Inflammation and Health

By Farhana Rahman

 Lights on body

Inflammation...what is it?

We spend an awful lot of time talking about inflammation in terms of health.  Even if it’s sometimes not entirely clear what it is, what we can generally glean from what we read is that INFLAMMATION = BAD and we don’t want it, thankyou very much.  But actually, inflammation is a natural process that the body’s immune system uses to heal and without it we’d be dead, so we should probably be grateful for it.

 

5 signs of acute inflammation:

Aulus Cornelius Celsus (c. 25 BC – c. 50 AD) was a Roman, and he did a pretty good job of summarizing the signs of acute inflammation:

1.   Tumor - swelling

2.   Rubor - redness

3.   Calor - heat

4.   Dolor - pain

And later on, this one was added for good measure:

5.   Functio laesa  - disturbance of function

 

Thorn in my side.

The signs above are of acute inflammation – a function of the body’s innate immune system that responds to a harmful stimulus.  Let’s walk through what is literally going on in my arm right now after a little brush with my rose bushes in the garden this afernoon.  Turns out this ‘little brush’ was in fact with a dagger-like thorn jutting out of my beautiful pink rosebush.  It stabbed me with all its might and left a little cut on my arm to taunt me.  Within minutes, said blemish swelled up, became hot, tender to touch and red.  As far as arms go, mine is doing fine, but on a cellular level, there has been a disturbance of function.  In response to this vicious assault, my body’s inflammatory response kicked in to save the day. This whole song and dance will lead to repair - removing dead cells and fixing the damaged ones -  so that in two days’ time I’ll have forgotten it ever happened and it’ll all be over.

Chronic inflammation, chronic disease

Chronic inflammation persists over time.  Sometimes this is because there’s a repeat offender that the body keeps trying to get rid of but it just keeps coming back.  Other times, the body’s response doesn’t quite cut it, so the problem persists and the immune response just keeps on going. Alternatively, after initial success, the original threat may be removed but for whatever reason the immune system remains activated.  And other times, the immune response is set off even when there’s no clear precipitant and starts attacking healthy tissues within the body

Over time, there’s a shift in the type of white blood cells the immune system sends to the affected site.  These cells release chemicals and enzymes which cause damage to surrounding tissues as well as secondary repair and healing.  These processes are linked to the development of many well known chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, Type II Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease, to name a few.

There are certain factors that predispose chronic inflammation: some that can be helped (diet, weight, smoking, stress, sleep), and others that can’t be (age, genes).

 

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