Inflammation: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly 

By  Dr. Luke Martin, D.C.

Inflammation is a natural process that helps your body heal from injury, infection or any other type of problem. Learn more about what inflammation is, your favorite foods and lifestyle habits that could cause inflammation, and what you can do to reduce the painful symptoms.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is one of the body's natural defenses. It happens when you have an injury or infection, and it's how your immune system tries to fix what's wrong. This inflammation helps fight off germs and clear out damaged cells so that healing can take place. Inflammation also has a darker side, because sometimes it doesn't know when to stop fighting for our health. That means that inflammation might not only be keeping us from getting better - it could actually keep us sick! The chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) is an example of this type of "good" inflammation gone awry. CIRS occurs in people who constantly experience low-grade inflammation due to environmental toxins in the home, work and school environments. The inflammation caused by CIRS is what researchers believe causes many autoimmune illnesses like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Inflammation can be hard to spot sometimes without the right testing. Inflammation can be either acute or chronic, depending on how severe the inflammation is and if it lasts for weeks to months with no end in sight. When inflammation occurs as part of an autoimmune disorder, inflammation can affect the immune system. When inflammation associated with autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis isn't controlled, it can lead to inflammation in other organs of the body.

How Inflammation Creates Inflammation-Causing Substances Called Cytokines

As inflammation does its job, it also creates inflammation-causing substances called cytokines. Cytokines are a group of signaling proteins or peptides that regulate inflammation and immunity. There are many types of cytokines, and inflammation is how your body responds to their release.

Cytokines are a general term for different types of proteins that have special jobs. These include lymphokines, monokines, chemokines, and interleukins. Some cytokines promote inflammation and others reduce inflammation. Different types of cytokines work on different parts of the immune system. For example:

  • IL1 (interleukin 1) is a cytokine that makes blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood to enter an area of inflammation
  • TNF alpha (tumor necrolysis factor) causes inflammation, cell death and fever
  • IL2 is essential for the proper initiation of a primary immune response and provides positive feedback to amplify inflammation"
  • IL4 initiates inflammation against parasites.
  • IL5 stimulates inflammation in the lungs, causing them to secrete mucus that traps particles
  • IL6 is scarce until inflammation occurs at which point it triggers inflammation

Cytokines can increase inflammation quickly and easily, but they also rely on signals from parts of your body that have been damaged for them to do so.

Symptoms of Inflammation and Chronic Inflammation

Symptoms of inflammation differ from person to person, but may include:

  • Joint pain, swelling or inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Increased memory issues and brain fog
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Acid reflux
  • Chronic headaches and migraines
  • Dizziness or balance problems
  • Skin rashes or eruptions
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Excess mucus production

Inflammation in the Digestive Tract

Inflammation in the digestive tract includes inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, large intestine and small intestine. Inflammation in the digestive tract is quite common and can be caused by a wide variety of agents, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites - including those that are found naturally within the body. The inflammation can also be caused by an allergic reaction to food or drugs. Inflammation throughout the digestive tract can lead to stomach acid reflux disease or heartburn.

If inflammation remains untreated and persists, the inflammation may damage the digestive tract over time leading to leaky gut. The symptoms of inflammation in the digestive tract are pain within abdominal areas, inflammation of tissues around the rectum and inflammation throughout the stomach area. Common causes of inflammation in the digestive tract include taking NSAID medications like aspirin or ibuprofen for a long period of time and inflammation of the digestive tract because of infection with parasites.

7 Foods That Cause Inflammation (and 7 That Reduce It)

7 foods to avoid:

  1. Sugar and refined carbohydrates like doughnuts, crackers, cookies and cakes
  2. Processed vegetable oils found in most packaged goods like chips, crackers or baked goods as well as fast food.
  3. Junk food which is high in gluten - white flour found in pizza crusts or bagels.
  4. Alcohol which can cause inflammation and negatively impact your digestive system and nervous system.
  5. Any inflammation causing foods you may be sensitive or allergic to - for example dairy is a common food sensitivity that many people have, but not everyone reacts the same way. Corn and soy are also common allergens.
  6. Dietary supplements that contain inflammation causing ingredients (like fish oil capsules which are high in inflammation-causing omega 6 fats).
  7. Consuming foods that can increase inflammation, like alcohol, sugar or trans fats.

7 anti-inflammatory foods:

  1. Avocados - a great source of healthy fats and antioxidants which help fight inflammation, protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation. Other good sources of healthy fat like coconut oil, nuts and seeds may also be helpful.
  2. Blueberries which contain resveratrol have anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce inflammation.
  3. Green tea contains powerful antioxidants that fight inflammation, protect against chronic disease and promote a healthy metabolism. You can replace coffee with green tea to enjoy the healthful benefits of this herbal beverage in your daily diet.
  4. Turmeric which is an anti-inflammatory spice found in curry powder and other yellow colored spice blends. Curcumin is the ingredient in turmeric that gives it its anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Fish which are rich in inflammation-reducing omega 3 fats like salmon, trout and tuna. Fish oil supplements may also help reduce inflammation if you can't include them in your diet or don't like fish. 
  6. Ginger which is a natural inflammation fighter that you can add to stir fry dishes, soups and teas.
  7. Certain vegetables like spinach and kale which are powerhouses of inflammation fighting antioxidants.

A good anti-inflammatory diet will also include plenty of these inflammation-fighting foods: berries, green leafy vegetables (like spinach), and lean meats (like chicken).

More Tips for Reducing the Painful Symptoms of Inflammation 

In addition to eating a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh vegetables, low glycemic fruit, and lean protein; 

  • Get more exercise. This gets your lymph moving and also has many other health benefits.
  • Get enough sleep each night 
  • Reduce stress by taking time for yourself every day.
  • Expose yourself to sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes every day.
  • Drink plenty of water. Water is anti-inflammatory because inflammation can occur when your body doesn’t have enough liquid to function properly.
  • Take steps to improve your home's indoor air quality 
  • Take care when using household cleaning supplies or other chemicals that may be causing your inflammation 

Testing for Inflammation

In order to reduce inflammation symptoms and prevent inflammation from leading to more serious health conditions, it's important to understand what causes inflammation in the first place. You'll also want to know how your diet could contribute as well as any lifestyle habits that might have an impact on inflammation levels. The last thing you want is to have inflammation pain without knowing why it's happening.

A functional medicine provider can order an inflammation test by performing blood work. The inflammation test will determine how inflammation is present in your body. It will measure inflammation markers like C-reactive protein, albumin, uric acid and homocysteine levels. If inflammation markers are increased, inflammation may be present.

Final Thoughts

Inflammation is a natural bodily process that helps your body heal from injury, infection or any other type of problem. inflammation's power lies in its ability to recognize and fight off invaders like bacteria or viruses while simultaneously repairing the injured tissue underneath it. Inflammation can also be an indicator for chronic disease, so if you are experiencing ongoing inflammation without healing then talk with your doctor about what might need to change. There are ways to reduce inflammation and help prevent chronic illness by making lifestyle and dietary changes.

related posts: