The Ins and Outs of Inflammation

Inflammation has recently been a focus in the health world.  Sometimes when new concepts are exposed, it can be difficult to determine the truth from the hype.  In this article we’re going to provide an overview of inflammation to help better understand its function and why too much inflammation can be damaging.

Inflammation is a protective measure.  Swelling of the tissues around a cut helps to restrict blood flow so blood components can pool around the damaged tissue, prevent infection and start rebuilding.  When our ankle swells after we slip on an icy sidewalk the extra pressure stabilizes the ankle and helps with the first stages of healing.  These are both examples of acute inflammation and are for the most part essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.

Sometimes inflammation doesn’t stop even after the initial injury or infection has healed and that’s when the inflammation goes from acute to chronic.  It isn’t always clear what causes chronic inflammation although one common contributor is long term stress.  Our bodies react to stress by cranking up our cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a hormone that helps our body control inflammation.  High stress levels and high cortisol levels override the balance of hormones required to manage the inflammation.  When our hormone levels are off, it’s hard for our bodies to level out hormones and complete their normal functions and that’s when illness starts to set in.  It’s kind of like trying to carry on a conversation in the same room as a screaming toddler; you aren’t able to understand the full conversation because you’re distracted by the child’s cries.

The symptoms of chronic inflammation can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • Joint or muscle pain that doesn’t seem to get better
  • Allergies or asthma 
  • High blood pressure or diabetes
  • Digestive issues
  • Constant fatigue or lethargy
  • Skin problems

So, what can you do about it?  If you have concerns about chronic inflammation, scheduling an appointment with your doctor is step one.  In the interim, we do have some suggestions that might help:

  • Massage has been proven to reduce cortisol levels and increase serotonin and dopamine production.  Serotonin and dopamine are two other hormones that contribute to that “feel good” sensation you get during a massage. 
  • Nutrition has also been shown to have a significant impact on chronic inflammation levels; the phytonutrients in plant-based diets are particularly helpful in repairing chronic conditions
  • Exercise can reduce cortisol levels as well as encourage circulation of blood and lymph which helps hydrate and nourish the body

One of the best things you can do for yourself if you suspect you are suffering from chronic inflammation is to be patient with yourself.  Developing these symptoms took time and it will take time to recover.  As long as you’re doing one thing a day to get your closer to your goal whether it’s one 10 minute walk, one more glass of water or one more serving of vegetables, all those things will add up to make a difference in your life.  

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