Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or illness

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, July 21, 2016

You wouldn’t think that one of your body’s life-saving mechanisms could turn against you, and increase your chance for disease, but that’s exactly what happens with inflammation.

Just what is inflammation? Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or illness. It’s a process by which the body’s white blood cells and chemicals protect us from infection and foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. Inflammation is triggered by the body’s immune system and is designed to repair injured tissue and promote healing.

This all sounds really great, doesn’t it? There’s a problem though. When the immune system’s battle against injury or illness is over, inflammation is supposed to cease, but sometimes it doesn’t. When inflammation has no foreign enemy to fight off and continues, it causes damage to its own tissues. This is referred to as auto-immune disease.

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Low-grade inflammation can set in motion a series of developments that underlie a wide variety of diseases such as heart disease and stroke. It also appears that inflammation is the driving force behind arteriosclerosis in which plaque builds up in the walls of arteries thereby reducing blood flow.

It has been suggested that measuring blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, may be a way to assess a person’s risk for heart disease. One study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that high levels of CRP were associated with a 79 percent higher risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Other conditions thought to be facilitated by inflammation include rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, gouty arthritis, polymyalgia, rhueumatica, headaches, muscle stiffness, and loss of energy.

So now that we know what inflammation is, and what it does to our bodies, how do we deal with it?

First, lose weight. Excess weight can accentuate the risks of low-grade inflammation. There is a strong association between hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood cholesterol levels, and diabetes with regard to the integral role of fat cells.

In addition to losing weight, quitting smoking and participating in regular exercise play a huge role in reducing inflammation. Avoiding saturated fats, while consuming fruits, whole grains, richly colored vegetables, beans, seeds, and fish, are also associated with a reduction in low-grade inflammation.

Also, consuming omega 3 fatty acids reduces inflammation. Omega 3s are found in addition to supplement form, in fish like salmon, tuna and halibut. They are also found in nut oils, and some plants like flax. It’s important though to have a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 (another essential fatty acid) in your diet.

There are medications like statins, ACE inhibitors, and some diabetes drugs that are anti-inflammatory. There are also non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) but don’t take any medication without first checking with your doctor.

Using some of these steps will help to put out the fire from inflammation.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Upstate baseball team, the SC state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety instructor to the United States Marine Corps., lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught for four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.