You stub your toe. It hurts, it swells up and turns red. It might even become warm to touch! This is a sign of acute inflammation - your body's response to an irritant or trauma. The irritant might be a foreign object like stepping on a nail or it could even be a germ. It is a healthy response and is crucial in keeping us alive. This is not the type of inflammation we are worried about in this article.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation is a real concern. Chronic inflammation is a subtle inflammatory response that is slow and lasts for prolonged periods (weeks, months or years). Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage. It greatly increases the chance of chronic disease, which the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks as the greatest threat to human health.
Image 1: causes of acute inflammation and disease caused by chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is a sign that the body is out of balance and it causes the immune system to weaken. As a result, immune responses are impaired thus making an individual more susceptible to disease and infection. It's a sign that the body doesn't have the capacity to fight infection or disease - it is a sign the body is not healthy.
The causation of chronic inflammation is varied. It can be caused by what we put into our body (foods, toxins, chemicals) OR harmful lifestyle choices we make (inactivity, smoking and high-stress levels). Researchers recognise that people with obesity have a higher level of inflammation in their bodies. The inflammatory marker C -Reactive Protein (CRP) is often elevated in an obese person, indicating the body is inflamed. Obese people have a higher level of inflammation and are therefore at increased risk of disease.
Common signs and symptoms that develop with chronic inflammation are:
Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
Chronic fatigue and insomnia
Body pain, arthralgia, myalgia
Gastrointestinal complications like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
Weight gain or weight loss
Leave this untreated and you are increasing your chance (dramatically) of contracting one or more of these serious diseases including:
Type 2 Diabetes
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Now, this sounds pretty dire - but the good news is that we can identify the cause of inflammation and TREAT inflammation.
Dietary and lifestyle changes have proven to be the most helpful in removing inflammation triggers and reducing chronic inflammation. The most effective is weight loss. For example, in patients with chronic inflammatory arthritis, weight loss alone has been shown to be independently associated with clinically significant improvement in inflammation and disease activity.
If you are ticking some of these boxes - it would be our recommendation that you have further - which will likely be through pathology testing. After you have discussed with a trusted health professional, contact a Clinical Nutritionist who will assist you in making alterations to your diet and lifestyle by:
Lowering glycemic (load) in the diet
Reducing intake of total, saturated fat and trans fats
Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables
Increasing fibre intake
Ensuring there are enough healthy fats in your diet
Addressing micronutrient imbalances (excesses/ deficiencies)