Inflammation

Did you know that inflammation is part of our body’s defence mechanism and plays a vital role in the healing process?

Our immune system creates inflammation to protect us from infection, disease or injury. Sometimes, this system goes haywire and results in the immune system attacking healthy cells.


Inflammation is classified into two main types:

  • Acute symptoms appear quickly, often severe, but resolve within two weeks.
  • Chronic onset is slower in most cases, less severe and typically lasts longer than six weeks. In many cases, there is no obvious trauma, illness or injury. Or acute inflammation doesn’t end when the wound heals. Chronic inflammation has been linked to prolonged stress and autoimmune disorders.

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Symptoms of inflammation 

  • heat
  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • loss of function

Causes of inflammation 

  • Recurrent episodes of acute inflammation can also lead to a chronic inflammatory response.
  • Certain medications.
  • Exposure to irritants or foreign materials your body can’t quickly eliminate.

Why the fuss?

Let’s take exercise as an example; whether you’ve just pruned a tree, cut back a hedge or been to the gym for the first time in a while (hurrah for lockdown freedoms), the immediate effect of ‘exercise’ or increased physical activity is often an increase in inflammation.

Especially when it is beyond our normal activity levels because it results in muscle and connective tissue microtrauma, causing low-grade inflammation, which triggers the immune system to repair and grow muscles usually bigger, stronger, and better.


Cytokines

You may have heard the term Cytokine storm over the last year due to the C19 pandemic because it was the leading cause of death. Cytokines are essential immune signalling molecules regulating the body’s response to disease and infection. They are controlled by the Vagus nerve, which sends out the ‘activating’ and ‘deactivating signals. Inflammatory cytokines are secreted from immune cells and specific other cells to promotes inflammation.

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Cytokine is an umbrella term that includes many types of protein messengers, including-

  • Lymphokines
  • Monokines
  • Chemokines 
  • Interleukins

Overproduction or inappropriate production of specific cytokines can result in disease. For example, in rheumatoid arthritis, interleukins are overproduced, involved in inflammation and the tissue destruction associated with this disease.

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Infections like influenza can also trigger Cytokine storms, as specific cytokines start cell death if this system goes haywire. There will be too many immunity activating cytokines and too many immune cells, which then go into ‘overdrive’, damaging tissues and vital organs.

In the case of COVID-19, that tissue is mainly in the lung; the lungs’ tiny air sacs become leaky and fill with fluid, causing pneumonia and starving the blood of oxygen.


Getting a diagnosis 

Like many conditions getting a diagnosis involves some detective work. Starting with taking a medical history that involves your symptom, general health and lifestyle. Plus any triggers and pattern of change in symptoms. Your doctor may suggest a series of blood tests, including-

  • Serum protein electrophoresis (SPE)
  • C-reactive protein (CRP)
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • Plasma viscosity
  • Other blood tests
  • Plus those that look for specific microbes; viruses, bacteria and fungi.
  • A stool analysis or digestive investigation may also be recommended to rule out inflammatory gastrointestinal conditions.

Self-help

Sometimes adjusting our diet helps to reduce ongoing inflammation. While refined sugar and processed foods are known to be inflammatory, others foods can help fight inflammation.

  • Red, purple and black fruits such as berries and cherries
  • Oily fish, like salmon or mackerel
  • Turmeric, ginger, and clove
  • Green tea
  • Portobello and shiitake mushrooms
  • Tomatoes

Other help

  • Supplements can also help; please take advice from a qualified practitioner to help you decide which are best and safest for you.
  • Hot or cold therapy is an easy and very safe, soothing treatment for physical injuries to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • A practice of mindful movement or exercise is useful for keeping joints mobile
  • Identify your stressor to mitigate and manage your stress levels.
  • If you are a smoker, it’s time to stop.
  • Get support for any preexisting conditions.

Treatment options for inflammation 

Suppose inflammation is due to an underlying new or ongoing autoimmune condition. In that case, treatment options will vary but often include medication, such as oral or topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or, in some patients, corticosteroids.

Side note: lease take advice from the doctor or pharmacist about over the counter medications.


Summary

Inflammation is a normal part of our body’s immune response and should resolve quickly, but when it persists and becomes chronic, it can lead to damaging effects, including autoimmune disorders. If you’re any signs of long-term inflammation, do check in with your doctor to see if you need treatment for any underlying conditions.