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Everything You Need to Know About Inflammation

by | Jul 13, 2022 | Resources

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a process by which the body’s white blood cells and immune system protect us from infection and disease. In response to injury or infection, inflammatory cells are activated and release chemical signals that promote repair and healing. However, sometimes this process goes awry, resulting in chronic inflammation that can lead to a host of problems including atrophy, fibrosis, and even cancer. Thankfully, our understanding of cellular signaling has advanced to the point where we can now begin to develop targeted therapies that can help to control chronic inflammation. By better understanding how cellular signaling promotes and perpetuates inflammation, we can hope to find more effective ways to treat a wide range of diseases.

How the Body Resolves Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a normal and necessary process that helps the body heal from injury or infection. However, when inflammation persists, it can lead to chronic health problems. Mediators are molecules that help to regulate the inflammatory response, while mechanisms are the processes by which they act. Together, mediators and mechanisms help to resolve inflammation and promote healing.

There are several different mediators involved in the resolution of inflammation, including lipoxins, resolvins, and protectins. These molecules work to diffuse the initial inflammatory response and promote tissue repair. Other mediators, such as cytokines and chemokines, help to direct immune cells to the site of injury or infection. Finally, enzymes known as metalloproteinases help to break down damaged tissue so that it can be replaced with new, healthy tissue.

The mechanisms by which these mediators act are still being studied, but we know that they play an important role in resolving inflammation. One theory is that mediators help to downregulate the production of pro-inflammatory molecules. This reduces the initial inflammatory response and prevents chronic inflammation from developing. Another theory is that mediators help to stimulate the repair and regeneration of damaged tissue. 

The Inflammatory Process

A wide variety of stimuli can trigger inflammation. The process of inflammation can be divided into three distinct phases: initiation, resolution, and repair. The initiation phase begins when the body is exposed to a foreign substance or tissue damage. This triggers the release of inflammatory mediators, which dilate blood vessels and increase vascular permeability. These changes result in the accumulation of fluid and white blood cells at the site of injury. The resolution phase begins when the initial insult has been removed and the inflammatory response begins to subside. This is characterized by the return of vascular permeability to normal levels and the removal of fluid and debris from the site of injury. The repair phase begins once the inflammation has resolved and tissues have begun to heal. This is characterized by the formation of new blood vessels and the synthesis of new extracellular matrix proteins. Together, these processes help to restore tissue integrity and function.

Acute versus Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation is a short-term response that occurs within hours or days, and usually subsides once the threat has been removed. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a long-term response that can last for weeks, months, or even years. Characteristics of acute inflammation include redness, swelling, and warmth at the site of injury or infection. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is often characterized by fatigue, weight loss, and joint pain. While acute inflammation is a natural and beneficial response, chronic inflammation can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the difference between acute and chronic inflammation in order to identify and treat conditions properly.

Inflammation and The Endocannabinoid System 

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a bodily system that helps to regulate a variety of functions, including inflammation. The ECS is composed of three main parts: cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes. Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and are responsible for receiving signals from cannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are natural chemicals that bind to cannabinoid receptors and help to regulate various bodily functions. Enzymes are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they have fulfilled their purpose. In regards to inflammation, the ECS helps to modulate the inflammatory response by causing immune cells to produce less cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that cause inflammation, and by reducing their production, the ECS is able to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Consequently, the ECS plays an important role in regulating inflammation and maintaining a healthy immune system.

How to Support Healthy Inflammation Resolution

There are many ways to support healthy inflammation and resolution. Some involve lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and managing stress. Others involve supplements or medications. Here are some of the most effective ways to support healthy inflammation and resolution:

– Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.

– Get enough sleep. Poor sleep can worsen inflammation.

– Manage stress. Stress can also worsen inflammation.

– Exercise regularly. Exercise helps to reduce inflammation.

– Take supplements such as high quality omega-3 fatty acids, turmeric, and ginger. These can all help to reduce inflammation.

Non-Resolved Inflammation Causes Disease

Inflammation can play a role in various chronic diseases, such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and obesity. The mechanisms by which inflammation contributes to disease are not fully understood. However, it is thought that inflammation may promote the growth of cancerous cells, damage heart and blood vessel walls, and contribute to weight gain. Inflammation is also a natural part of the aging process, and as we age, our bodies become less able to control its inflammatory response. This can lead to an increased risk of chronic disease. Although the role of inflammation in disease is not fully understood, it is clear that it plays a significant role in many conditions.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) and Inflammation

The Standard American Diet is characterized by high levels of omega-6 fatty acids and low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This imbalance has been linked to inflammation in the body, as omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation while omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect. Additionally, the Standard American Diet is often high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, which can lead to dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut microbiota. This dysbiosis can also contribute to inflammation, as well as other health problems. The Standard American Diet is also generally low in fiber, which is essential for a healthy gut. In fact, a fiber-deficient diet can actually change the composition of the gut microbiota in a way that promotes inflammation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the standard American diet is a major contributor to inflammation in the body.

Herbs and Nutrients that Support Inflammation

In western medicine, the focus is often on treating the symptoms of inflammation rather than the underlying causes. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that certain herbs and nutrients can play a role in reducing inflammation. Dietary nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E are thought to help reduce inflammation, while herbs such as ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, probiotics are believed to help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. While more research is needed to confirm these effects, it is clear that diet plays an important role in inflammation. By including anti-inflammatory foods and supplements in your diet, you may be able to reduce the symptoms of inflammation.

“What Is Inflammation?” Wholistic Matters, wholisticmatters.com/what-is-inflammation/?fbclid=IwAR1RPGR5Ltp4xVDQCvv1JA6iSR22FiJ_QYdrLfrO-enxrifmn3K2ZBsJzeQ. Accessed 13 July 2022.

Christi Buck, RDN, LD, CLT
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Certified LEAP Therapist

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