If you keep up with health news, you’re probably aware of the problems inflammation can cause. Study after study connects it to diseases such as asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, and cancer, as well as to other chronic health problems such as obesity and allergies.
But inflammation isn’t always the bad guy; it’s part of your body’s innate immune response, and it helps heal wounds and infection, among other things. So why is some inflammation good and some bad?
How it Works
Consider the common allergy. There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about pet dander, or pollen, or even mold and dust. All of those innocuous substances are part of the ordinary natural world, but when a person with an allergy is exposed to them, their immune system (which includes the inflammatory response) can ratchet into overdrive. Think of all of the words used to describe what happens during an allergy attack—words like stuffy, wheezy, puffy—those are all words describing inflammation.
So, Inflammation is Good?
Sometimes inflammation is good. When you’re exposed to an allergen or other negative stimuli, your body will send white blood cells to the invader, and will attack it with natural chemicals to try and roust the invader. This leads to the swelling, pain, and redness we associate with inflammation. The problems occur when inflammation that is designed to be a swift and serious attack against invading organisms becomes a constant, low-level problem.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
Your body is bombarded every day with microorganisms and substances that your immune system deals with. Some of those—like viruses and poisons—are negative stimuli. But others are less easy to identify. Food intolerances, pollutants, and a host of other stimuli can set off the body’s defenses, too.
What Does Chronic Inflammation Do?
Scientists say that long-term inflammation can change the type of cells found at the site of trouble. And while chronic inflammation is caused by some conditions, it can also cause serious health problems as well. In fact, a study of healthy elderly people found that those who had the highest markers of systemic inflammation were 260 percent more likely to die within the next four years.
What Can You Do?
It can be hard to identify the things that affect your personal inflammation levels, but it is likely to be a combination of environmental and lifestyle changes can help. Some common things that up inflammation include:
- sugar, refined flours, trans fats, and processed foods
- chronic, hidden infections
- lack of exercise
- environmental toxins