When you think of inflammation, a sprained ankle or bump on the head probably springs to mind. The sort of thing you might pop an ibuprofen for and that gets better with rest and time.
Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal and defend itself from harm. The classic symptoms of what’s known as acute (or short term) inflammation include redness, pain, swelling and heat. The sorts of things you could expect to experience if you have a sprain, bump or wound.
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing process and without it, the damaged tissue or wound wouldn’t heal. So whilst it might look and feel pretty horrendous when your ankle swells up and turns red, it’s actually a good sign that your body is taking charge of fixing what’s wrong. And all being well, the inflammation will usually go away in a matter of days as the healing process moves on to the next stage of repair.
However, there’s another type of inflammation which health experts believe is behind the development of many modern, degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis fatty liver disease and cancer. This is chronic inflammation, also called called persistent, low-grade inflammation because it produces a steady, low-level of inflammation throughout the body, as judged by a small rise in immune system markers found in blood or tissue. Chronic inflammation may last weeks, months or years and left unchecked, it can lead to serious health problems. And ibuprofen and a bag of frozen peas won’t do anything to get rid of it.
The problem with chronic inflammation, apart from the health risks it poses, is that it often occurs within the body without any noticeable symptoms. So you might not feel particularly unwell, but the inflammation in your body can be like a ticking bomb.
However, signs to watch out for are body and muscular pain, skin rashes (such as eczema and psoriasis), excess mucus production and poor digestion.
Chronic inflammation can also sap your energy. So if you’re constantly feeling fatigued despite getting adequate nightly sleep this may be a clue your body is fighting off chronic inflammation. Just like you feel run-down when you’re sick, when your have chronic inflammation your immune system remains active and continues to work overtime to regulate its response. In turn, chronic inflammation increases the requirement of cellular energy to ensure rapid regeneration of immune cells and further depletes you of the fuel you need to feel fully energised.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by different things such as autoimmune disorder, a wound or infection not healing properly or longterm exposure to industrial chemicals or polluted air. However, there is strong evidence that an unhealthy lifestyle is a significant contributor to chronic inflammation.
Poor diet, environmental toxins, stress and lack of sleep can trigger chronic inflammation.
Doctors can test the levels of inflammation in your body so if you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above or you’re concerned about chronic inflammation, you may want to consider getting tested.
For most of us, some simple lifestyle switches can help keep unhealthy inflammation at bay.
- One of the best things you can do to help reduce inflammation in your body is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet features lots of whole and unprocessed foods, so plenty of fibre rich grains and vegetables, healthy fats (olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds are great sources) and plant based protein sources. The Mediterranean diet is often cited as one of the healthiest diets and it also happens to tick many of anti-inflammatory boxes.
- Too much sugar (including alcohol), caffeine, red meat and processed beige carbs can create inflammation in the body so it’s best to avoid or significantly reduce your intake of these.
- Choose organic food wherever possible as the pesticides and chemicals used in non-organic foods can create inflammation.
- A healthy gut is also a major line of defence against inflammation so you want to make sure you’re eating lots of gut healthy food and avoiding things the disrupt your gut microbiome. I’ve written a blog on gut health which sets out the sorts of food to include in your diet and to avoid to ensure your gut is in tip top health.
- It’s important to take action in other areas of your life to help keep inflammation at bay. So things like getting enough sleep, making time for relaxation and managing your stress, regular exercise and cutting back on alcohol.
- Try to limit your exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants as much as possible. So opt for more natural personal care and cleaning products and if you live or work in a city, you could think about investing in an air purifier for your home or office. Drink filtered water where possible. I’m trying to reduce the number of chemicals in my home by switching to more natural based household sprays and detergents and using natural oils for moisturiser.
In this era of super viruses, it’s so important to take care of your health. Simple things like washing your hands are a given, but you also need to be doing what you can to ensure you and your family’s immune systems are as strong as they can be. Looking after yourself has never been more important.