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Inflammation 101

Inflammation 101

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body's natural immune response to injury, infection, or harmful stimuli: it is both complex and coordinated. Inflammation is necessary for our healing and repair. Think a cut, broken bone, or response to infection like strep throat. When chronic (greater than 2 weeks), inflammation can lead to longer term dysfunction and contribute to many chronic diseases. It is again, both necessary and potentially harmful.

How Does It Work & Why Does Inflammation Matter?

It is critical for wound healing and protection from infection. The 4 classic hallmark signs of inflammation are based on the classic latin descriptors, rubor, tumor, dolor, calor (redness, swelling, pain, heat) and current definitions include a 5th sign, loss of function. Our body produces chemicals internally that are meant to initiate the healing process and combat potentially infectious agents and promote healing (increased blood flow to the area) - signals to increase blood flow to the area to bring immune cells and clotting factors to the area depending on the injury/insult.

“Normal vs. Abnormal” Inflammation

Normal inflammation:

  • Protective, controlled, coordinated
  • Often most of the 5 hallmark signs of inflammation are present and for shorter periods of time (think the healing of a paper cut or the flu)
  • Essential for healing from wounds, both internal and external and infection.
  • Our immune system is designed to deal with over 99% of potentially infectious encounters (bacteria, toxins, airborne pathogens, etc.) without heightening the alert - deals with it quickly and relatively quietly.

Abnormal inflammation:

  • Chronic, uncontrolled, often low-grade,
  • Often only a few of the hallmark signs of inflammation may be present but for long periods of time
  • Linked to the development and promotion of certain disease patterns.

Chronic Inflammation and Its Role in Disease

Chronic inflammation is a common factor in various chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Situations that promote chronic inflammatory responses are situations like unresolved or stubborn infections, toxin exposure, heavy metals, mold, processed foods, lack of exercise and movement, smoking, regular alcohol usage, inadequate sleep, chronic stress, and the list goes on. Many of these factors are related to lifestyle and environmental exposure while some are based on infectious agents.

When managing chronic disease, disrupting and resolving chronic inflammation should be a major consideration for both prevention and management of these health conditions.

Ways to Combat Chronic Inflammation

  • Pay particular attention to the foods we eat - The gut is an important barrier between our outside world and our internal world (a single cell layer thick) - minimize inflammatory food categories such as fried, added sugars, processed foods, trans fats, and similar groups as they can affect the integrity of this important barrier and promote inflammation throughout the body
  • Building resilience - Exposure to progressive exercise, regular exposure to pathogens such as gardening and hiking can be beneficial to the resilience of the immune system. Can introduce the concept of the Hygiene Hypothesis which suggests that as we’ve introduced more sterile environments and cleaning products (hand sanitizer, bleach, etc.) that we don’t expose our immune systems to enough stimuli to build regular and effective resistance. Movement and exercise increase inflammation temporarily but build resistance; Under exercise and over-exercise can both promote imbalance inflammation.
  • Use natural anti-inflammatories when needed - Many plant-based chemicals such as phytochemicals that have antioxidant properties also have a anti-inflammatory properties. Omega 3’s, nut, seeds, fruits, and vegetables along with spices such as ginger and turmeric are natural inflammatories. Fun Fact - High-dose turmeric showed efficacy for pain relief equal to that of common NSAIDS, but with fewer side effects (Singletary, 2020)
  • Stress management - Chronic and acute stress increase inflammation in the body and disrupt other important pillars to manage inflammation including sleep and dietary intake (think stress eating)
  • Lifestyle factors - Limit or eliminate alcohol and smoking

About the Author

Dr. Kenny Mittelstadt, DACM, DC, L.Ac., Dipl.OM.

Kenny Mittelstadt is a functional health practitioner and acupuncturist based in San Antonio, Texas. He is trained through the Institute for Functional Medicine and received both of his doctorate degrees with highest honors from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He focuses on empowering patients through wellness education and root-cause healing – transforming health through personalized, lab-based functional medicine programs!


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