Inflammation and the inflammatory response
Everybody has heard about the term inflammation, but many people are not quite sure what it means and why we have it. Inflammation is a response that your body mounts. Through the process of evolution, we’ve developed the ability to mount this response to deal with the things that used to kill us.
What causes inflammation
Whenever we have an infection in our body, or we have trauma and tissue damage, our immune system has evolved the ability to mount an inflammatory response to fix the problem so that we can live. So what happens with an inflammatory response whenever we have localised trauma or infection, the immune system releases chemicals which cause the blood vessels in the area to dilate so more blood can go to the area. That is why you see increased redness and feel increased warmth in the area.
The blood vessels get leaky so that cells that are coming in on that increased blood supply can get out of the blood vessels and fluid leaks out of the blood vessels at the same time, which is why the area swells up. The cells go around and there are macrophages that eat the bacteria or a virus causing the infection that eats the damaged tissue from the trauma.
Then there are other cells such as fibroblasts that come in and repair the damage that is done and then once it’s all fixed the inflammatory response settles down, and the swelling and the redness and the heat and the pain all goes away. So that’s an acute, localised, temporary response to the common things that used to kill us, infection and trauma.
In the last 100 years, we’ve controlled infection and trauma quite well. Trauma is not a big problem anymore. We don’t have tigers and dinosaurs, and we don’t have to go hunting for food, and we don’t have people with clubs and spears (inaudible) our cave, and we have occupational health and safety rules, and helmets and seat belts, so trauma is a relatively minor problem now.
For instance, heart attacks and strokes, cardiovascular diseases as a group, are the largest killer in western society, and they are all caused by chronic, low-grade, inflammatory damage to the blood vessels and this damage that’s happening via the blood vessels over decades. You don’t feel that happening. You don’t feel that until that blood vessel bursts or blocks, and you have your heart attack and stroke.
Similarly with cancers, a normal cell in your body doesn’t suddenly turn into cancer cell overnight. You have got to spend decades damaging the DNA and the epigenome switches around the DNA until that one particular cell now can reproduce itself in an uncontrollable manner, then you have your cancer. So there’re decades of damage done to the cell before it turns into a cancer cell.
Dementia, which is going to be one of the biggest killers in 40 years, it’s going to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest killer. When you are finished growing, you have about 86 billion brain cells, and we lose about 8,000 a day.
Now you can lose more than that, you can lose less than that, but if you have an accelerated rate of brain cell loss over your life, eventually, your brain gets so small and so less cognitive processing capacity that you can’t look after yourself anymore and at that stage we say you are a person with dementia, and 50% of 85-year-olds have dementia, but that didn’t happen between 84 and 85 years old, that was a 50 year process of going from 84 billion brain cells down to not enough to look after yourself anymore, and that’s all caused by neuro inflammation or inflammation in the brain that’s affecting brain cell health, how well I work, and killing off the brain cells and so on and so on for the other chronic degenerative diseases.
80-90% of people in the west now die of chronic degenerative diseases caused by chronic low-grade inflammation. The trick to having a long healthy life is to minimise the amount of inflammation that’s in your body over your lifespan. You do that two ways: you remove the triggers that are triggering off this inflammatory response that is supposed only to be there occasionally to deal with acute trauma and infections, and you dampen down whatever inflammation is there.
There are thousands of potential triggers that we are all exposed to, some more than others, depending on your lifestyle primarily and environmental habits. Potential triggers that set off inflammatory response is not enough sleep, too much sleep, not enough exercise, too much exercise, too much energy in your diet, not enough nutrition in your diet, too many chemicals in your air, your water, and your food.
The immune system triggers off the inflammatory response whenever it identifies foreign chemicals such as:
- Heavy metals
The immune system sees foreign chemicals as an infection, foreign invader or source of physical damage and trauma that needs repairing. Too much stress, not enough stress, all these lifestyle factors both how we live our life and where we live our life, these are the things that determine how much people die.
Most cancers, 80-90% are environmental, they are not genetic. Some people have genetic risk factors for different cancers, but 80% of cancers are not caused by inherited factors, they are caused by environmental factors, lifestyle factors that are based on how people live their lives. 80-90% of cancers are caused by environmental factors; these are all decisions we make through our life and so there are things that we do that we shouldn’t do or there are things we should do that we don’t do that protects us from the damage and inflammation that causes these chronic degenerative diseases.
Making decisions and identifying what are your triggers for setting off the inflammatory process in your body and there are triggers that everybody has in common. All the chemicals in the environment are triggers for everybody, but you might have particular food intolerances that set off the inflammatory process in you, or you might have intolerances for certain chemicals or heavy metals, because you have inherited genes that are not so effective at removing them from your body so they accumulate in your body more readily.
There are specific things that are sensitive and individualised, and there are things that affect everybody. You want to try to identify and remove all those triggers and then you want to also do some anti-inflammatory steps to minimise whatever inflammation is left over once you have optimised your triggers.
Things you can do to minimise inflammation in your body is to get adequate sleep, getting adequate exercise, not too much energy input, but lots of nutrition, antioxidants, phytonutrients in plants, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables. Vitamin D is a strong anti-inflammatory, the omega-3 fatty acids are especially the EPA in fish oil is a strong anti-inflammatory, Curcumin and the Indian spice turmeric is a strong anti-inflammatory, Silymarin is the active ingredient of a herb called milk thistle which has been used for thousands of years for liver support but it’s also a strong anti-inflammatory, especially for the brain. There are many other anti-inflammatory herbal phytonutrients and supplements you can have to support and minimise the amount of inflammation you have in your body over time.
Minimizing the amount of inflammation you have in the body is one of the best things you can do to not only have your body work well now, have your brain work now, your liver, your heart, your muscles, everything work well now so you feel and function optimally but it’s also a very powerful thing to maintain your health over the next decades of your life. Identifying the triggers and removing them and putting in the good stuff. It’s all about taking out the bad stuff and putting in the good stuff as they say. That’s what I think you need to know about inflammation.