Inflammation can be a helpful response to injury and illness, but too much of it can have negative consequences for our health. Read on to find out what inflammation is, who is at risk of long term inflammation and how to treat it.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural response in the body to injury or illness.
When you are injured, inflammatory chemicals in your bloodstream rush to the injured site to protect you from harmful bacteria and viruses.
There are two main types of inflammation; acute and chronic.
Put simply, acute inflammation is an important response to injury and illness, protecting us and helping us heal faster.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to a number of negative health outcomes. It is a contributing factor to the onset and progression of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
What role does acute inflammation play?
Most of us have experienced acute inflammation many times in our life. If you have sprained your ankle, bumped your head or fallen over and scraped your knee you may have noticed the site of the injury became red and swollen.
Redness and swelling are two signs of inflammation. Others include warmth, bruising, pain, stiffness and reduced mobility.
The visible redness and swelling is a sign of increased blood flow and the presence of antibodies and proteins surrounding and protecting the area. You get a similar thing happening when you have an infection like the flu.
This kind of inflammation is essential. If we didn’t have an inflammatory response in these instances, we’d be much more prone to wound infection, our bodies would have trouble healing themselves and it could potentially be a fatal result.
What are the risks of high levels of inflammation?
Acute inflammation usually only lasts a few hours or a few days, but when inflammation lingers much longer than that it can have a negative impact on your body.
The symptoms of chronic inflammation can be harder to spot than the redness and swelling you get with acute inflammation. Common symptoms include fatigue, weight loss or gain, digestive issues, body pain and infections that won’t go away.
Living with chronic inflammation can also lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It has also been linked to a number of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
What causes chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation may be caused by an untreated case of acute inflammation, but it can also arise even when a person hasn’t had an injury.
People who live with an autoimmune disorder may experience chronic inflammation due to the immune system attacking healthy tissue in their body.
Exposure to toxins and pollutants over a long period of time can also lead to chronic inflammation. Things like smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity and chronic stress can also increase your risk.
How to treat acute inflammation
If you experience an injury or infection, it’s important to treat the issue properly. Untreated acute inflammation can lead to more serious health complications down the line.
Start by resting the injury. Applying ice to the injury may help reduce some of the swelling and pain. You can then use an Aerowound dressing, plastic wrap or other compression device to help manage the swelling. Try to keep the injured part elevated above heart level.
Keep your eye out for the signs of an infected wound as infections need to be dealt with promptly by a professional to avoid further complications.
How to reduce chronic inflammation
If you are experiencing the symptoms of chronic inflammation, you should speak to your doctor. Along with any treatments they recommend, there are things you can do yourself to control, and in some cases reverse, the effects of chronic inflammation.
Here are 5 steps to reduce inflammation in your body:
1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Some foods can help you fight inflammation. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and plant based proteins. Look for foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like freshwater fish, tofu, walnuts, flax seeds and soybeans.
Keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level is also important, so avoid processed foods and foods high in sugar. Instead, choose foods made from whole grain and lean proteins.
2. Cut back on inflammatory foods
Some foods contribute to inflammation, so it’s best to stay away from them. These include things like red meat, deep fried foods and processed foods.
3. Stay active
Physical exercise is a great way to stay healthy and reduce inflammation in your body. For 5 days a week, aim to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping and makes you breathe deeply).
Also, try to incorporate at least 15 minutes of weight training exercises 5 days a week as well.
4. Maintain a healthy weight
People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of chronic inflammation. Losing weight may help with managing inflammation, but be careful to do so in a healthy way. The aim is not to lose weight rapidly, but to create healthier habits so that you can maintain a healthy weight long term.
5. Manage stress
High levels of stress can contribute to inflammation problems in your body. Find ways to help you manage your stress levels like meditation, yoga, journaling and/or counselling.
Acute inflammation is an essential immune response to injury and illness, but should be managed properly to ensure a timely and full recovery.
Long term chronic inflammation can have a damaging effect on your tissues and organs. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of chronic inflammation, it’s not too late to make a positive change. It’s important to seek medical advice about how to best manage inflammation in your situation.