The topic of inflammation is brought up constantly in the fight against food and lifestyle.
Nothing seems to be safe from its grasps and yet we nothing of it! If it’s so rampant why do our bodies do it? Well, fear not, as we shed some light on how it works and why it isn’t all bad.
Acute Inflammation is natural
We’ve gone through too much evolution to simply be producing an unnecessary response. In fact, it being a response to injury, illness, and stress gives a good indication of how valuable it is. Inflammation is actually our body being proactive in fighting these harmful stressors, remember, there was no Pfizer in the wild.
If you sprain your ankle, you’ll soon have a red, puffy, swollen foot that certainly doesn’t seem like it’s helping. Though, in reality, you’re body is sending all the help it needs to fight any pathogens and repair damage. In this case, inflammation is more than necessary and you should thank that swollen foot! To illustrate this, below is an explanation for each of these reactions:
- When injury occurs the surrounding blood vessels widen allowing for increased blood flow and that red warmth synonymous with inflammation. These blood vessels allow leukocytes and plasma to pass through and get to the area quicker.
- The addition of new plasma and leukocytes to the injury causes swelling, making movement hard. This loss of function is necessary to discourage you from using the body part, potentially causing more injury.
- Lastly, bradykinin is released and sent to the targeted area, causing increased pain and sensitivity. This is another way your body discourages and prevents you from causing more damage to the area.
The good news to all of this is that inflammation should be temporary and to the point. With a normal injury, if you rest, the swelling will go down and you’ll soon be back to normal. A good example of this is exercise, when working out you create tiny rips in the muscle which causes inflammation. The soreness the next day is a sign your body is healing and will come back stronger than ever.
Chronic Inflammation is bad
If occasional inflammation from your body is actually good and a sign of healing than when is it bad? Inflammation becomes a serious problem when constantly activated through stressors. Imagine training the same muscles every day without resting; the muscle wouldn’t repair and the inflammation would never go away.
The same holds true when looking at foods that irritate and inflame your gut lining. The gut is overwhelmed and constantly being injured through the consumption of these foods. If you thought working out every day was bad, then what are three meals a day doing to your body.
Causes of chronic inflammation:
- Diet: The common western diet is high in sugar (1, 2), processed carbs (3), industrial fats (4), gluten and grain fed meat; all contributing factors of inflammation.
- Omega-3 Deficiency: Omega-3 produces an anti-inflammatory, which, if lacking can cause a lopsided inflammatory response to normal stimuli.
- Omega-6 excess: In the same vein, omega-6 fats produce an inflammatory that is needed for inflammation to occur. Too much production of this causes a severe reaction to normal stimuli.
- Sleep Deprivation: A lack of sleep is linked to elevated inflammatory markers and is a growing problem in first world countries. Caused by either going to bed too late or waking up too early, sleep deprivation is a huge issue in of itself.
All of these causes are serious stressors and prevalent in many of our lives, causing chronic inflammation. Though you won’t see an inflamed gut the same way as that twisted ankle the same response is still there. How can you expect your gut to function properly when it’s having to deal with constant inflammation?
Chronic Inflammation: More than just a symptom
The occasional, short and to the point inflammatory response if perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. It’s chronic inflammation that’s so bad and can actually cause its own problems rather than just reacting to them.
Most chronic diseases will cause inflammation in the body. The difficulty lies, however, in establishing whether inflammation is responding to an already present disease or if it the cause. Luckily, a few studies have found evidence that inflammation can be the cause of these issues:
Chronic Inflammation is bad enough when it’s just handicapping your body and digestive system; it becomes far worse knowing its linked and possible cause to many deadly diseases.
Chronic Inflammation: Warning Signs
Knowing if you’re a victim of chronic inflammation is crucial for anyone looking to improve their health and diet. For those on Paleo, you can rest easier knowing you’ve cut out inflammatory foods and less likely to suffer. Below is a list of warning signs of chronic inflammation:
- Persistent abdominal pain: When consuming inflammatory foods, your gut will become inflamed, causing pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Depression: Researchers have noted cancer patients with depression have more severe amounts of inflammation than those not suffering from depression.
- Fatigue: Inflammation is said to alter the brain’s circadian rhythm, interrupting sleep and wake cycles.
- Insomnia: Just like fatigue, the interruption of your circadian rhythm can lead to a toxic buildup, potentially causing insomnia.
- Body Fat: Fat cells concentrated in the abdomen have been shown to produce inflammatory signalers, leading to an increased inflammatory response.
Chronic inflammation: Mood & Energy
The link between chronic inflammation and depression is well-documented, patients suffering from these disorders have higher levels of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods and supplements are even being used to treat depression (5, 6).
This link can also be observed in healthy people; a study took 20 healthy young men and administered an endotoxin designed to trigger their body’s inflammatory response. An increase of inflammation in participants occurred with no physical symptoms other than increased temperature, the participants reported (7):
- Increased Anxiety
- Decreased mood
- Reduced verbal and nonverbal memory
These symptoms got worse the higher the inflammation and go to show that inflammation isn’t just confined to psychiatric diseases. Another similar study was conducted showing the same effect (8).
How inflammation affects mood
When inflammation occurs, pro-inflammatory cytokines are produced that directly impact your brain’s hormones. More specifically these cytokines decrease your serotonin levels, often the cause of that “chemical imbalance” you get when depressed (9).
Modern antidepressants solve this chemical imbalance by replacing missing serotonin, however, why this imbalance is present isn’t solved. It isn’t a stretch to suggest the cause being inflammation, especially when inflammation and serotonin imbalances don’t just show up.
Why mood change is necessary
From an evolutionary perspective, your mood changing during a period of inflammation makes sense. Your body needs rest and recovery, meaning you need to slow and avoid more harm. It’s no surprise we experience these depressive symptoms, they’re there to do just that, slow us down.
Inflammation, when short and to the point is just what your body needs and is nothing to worry about. In fact, can even be beneficial, with the small tears in your muscle from exercise requiring inflammation to come back stronger.
The problems occur when inflammation is continually happening and is called chronic inflammation. Nothing good comes from this, causing bad moods, gut inefficiencies and the potential of developing serious diseases. This can all be avoided however with the following:
- Limit omega-6 fats, industrial fats, sugar and processed carbs.
- Get enough omega-3’s to lessen the effects of inflammation.
- Allow enough time between workouts for your body to recover and complete the inflammation process.
- Keep a good amount of antioxidants in your diet.