Inflammation is a reaction of the immune system that fights invaders and repairs the damages. Medically, they are the diseases in “itis”. For example “arthritis” means inflammation of the joints (from the Greek arthron : articulation and Latin itis : inflammation).
We can often read here and there that we must reduce inflammations… So, is it always a bad thing ? !
Acute inflammation is a phenomenon that usually lasts only a few days or a few weeks top. The body feels attacked or vulnerable and reacts by triggering a mechanism of protection and repair.
Inflammation is characterized by the following elements :
- Pain (which seems to pulse)
- Swelling / edema
The impaired functioning of the affected organ is also possible : an inflamed joint may show difficulty movements.
Acute inflammation can be triggered by :
- a cut
- a clash
- a burn
- a muscle injury
- the presence of foreign bodies (like a splinter)
- the presence of agents considered pathogenic (eg an allergy, a transplant)
- the presence of visitors :
- Processed food
- Dairy products
Yes, that’s a lot ! It is a very common mechanism and it’s usually very effective.
The intestines is a place where many inflammations can occur. Meat, for example, is one of the foods that contains the most pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.). The inflammatory reaction takes place to protect the body against this actual danger. It can last up to a few hours after the meal.
But it is also possible that the intestines mistakenly considers a food as pathogenic : wheat, dairy products, nuts, eggs… Whether it is an allergy or an intolerance, the inflammatory mechanism gets triggered. And most of the time, we have no idea that it is happening. (well, for allergies, you can’t miss it !)
Inflammation is a chronological mechanism.
If there is bleeding, the priority is to stop it : the vessels will then contract to limit the leakage, and fill the holes with cells called platelets.
The damaged cells will then release pro-inflammatory substances (histamines, proinflammatory cytokines and others) in order to, among other things, widen the blood vessels (vasodilatation). This will increase the blood and lymphatic flow in the inflamed area, causing redness, warmth and swelling.
The swelling compresses the nerve endings. Adding the local release of prostaglandins (which increase sensitivity), this causes pain .
Then, some of the pro-inflammatory substances that have been released by the damaged cells will travel in the blood vessels and call the cavalry. Neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) and macrophages consequently arrive to help and clean the infected area.
The phenomenon of inflammation is not supposed to last. Chronic inflammation therefore corresponds to failure and/or deregulation of acute inflammation. It becomes chronic if it continues after several days or weeks (it can last for years). If it lasts for too long, it becomes harmful to the body, causing anatomical and functional sequels.
Chronic inflammation can be localized or distributed throughout the body (systemic). Since the reaction is mainly internal, you will not be able to see the symptoms as easily as for acute inflammation. Sometimes the temperature of the body rises a few tenths of a degree (Celsius), but that’s usually all.
Having no symptoms makes this pathology difficult to detect. It is quite possible to undergo chronic inflammation for several years, without even realizing it ! On the other hand, at the medical level, the diagnosis is easy : a blood test makes it possible to detect the presence of pro-inflammatory mediators (but still, you need to be looking for them in the first place…)
Slight symptoms can, however, draw attention :
- Sensation of heat (the temperature of the body can increase by a few tenths of a Celsius degree)
- Increased heart rate
- Tiredness / Fatigue
- Problems in joints (stiffness, pain, deformity)
- Not feeling so good without knowing why
- Painful intestines
If the symptoms are often invisible, the consequences, on the other side, can wreak havoc ! But let’s keep that for later, and let’s see the causes first.
Chronic inflammation occurs, for example, when the body responds to a threat with inflammation, but it just doesn’t work. Or, that answer is out of proportions. or, inflammation cannot reach the right target. Basically, we don’t always know why it’s there, but we could say that the body might have made a mistake somewhere …
It is also possible that the threat is real, and the answer is adapted, but it just never ends. Or sometimes, the threat is eradicated but the inflammation seems to continue for no apparent reason.
The intestine is not failproof, and sometimes it’s wrong to consider that a usually healthy food is a danger. If this happens often, then the inflammation becomes chronic. And most of the time, we don’t even realize it !
There are many possible causes :
- Autoimmune disease (lupus, Crohn’s disease, etc.)
- Toxic agents (not alive)
- Overweight (fat cells contribute to inflammation)
- The origin is even sometimes idiopathic (which is a nice word to say that we do not know)
The basic mechanism is similar to acute inflammation. However, there is no chronology : all the phenomena occur permanently – release of pro-inflammatory mediators, dilation of the vessels, search for pathogens, reconstruction…
Here are some distinctions and specificities of chronic inflammation :
- for chronic inflammation, macrophages are in greater numbers (it is white blood cells for acute inflammation)
- the involved white blood cells are different : instead of neutrophils, lymphocytes, they are now lymphocytes and plasmocytes (especially if the cause is autoimmune)
- the connective tissue (the tissues that connect between different organs, and which surrounds the central nervous system) is locally destroyed and replaced with a fibro-inflammatory tissue, rich in collagen. Indeed, macrophages, in excess, seek for a job all costs. When they can’t find anything, they sometimes attack healthy tissues.
- The damaged and then repaired tissues do not have the same properties as before (more fibrous, less efficient)
It’s this inflammatory reaction that goes along with many major chronic diseases. The chronicity of inflammation and its location to several organs is at the origin of the concept of systemic diseases, in which autoimmunity plays an important role in feeding the inflammation : systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, Gougerot-Sjögren’s disease, Crohn’s disease…
Chronic inflammation may cause many dysfunctions :
- Acceleration of aging
- Brain fog (attention disorders, the memory and focus issues…)
- Decrease in libido
It isn’t always clear if the inflammation causes the disease or if it is the other way around. Anyway, all the following diseases seem to come along with an inflammatory problem :
- Autoimmune diseases
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Diseases of the skin
- Cardio-vascular diseases
- Nephritis (inflammation of the kidney)
- Hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
- Arthritis (inflammation of the joints)
- Chronic disease of the lower respiratory tract (lungs)
- Lyme Disease / Borrelioses
If it’s just an acute inflammation, shutting it off would be like stopping your army from defending yourself… So, just let the body do it’s job !
On the other hand, chronic inflammation means that our body has failed somewhere and that it refuses to admit that it just doesn’t work. It keeps on using a solution that is apparently not appropriate to the situation (even if it was right in the first place, it’s obviously not appropriate anymore). This phenomenon silently begins destroying us from inside, with disastrous consequences in the long run.
So chronic inflammation is never a good thing, and you have to protect yourself from it. Be careful though : if it’s the diet that causes chronic inflammation, the only way to fix it is avoiding those trigger foods ! (At least until the intestine is repaired) Don’t go and think that anti-inflammatories are the only way out !
As for me, I often have sore bowels and consequently suspect inflammation ! And you ? Do you think you suffer from chronic inflammation too ? Leave me a note in the comments.