Inflammation. What is this new buzzword all about?
Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting itself from infection, illness, or injury. So even though we associate inflammation with negative response in the body, our bodies are actually doing exactly what they should be….. it’s a response. So there are two types of inflammation, acute and chronic, and they are easily differentiated.
Acute inflammation is like stubbing your toe or breaking your ankle, or getting a rash after brushing up against poison ivy. It is a short term event, usually characterized by five signs. They are pain, redness, lack of mobility, swelling and heat. Once the body clears the infection or heals the injury, our bodies return to our natural states.
Chronic inflammation is a long term event. It stays around. Here’s how the National Center for BioTechnology Information (NCBI) defines it:
“Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years. Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage.”
So what does that mean? It means that there is an irritant somewhere that continues to put the body in an immune response. It could be a long term infection, or it could be an autoimmune response, or a constant dose of free radicals. Chronic inflammation leads to long term damage in the body which is then linked to chronic disease.
What is a chronic disease?
According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases are rated as the top threat to human health. It is the most significant cause of death worldwide, and it encompasses many different types of diseases. Let’s take a look at the top five as laid out by the National Institute of Health.
- Diabetes: According to American Diabetes Association, 30.3 million people or 9.4% of the American population, had diabetes in 2015 and it was the 7th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Cardiovascular diseases: In line with 2017 updated report from the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) accounts for 1 out of every three deaths or approximately 800,000 deaths in the United States. Globally, CVD accounts for 31% of all deaths, and coronary heart disease (CHD) accounts for most deaths due to CVD, followed by stroke (1 of 20 deaths in the United States) and heart failure.
- Arthritis and Joint Diseases: These affect approximately 350 million people worldwide and nearly 43 million people in the United States or almost 20% of the population. This number is expected to exceed 60 million by 2020. Nearly, 2.1 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
- Allergies: These rank among the sixth leading cause of chronic human diseases in the United States and affect more than 50 million Americans each year. Asthma affects more than 24 million people in the United States including more than 6 million children. In 2015, 8.2% of adults and 8.4% of children were diagnosed with hay fever.
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): The third most common cause of death in the United States in 2014, and nearly 15.7 million Americans (6.4%) were reported to have been diagnosed with COPD.
And these are just naming a few of the hundreds of iterations of chronic disease. When the body is out of balance, dis-ease occurs. So typically the body is having to “fight off” something caustic, and over the long term damage occurs. So what is causing the development of inflammation to begin with? Let’s take a look. Most of the time, it is attributed to lifestyle factors.
Avoiding Chronic Disease
1. Avoid Tobacco Use. Well of course. This has been a source of public education since the 1980s and we know that smoking leads to intense inflammation, which often winds up as cancer.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. We know this one too, but it is difficult for many of us to achieve, and I think very closely related to the addiction to nicotine. Food is necessary, and it is meant to be wholesome and nutritious. We have created a host of frankenfoods. Processed foods have been manipulated to create addiction, and its no wonder we have a hard time making the best choice for our bodies. Food addiction is something that many do not recognize but take a close look at your reactions when you eat something that is processed and full of salt, sugar and fat. Much more to come on this subject.
3. Add movement to your day. Getting out and moving is important. You don’t have to be a gym rat to create health. I work in the garden all summer. I take walks with my daughter. I go swimming or hiking. Creating some physical movement around what you enjoy is the key. Exercise should never be drudgery. Just get out and go! Again– much more to talk about here.
4. Eat fruits and vegetables, as many as possible. This heralds back to the free radical damage that is a cause of chronic inflammation. Free radicals are unstable atoms basically. There is an unpaired electron just waiting to steal from another atom. It’s chemically reactive and that’s not good for our bodies. It is what breaks the body down, in time. Enter antioxidants! They are able to freely give an electron without destabilizing themselves. Where are these found? Yep. Fruits and vegetables. So that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the power of plants, and the important takeaway here is to load up your plates, every day for every meal.
5. Lower your stress levels. Yep. Easier said than done? Well, that depends on what is happening in your life and your personal outlook. Stress causes our hormone levels to rise and is never meant to be a long term response. These high adrenaline and cortisol levels will damage our blood vessels, and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. So what to do? The simplest way to relieve your stress is to breathe! Long, slow, deep breaths reduce the physical response of the body. Take a break. We often put too much pressure on ourselves, and getting outdoors to take a quick break will recharge us. Write it down. Research shows that bringing our problems to a journal alleviates stress. There are many more ways, and I will highlight more about how to enjoy your day and reduce your stress in another article.
One Step at a Time
What is just one thing you can do today to lower your inflammation? For me personally, it’s all about the veg. I eat them all day long, and I have learned to love them! My husband calls me the ultimate foodie, because I grow and grow and grow in my backyard, I share it with my community, and I read about it when I’m not growing! But what about you? What is one challenge you can take on? Start taking walks? Play with a child in the park? Grow a garden? Listen to a podcast at the gym? Eat a salad with every meal? The Perfect Day lifestyle provides endless possibilities to lower our chronic inflammation. Try something new today, for your health!