The media has been abuzz for quite some time on the subject of inflammation. The popularity of non-inflammatory creams, foods, medicines, meditations, self-care products, treatments, and more has skyrocketed. And with good reason: More than 120 million Americans suffer from chronic inflammation.
When many people think of inflammation, they think of bruising, redness, and swelling. But internal, uncontrolled inflammation — what you can’t see — can be damaging, and plays a role in most diseases.
Inflammation occurs in the body as a response to an injury, but when it goes on for too long or gets out of hand, it can be detrimental. (1)
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
There are two types of inflammation — acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation comes on quickly and lasts a few days to a few weeks at most. It is easy to see and feel and causes immobility, pain, and swelling. Acute inflammation is a beneficial process. It immobilizes an area of injury to protect it and allow the immune system to heal it.
Chronic inflammation can last weeks, months, or even years. Because chronic inflammation often has fewer outward signs and symptoms, debilitating damage can occur over time. When chronic inflammation persists, instead of being helpful, it becomes the problem — a big problem. It can damage healthy tissue and lead to painful conditions and diseases if left untreated. (2)
Some symptoms of acute inflammation are: (3)
- Affected areas are hot to the touch
- Loss of tissue function
Some symptoms of chronic inflammation are: (4)
- Body pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Frequent infections
- Weight gain or weight loss
The symptoms of acute and chronic inflammation present quite differently. It is important to recognize when it is time to visit your healthcare practitioner if you’re experiencing the effects of chronic inflammation. Left untreated, body tissues can break down and start a vicious cycle of inflammation, pain, and damage.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation in the Body?
You may wonder what causes inflammation to build up in your body until it becomes a chronic issue. Several aspects can contribute to chronic inflammation. (5)
These lifestyle choices can make you more susceptible to chronic inflammation:
- Alcohol consumption
- Chronic stress
Outside these areas, infections and exposure to harmful chemicals or pathogens can raise inflammation in the body. If toxicity levels get too high, your body can overreact to the different pathogens, causing inflammation. These potential harmful substances include: (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
If toxicity or other harmful substances damage your mitochondria, your body may not be able to keep up with the spreading inflammation. Your mitochondria play a central role in proinflammatory signaling, so mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to serious chronic inflammatory diseases. (12)
When these issues are ignored or unsuccessfully tended to, chronic inflammation can spiral out of control. Making adjustments to your diet, exercise, and daily habits can have a positive effect on chronic inflammation.
How Does Chronic Inflammation Manifest in the Body?
When an injury occurs in the body, inflammation plays a vital role in the healing process. White blood cells rush to the injured area and cause it to swell, protecting it from further injury.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the inflammation lingers, leaving the body in a constantly inflamed state. Over time, that inflammation can damage tissues and organs, and can even play a role in a range of other conditions and diseases. (13)
Some common ways inflammation shows up in the body are:
Because inflammation can manifest in such a wide variety of ways, effective treatment is sometimes difficult to find. Many products on the market today focus on treating the symptoms but ignore the cause.
By learning not only why chronic inflammation is a problem, but better ways to treat it successfully, the chances of controlling and eliminating inflammation improve.
Why Is Chronic Inflammation a Problem?
Too much of a good thing is not good with regards to inflammation. When your body is in distress from an injury, for example, it releases chemicals that alert the immune system to the problem. The area of injury reddens, swells, and produces heat. This is to prevent further injury, allowing the area to heal.
Unfortunately, with chronic inflammation, the body remains on high alert indefinitely. This can have detrimental effects on the body such as constant pain; damage to the brain, joints, heart, and other organs; and diseases, including: (14, 15, 16, 17, 18)
Arthritis — There are many types of inflammatory arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis, gout, Lyme disease, lupus, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The most common symptoms of these inflammatory diseases are joint pain, swelling, redness, and stiffness after periods of inactivity.
Autoimmune conditions — This type of malady, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and PANS/PANDAS, triggers high levels of inflammation as the body attacks itself in an overactive immune response. The reverse is also true — chronic inflammation can lead to autoimmune conditions. Having hyperactive inflammatory responses increases your risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
Bowel diseases — Inflammatory bowel disease is a term used to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract. Signs and symptoms that are common to all bowel diseases include abdominal pain and cramping, bloody stool, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, fatigue, irritable bowel disease, reduced appetite, and ulcerative colitis.
Diabetes — Inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are higher in those with diabetes. Insulin resistance leads to inflammation. Also, an increase in glucose metabolism can lead to a rise in mitochondrial production, which causes more inflammation.
Heart disease — This is the leading cause of death worldwide. Inflammation plays a crucial role in the growth of plaques. Loosening plaque in your arteries triggers blood clots, the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
Natural Strategies for Managing Chronic Inflammation
To overcome chronic inflammation, an anti-inflammatory diet can prove incredibly beneficial. Increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids has proven most helpful. (19)
Some additional healthy and natural inflammation tamers may be less common, but are potent in managing inflammation.
Acai is quite possibly the most powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ever tested, which can help you on your road to recovery from chronic inflammation. It also has shown to protect brain and liver health. (20)
Blueberries are powerful antioxidants that help fight inflammation and digestive issues, such as colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. The properties of blueberries improve heart disease prevention, immune function, lung health, memory, and sight. (21)
Broccoli sprouts shield your system from environmental toxins and reduce inflammation. Broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a powerful phytochemical that helps protect brain cells from toxins. That, in turn, helps prevent inflammation. (22)
Mulberries look similar to blackberries and are difficult to find in supermarkets. However, you can find them in supplement form. Mulberries have antibacterial properties that are helpful in reducing inflammation. (23)
Pineapple contain an enzyme called bromelain that can help with arthritis, asthma, bowel diseases, bruising, cancer prevention, heart health, and infections. Bromelain is a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. (24)
Along with including these anti-inflammatory foods, you may want to stay away from certain foods that can raise inflammation in some people: (25)
- Fried foods
- Processed meat (like hot dogs and sausages)
- Red meat
- Refined carbohydrates (like pastries and white bread)
Other natural strategies
Although diet can make a big difference in inflammation levels, other natural strategies may also help manage chronic inflammation.
- Binders: Binders are an essential strategy to remove harmful substances that may raise inflammation in your body. Carbon-based binders can work in the body to grab a variety of toxins and escort them safely out of the body. Plus, these may help replenish needed nutrients in the body during the recovery process. (26, 27, 28)
Natural herbs and supplementation: Many herbs and supplements can help tame chronic inflammation, and are filled with nutrients and properties that keep the body healthy. Look for natural inflammation tamers to supplement your diet.
Physical activity: Regular exercise reduces fat mass and fat tissue inflammation, which is known to contribute to systemic inflammation. Even a gentle activity, such as walking, can help to reduce fat tissue and inflammation. (29)
Sleep: Inflammation, the immune system, and sleep are regulated in the body by the same systems. When you don’t receive enough sleep, your body raises levels of inflammation. Be sure to give your body a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. (30)
Stress: Stress on the body is a big trigger for inflammation. Stress can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, which can increase chemicals that initiate inflammation in the body. When the body is in a constant state of fight or flight, it responds negatively and exacerbates chronic inflammation. To help combat stress and lower inflammation in the body, you may consider essential oils, meditation, mindfulness practices, yoga, etc. (31)
When inflammation gets out of control, the whole body can suffer. It's important to take a closer look and find the root cause of your chronic inflammation in the first place. Then, you can take steps to address that exacerbation.
You don't need to "just get by" with the daily side effects of inflammation. The more you can support your tissues, organs, and entire microbiome, the more you can eliminate chronic inflammation. Together, binders, herbs, superfoods, and other lifestyle adjustments can help put out the fire of chronic inflammation.