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Inflammation: Why It's a Red Flag for Your Health

December 12, 2017
Published in: General, Mental Health, Nutrition

Woman giving medicine to a man laying in bed

Remember the last time you cut your finger or stubbed your toe? More than likely you noticed signs of inflammation as your body was healing. The redness, swelling, warmth, and stiffness you experience after an injury is your body's way of repairing the damage and warding off dangerous bacteria or viruses. Inflammation is a natural process that occurs when your white blood cells kick into high gear and produce substances to protect and heal the body.

A Closer Look at Chronic Inflammation

In some instances, the body can trigger inflammation incorrectly, resulting in damage to normal tissue. This is called systemic or low-grade inflammation. Autoimmune diseases like arthritis and lupus can occur when the body mistakenly attacks itself by misinterpreting healthy tissue as abnormal tissue. Chronic inflammation may also contribute to serious conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, bone disease, depression, and cancer. Researchers are still working to determine the long-term effect chronic inflammation can have on the body.

Signs and Symptoms

Young woman with a headache holding her headInflammation shows up in many different ways. Usually, only a few symptoms are present at once. Symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Swollen joints that are warm to the touch
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Loss of joint function
  • Shortness of breath (may indicate inflammation in the heart or lungs)
  • High blood pressure (may indicate inflammation of the kidneys)
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle stiffness

Interestingly, inflammation may also affect mental health. A recent study by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) measured brain inflammation in people that were clinically depressed. The results showed a 30% increase in inflammation in the brains of depressed patients in comparison to the control group. Although inflammation in the brain can be a protective measure, too much inflammation can be harmful. The link between inflammation and mental health could be an important insight in the pursuit of effective treatment.

Reducing Inflammation

closeup of blueberriesAlthough more research is needed to fully understand inflammation, there are simple things you can do to promote good health. Enjoying a diet full of anti-inflammatory food is a good place to start. Foods like refined carbohydrates (white bread and pastries), fried foods, soda, red meat, and margarine are thought to trigger inflammation. Instead, reach for anti-inflammatory foods like:

  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Garlic
  • Green Tea
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collards
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines
  • Fruits like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, pineapple

Exercise, staying hydrated, being smoke-free, and maintaining a healthy weight also helps fight inflammation.

Inflammation is both friend and foe. It can both heal and harm. It's important to keep a close eye on any unusual symptoms and consult with your doctor. A healthy lifestyle is your best defense to ward off harmful inflammation.