What is Inflammation?
I’ll often talk about inflammation when I’m working with patients. Many patients ask me what I mean when I say “inflammation”. The classic signs of inflammation are redness, swelling, heat and pain. When people think about inflammation, they think of a red, hot and swollen ankle from an injury or a painful and red finger that has a splinter. But there are many instances when we don’t see inflammation in the obvious ways. For example, inflammation has been associated with chronic conditions like heart disease, endometriosis, obesity and even anxiety or depression.
Inflammation is one way your body responds to threats. When a virus attacks your throat, your immune system revs up and the inflammation response kicks in. Your body sends out specials cells and chemicals to target and destroy the threat (in this case, the virus). This shows up as swollen tonsils and a red and painful throat. If the immune system is your body’s army, inflammation is its attack strategy. A similar inflammatory process happens in chronic conditions.
When you’re constantly exposed to things like stressful situations, lack of sleep and a poor diet, your body can see all of this as a threat – just like how it sees a virus as a threat. The inflammation response I mentioned above kicks in. But this time, there is no specific virus or splinter to target. This is when we see things like inflammation affecting arteries and contributing to heart disease or inflammation affecting the brain and contributing to anxiety and depression.
If you can’t quite understand what components are involved in inflammation, think back to your Magic School Bus days (if you ever watched that show) and you’ll get a pretty good visual of inflammation. Inflammation involves different cells from your immune system as well as chemicals. White blood cells like macrophages and chemicals like TNF-a and interleukins seek to target and destroy threats in our bodies (which is a good thing). But sometimes they attack things that shouldn’t be attacked and that’s when inflammation can cause problems.
Reducing problematic inflammation is one important way that I treat many chronic health conditions.
Dr. Samantha Dass is currently a naturopathic doctor working at Holland Landing Health Centre in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, which services Holland Landing, Newmarket, Aurora, Keswick and Bradford areas. If you are interested in naturopathic services please contact Holland Landing Health Centre at 905-853-7900 or via e-mail at [email protected]