It seems funny (not always) how the human body fights causes of pain with more pain. When you’re suffering through that bout of painful inflammation, it can seem like you’re the only one going through the pain. In one way, you are. But in another, you’re experiencing a response to acute or chronic inflammation that is part of our innate immunity as human beings. It’s a natural response to pain that everyone has from birth.
If we feel or see inflammation in our own bodies, our immediate response is usually negative. It means that some sort of pain is either coming or there already. As a result, we begin to stress and many people resort to remedying any form of inflammation with an array of medications. But by doing this, we aren’t allowing our bodies’ natural response to occur, well, naturally.
This is likely due to the possibility that you may be unaware of why either acute or chronic inflammation happens and why one of them is necessary. We’re going to break it down, so let’s walk through it together.
What Causes Inflammation: The Process
Inflammation can be painful but it is really a bad thing? If you had the choice to opt out of your body’s natural immune response to fend off those foreign invaders we encounter every day, would you? We hope not because, without that protection, you wouldn’t last a day.
When your body detects a foreign substance pain – e.g., bacteria and viruses – your body releases chemicals from white blood cells (which act as signals or messengers) into the blood or targeted tissues to protect itself. This seems to be a simple enough process. But if your body releases these “cell signals” without there being a real outside invader, this constant process can damage your tissues or organs.
Signs of Inflammation
The list isn’t extensive, but includes many common symptoms like:
Joint swelling (sometimes warm), pain, or stiffness
Loss of joint function
Fatigue and low energy
Fever or chills
Little to no appetite
The 2 Types of Inflammation
Acute Inflammation happens within minutes or hours and quickly becomes severe. Any signs or symptoms you may have tend to last anywhere between a few days and a few weeks. Some examples of acute inflammation are:
Scratches or cuts on the skin
A sore throat after a cold or flu
Chronic Inflammation occurs over the long-term and tends to last several months and, in more severe case, years. This type of inflammation may occur because of an acute problem that wasn’t dealt with, a low-intensity chronic irritant that won’t go away, or your immune system attacks healthy tissue mistaking it as a harmful pathogen. These are some examples of chronic inflammation:
Chronic active hepatitis
The Type of Inflammation We Need
It’s a bit of a trick question because depending on any given condition, having both would be ideal. But of the two types, acute inflammation is necessary because it protects us from those every-day-invaders. The cuts and scrapes, the seasonal illnesses, the personal hygiene issues.
Chronic inflammation has its benefits, though it isn’t always ideal. When inflammation targets your internal organs, things can get dangerous. Because many organs don’t have pain-sensitive nerves, your pain (if any) may not be so obvious. Ultimately, this kind of inflammation (which is the root of chronic pain) can lead to irritation and destruction of cartilage or tissues, as well as trigger more inflammation in the same or a new part of the body.
So the next time you get a cut or catch a cold, don’t be so quick (synthetically) medicate your acute inflammation. Our bodies are incredible and healing themselves and, in may cases, just need the time.
Now while chronic inflammation has good intentions, what it can turn into is the real silent killer. This is the kind of inflammation that we need to be more diligent about and aware of because nobody knows your body like you do. But instead of trying to come up with hypothetical inflammatory cases to treat, let’s look at a couple of popular habits that are causing chronic inflammation in your body.
2 Major Causes of Chronic Inflammation
If you’re stressful by nature and enjoy fast food, the following paragraphs are going to be tough to swallow. But with guidance and the right lifestyle changes, you’ll be able to reduce inflammation and live a fuller life with lesser pain.
Stress Causes Inflammation: The ‘Stress Hormone’
Think about your day-to-day routine. Do you have (or give yourself) time for breathers, or do you feel like life is a constant sprint?
Whether it’s obvious or not, research has shown that stress influences inflammation hugely. In 2012, a Carnegie Mellon University study revealed that the link between stress and the body’s inflammatory response is what affects health and disease. Specifically, psychological stress negatively affects cortisol, a hormone in our body which helps regulate inflammation.
You may know of cortisol as the ‘stress hormone,’ which your body releases from nearly every cell in those fight-or-flight moments.
According to the team’s lead researcher, Sheldon Cohen, when the stress hormone isn’t able to serve its purpose and reduce inflammation, inflammation can get out of control.
Cohen went on to explain that chronic (or long-term) stress decreases our tissues’ sensitivity to cortisol. In other words, immune cells that are present during inflammation become irresponsive to the regulatory effect of cortisol. Over time, cortisol’s effectiveness to reduce swelling decreases which can result in runaway inflammation and promote the development of other diseases.
As you can see, the stress hormone plays a key role in your inflammatory response, but it can affect other things as well. Cortisol raises glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. Your brain then takes that blood sugar and uses it to help repair tissues.
If you live a stress-filled life, however, science says that your stress hormone won’t work like it should to keep your body functioning healthily and properly.
Foods That Cause Inflammation: Junk Food
In the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, one study revealed that diet can impact both mood and proinflammatory responses to stress. Not all diets, of course, but ones that include processed junk food on a regular basis.
In diets like these, foods that cause inflammation may include high amounts of refined starches, sugar, saturated and trans-fats, and low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and fiber from grains, vegetables, and fruits.
In a review of one study, for example, researchers observed a link between eating trans-fatty acids and increased inflammation. They confirmed that higher intakes of fruits and vegetables contributed to lower oxidative stress and inflammation.[8,9]
Further research even suggests that you can limit and maybe reverse proinflammatory responses to meals that are high in saturated fats with enough vegetables or antioxidants.
When it comes to eating whole grains, they are far better than foods that cause inflammation (i.e., refined ones) which fail to provide fiber, minerals, vitamins, nutrients, and essential fatty acids. In fact, not only do refined starches and sugars quickly alter blood sugar and insulin levels; they increase the production of proinflammatory molecules, too.[10,11]
What Causes Inflammation: Leaky Gut
Another serious side effect of inflammation that is spurred on by a Wester-style diet is ‘leaky gut.’ Your digestive tract’s lining (or ‘gut lining’) is a protective and selective barrier that only takes in specific beneficial substances while keeping bigger, harmful particles out.
When the tiny holes in your gut lining wear away and become bigger, this is called leaky gut.
There are number of things that contribute to the creation of leaky gut, but the main causes include:
Over time, these factors create bigger holes in your gut lining so that bigger, more harmful particles can pass through it and lead to inflammation in various parts of your body. If it worsens, you run the risk of forming immune system issues or autoimmune conditions.
Tips on How to Manage Inflammation Caused by Stress and Food
Realize that food is your friend and the right ones can help your mind and body
Self-led hand reflexology massages
You’ll always be your worst critic – be easy on yourself
Learn to take a deep breath with these breathing exercises
Help balance your hormones with a good night’s sleep
It can be challenging but learn to say ‘no’
Know what to eat to alter your weight properly
Avoid toxic junk food and eat this candied ginger instead
Make your favorite unhealthy foods healthy
Avoid dangerous drugs that destroy immune systems
Almost 70 percent of all deaths in America happen by way of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Why does that matter? It matters because the common link throughout all those deaths is inflammation.
When you consider the two most common habits that are contributing to chronic inflammation – our stress levels and diets – it becomes clear how intertwined they are. Stress influences our food choices and what we eat can impact our moods and proinflammatory responses to stress. So if we are unable to manage at least one of those habits, then we’re in big trouble.
But we know you can.
Inflammare. That’s the Latin root word for ‘to inflame,’ which is where we get ‘inflammation.’ It means “to set on fire with passion.” So, let’s be passionate about our bodies and doing everything we can to live full, healthy lives.
Try any of the tips above. Get a friend or two to become healthier with so it doesn’t seem like a lonely journey because it doesn’t have to be. See what works for you and don’t be afraid to start small. Change will inevitably come if you’re willing to consistently put in the care and effort.