate the autoimmune response.

While the discussion on inflammation in this writing is just a small tip of a big iceberg, a key takeaway is to get a basic feel on what it is so you can have more of a conversation with your doctor and healthcare providers on actions to take to reduce the severity.

Drug therapy may be necessary for severe cases, whereas non-drug therapy can also help reduce inflammation. Examples include consuming more natural foods (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables), exercising regularly, having an adequate amount of sleep, and stressing less can also help reduce inflammation. These are the things that you can control in your self-healing journey and throughout life.


References

Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Playing with the fire of inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/playing-with-the-fire-of-inflammation

InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. What is an inflammation? 2010 Nov 23 [Updated 2018 Feb 22]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279298/

Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2020 Jul 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

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