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The Dark Side of Inflammation

Feeling bloated for no reason? Struggling with joint pain and stiffness? Perhaps you’re tired and low on energy despite getting a good night’s sleep? These symptoms may indicate that you’re dealing with inflammation. 

Under normal condition, your body produces inflammatory cytokines to repair damaged tissues and defend itself against harmful stimuli, such as bacteria and viruses. These proteins have the role to stimulate immune function and accelerate healing. The problem arises when inflammation becomes chronic and the immune system begins to attack healthy cells and tissues.

Without inflammation, your body would be vulnerable to injury and diseases. However, too much of it can be harmful. Let’s see what the inflammatory process looks like and what to do about it!

What Causes Inflammation?

Imagine the following scenario: you fall down the stairs or slip on ice and hurt your knee. There may be some bruising, redness, pain, and other symptoms that go away within days. As you heal, the pain subsides and your knee starts to feel better.

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While it’s true that inflammation caused pain and redness in the first place, it also helped you recover. Your body produced inflammatory cytokines to activate the immune system, kill off infections, and accelerate healing. Think of it as a built-in defense mechanism that protects you against germs, injury, and other harmful stimuli. In this case, we’re talking about acute inflammation.

However, the inflammatory process may last longer than it should. As a result, your immune system becomes overactive and may begin to attack and damage your own healthy tissues (as your body mistaking it for a pathogen that causes disease). This ultimately leads to chronic pain and increases your risk of arthritis, type II diabetes, leaky gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disorders, and cardiovascular problems.

What causes inflammation to last dangerously long, in other words causing “chronic inflammation”? Prolonged or chronic inflammation can have a variety of triggers, from infection to stress and even poor nutrition. A diet high in sugar, for instance, may cause chronic low-grade inflammation and impair your body’s ability to use insulin. In the long run, it may lead to diabetes, insulin resistance, weight gain, and metabolic disorders.

In a 2014 study, women who consumed one or more servings of sugar-sweetened soda daily had a 63 percent higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Other studies have found that eating only 40 grams of added sugar per day can increase cholesterol levels and inflammatory markers, affect insulin response, and trigger weight gain.

Chronic inflammation may be also caused by viral and bacterial infections, prolonged stress, long-term exposure to household chemicals and other irritants, autoimmune disorders, and more. The good news is that you can prevent and fight this condition through simple lifestyle changes, such as getting more rest, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and filling up on Omega-3s. All of these can help offset the harmful effects of inflammation.

The Risks of Inflammation

“A growing body of research indicates that chronic inflammation may cause and worsen many common diseases.”Tobacco smoke, for instance, triggers the release of cytokines and chemokines, which in turn, promotes tumor growth and contributes to lung cancer.

Inflammation has been also linked to Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. It’s a major contributing factor to heart disease and chronic peptic ulcer as well. Furthermore, you may experience fluid retention, bloating, throbbing pain, and other symptoms that lack a medical explanation.

How to Manage Inflammation Naturally

Most inflammatory diseases are treated with medications and corticosteroids. Unfortunately, these drugs only work on a short-term basis and carry potential side effects that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Since they target the symptoms and not the root cause of disease, they fail to suppress the inflammatory process in the long run.

A balanced diet combined with stress reduction techniques and natural supplements can do more for your health in the long run than any pill.

Certain foods are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that stop inflammation in its tracks. Curcumin, for example, is widely used in the treatment of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases. This compound, which is found in turmeric, scavenges oxidative stress, regulates multiple signaling pathways, and increases antioxidant levels in the bloodstream.

Avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds boast large doses of omega-3s. These essential fatty acids help prevent and suppresses inflammation, reduce cholesterol levels, and promote cardiovascular health. Berries, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables all contain polyphenols and other antioxidants that inhibit inflammatory processes and protect against cellular damage.

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Sugar, trans, fats, red meats, and highly processed foods have the opposite effect – they trigger inflammation and contribute to the onset of chronic disorders.

Another way to fight inflammation is to limit stress. In the long run, this lifestyle factor raises cortisol levels and puts your body in a constant “fight-or-flight” mode. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol promotes fat storage, chronic fatigue, and hormonal imbalances when secreted in excess. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, prolonged stress triggers inflammation by inhibiting the ability of immune cells to respond to the hormonal signals that normally regulate this process.

To prevent these issues, squeeze more “me” time into your schedule. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and proper sleep can make a world of difference. Take the steps needed to keep inflammation under control.

Your future self will thank you.

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