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Inflammation is a reaction by your immune system to help your body heal from injury or to remove the presence of pathogenic microbes. Without inflammation, your health will simply fail because germs or viruses will overrun your healthy cells.5
Inflammation starts when your body releases cytokines that act as emergency signals, bringing nutrients, hormones and immune cells to the site of injury. To help facilitate this process, your arteries dilate and your capillaries become more permeable to allow the "repair" cells to access the injured area. From there, the immune system cells do their job until the problem is fixed.6
Inflammation may be caused by many different factors. Some of the most common examples include:
•Microbes — Organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi may cause various diseases that result in inflammation on the affected body part.
•Injuries — Inflammation may occur at the site of injury, such as when you cut your skin.
•Man-made objects — Exposure to chemicals may cause inflammation.
•Genes — In some cases, a person may have an autoimmune disease, causing a specific set of inflammatory symptoms.7
Eating too much junk and processed foods causes your health to suffer. Some of the most well-known culprits include:
•Sweets and sweetened beverages — Foods such as candy, soda, doughnuts and fruit juices, when regularly consumed in excess amounts, can increase the production of inflammatory markers in your system.8
•Vegetable oil — Cooking oils like soy, corn, sunflower and palm oil are high in omega-6, which is an inflammatory fatty acid.9
•Fried foods — Popular fast food meals such as French fries, fish sticks and onion rings are often cooked in vegetable oil and have been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer.10
•Wheat — Research has discovered that wheat contains specific proteins called amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) that can trigger inflammation related to chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.11,12 13,14
A little-known aspect about inflammation is that it is directly tied to your gut health. The gut is made of semi-permeable lining that fluctuates in response to outside stimuli. For example, if you're feeling stressed, cortisol levels may rise, causing the intestinal lining to become more permeable.
As the lining becomes damaged over time, harmful organisms such as viruses, yeast and bacteria can enter through the bloodstream and cause leaky gut syndrome. Your body has a harder time digesting your food, resulting in impaired absorption of essential nutrients.
Another major cause of inflammation is cigarette smoking. Each puff you take irritates your lungs, which can eventually trigger inflammation. If you already have lung problems, smoking cigarettes can worsen their symptoms. Chronic smoking may eventually cause lung cancer, as research has identified that smoking increases certain inflammation markers.15,16
Aside from smoking, chronic alcohol consumption has been closely associated with inflammation. Research indicates that in healthy people, your body helps keep lipopolysaccharide, a key inducer of inflammation, in check. However, alcohol consumption impairs multi-organ functions, which can disrupt health and lead to eventual systemic inflammation.17
Mental health and inflammation are actually closely associated with each other. In a study published in Orvosi Hetilap (Hungarian Medical Journal), researchers suggest that depression is often found alongside gastrointestinal inflammation and autoimmune diseases. They believe that it is due to a dysfunction in the "gut-brain axis."18
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammation?
Normal, healthy inflammation caused by an injury or bacterial infection usually presents the following symptoms in the affected area:19
•Loss of function
Not all of these five symptoms may appear when inflammation is present, however, as there are different diseases that may cause various combinations of symptoms. The following table outlines some of the most common inflammatory conditions that are not related to wounds:
•Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) — COPD is an inflammatory lung disease caused by chronic cigarette smoking. Over time, the smoke inhaled from cigarettes slowly irritates the lung linings, causing damage that may result in either bronchitis or emphysema.20COPD can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing that may produce mucus.21
•Osteoarthritis — This is a degenerative disease of the joints, normally caused by injury and overuse, being overweight or a genetic defect.22 This can affect joints in the hips, knees or lower back, making them sore and stiff. A clicking or cracking sound may occur when a joint bends, and pain may also appear at the end of the day.23
•Appendicitis — This is a painful swelling of the appendix, a small pouch that forms a part of the large intestine.24 The causes are not fully understood, but its symptoms are clear and immediately distinguishable. You may develop pain in the abdominal area, as well as diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite and nausea.25
•Gout — A condition that causes intense pain on the joint in the big toe due to the buildup of excess uric acid in the bloodstream. Swelling and redness may also appear on the affected area. Gout can affect the ankles, knees, elbows, wrists or fingers as well.26
In some cases, your immune system can mistake your own cells as foreign bodies, causing damage to your body. These are classified as autoimmune diseases. Common examples include:
•Lupus — This autoimmune condition can affect any part of your body. As such, its symptoms can range anywhere from fatigue, malar rash and joint pain. In addition, patients who suffer from lupus may develop unexplained fevers.27
•Rheumatoid arthritis — When your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints, you develop a condition known as rheumatoid arthritis.28
The most distinguishable symptoms are joint pain accompanied with tenderness and swelling. In some cases, more than one joint may be affected.29
•Asthma — A chronic disease that causes inflammation in the airways. This often leads to its well-documented symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.30
•Allergies — These can be summarized as an overreaction of your immune system to outside stimuli, such as pollen, food and dust mites This can cause a diverse range of symptoms, such as a runny nose, rashes, sneezing, asthma or rashes.31
•Multiple sclerosis — In multiple sclerosis, the fatty substance surrounding and insulating the nerve fibers, myelin, is attacked by your immune system.32
As a result, symptoms involve loss of muscle control, such as spasticity, walking difficulties, bladder problems and vision problems. Fatigue, numbness and weakness may also occur.33
•Psoriasis — A skin condition that causes skin cells to grow quickly, which results in scaly and inflamed patches.34
Common symptoms of psoriasis include red patches that are raised while covered with a white layer of dead skin cells. Small, dot-like lesions are also classic indicators.35
The 2 Types of Inflammation That May Appear
Inflammation may come in two forms: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the initial response of the immune system, which appears in a few minutes and can last up to a few days. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs when the symptoms recur after months or even years.36
The main immune cells responsible for acute inflammation are neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. These are the first cells to travel to the area of infection and help with healing by consuming microbes.37
Once acute inflammation sets in, the affected tissue regenerates via scarring or fibrosis. In some cases (depending on the disease), pus may form, a substance that contains neutrophils and liquefied necrotic tissue. If the underlying cause of acute inflammation is not resolved, it can progress into chronic inflammation.38
In chronic inflammation, the problems may last anywhere between weeks to months, and sometimes even years.39 It is usually caused by a persistent infection, such as viral exposure. In some cases, chronic inflammation is caused by an autoimmune disease. Long-term exposure from chemical agents can also cause chronic inflammation.40
The main immune system cells involved in chronic inflammation are macrophages, lymphocytes and plasma cells.41 Macrophages are responsible for detecting and destroying pathogens in your system. It also signals the rest of your immune system (the T- and B-lymphocytes) that foreign contaminants are present in your body, traveling to the site of infection to hasten the elimination.42
Lymphocytes, on the other hand, are white blood cells classified into two types: T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes. The role of the former is to help the body fight off infections,43 while the latter is responsible for producing antibodies.44
That being said, there are many other inflammatory diseases that may occur apart from the ones mentioned earlier, such as:
•Uveitis — This condition is essentially eye inflammation , which may lead to visual complications such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular edema (buildup of fluid in the macula).45,46
•Otitis — An ear inflammation disease that causes buildup of fluid behind the eardrum, causing earache, slight hearing loss and high fever.47
•Costochondritis — A condition that causes chest inflammation in the area where the upper ribs meet the cartilage that holds the sternum.48
•Tonsillitis — People who develop tonsillitis experience tonsil inflammation, which are lumps of tissue located at the back of the throat and form a part of the lymphatic system.49
•Encephalitis — Potentially life-threatening, this disease is characterized by brain inflammation caused by the herpes simplex virus, the measles virus or the chickenpox virus. Symptoms include headache, fever, drowsiness, speech problems and seizures.50
Effective Home Remedies for Inflammation
Treating inflammation is possible through simple lifestyle changes. The following natural home remedies for inflammation may not seem impressive at first, but they can be effective tools for safeguarding your health.
The amount of sleep you get plays a big role in the management of inflammation. In a study published in Best Practice & Research: Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, sleep loss has been found to increase inflammation mediators that are otherwise seen in healthy individuals. While the changes are small at first, chronic sleep loss may eventually lead to the development of metabolic syndrome disease.51
In the same manner, too much sleep can also increase inflammatory markers,52 so striking a balance is essential for optimal health. Ideally, adults should get around seven to nine hours of sleep. If you're having trouble achieving this number, here are some tips that may help you sleep better:
•Sleep in complete darkness — Get rid of every source of light in your room when you sleep, such as night lights and your digital clock. The tiniest glimmer of light may block your serotonin and melatonin production, which can disrupt your sleep cycle. You can use blackout shades for your windows. If this is not possible, an eye mask can help.
•Go to sleep between 9 and 10 p.m. — Try your best to be asleep as early as possible because your body does the majority of its recharging between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Furthermore, your gallbladder removes toxins during this period, and if you're awake during this time, the toxins can go back up into the liver and create health problems down the line.
•Establish a pre-bedtime routine — Cultivate practices that will allow you to fall asleep easier such as practicing meditation, deep breathing or inhaling essential oils. Try various methods to help you feel relaxed so you can get to sleep quicker.
•Avoid caffeine — Caffeinated drinks like coffee help boost your mood and energy, so avoid them during bedtime.
•Do not watch television before sleeping — It can stimulate the brain, preventing you from falling asleep at your intended time.If possible, remove the television from your bedroom.
Getting regular exercise can help boost your health in many ways, such as reducing your risk of chronic diseases, helping you shed excess weight and boosting cognitive function.53 But did you know that exercising may also help improve sleep quality?
One study published in Nature and Science of Sleep suggests that exercise can reduce feelings of stress, which may directly lead to improved sleep quality and overall health.54 This information may benefit those who are suffering from insomnia, as exercising has been reported to help enhance overall sleep quality.55
Aromatherapy is the practice of utilizing essential oils distilled from plants to help improve your mood and overall well-being. This tradition has a rich history going back to ancient cultures, and it strongly continues today.56 Currently, there are four main methods to using essential oils:57
•Diffuser — A few drops of essential oil, along with water, are placed in this machine to help the scent evaporate through the air easily.
•Dry evaporation — This method is more direct, and is enacted by pouring a few drops of an essential oil into a cotton ball, then sniffing it.
•Steam — This approach may work for those who do not have diffusers. It is done by placing a couple of drops of essential oil into a bowl of hot, steaming water, allowing the scent to evaporate. Be warned that this method may be potent, so use one or two drops of the oil only, and children under the age of 7 should not try it.
•Spray — Mixing an essential oil and water inside a spray bottle can help spread the scent or create a mood in a room.
An Effective Diet Can Reduce Inflammation
Another important natural remedy that can help fight inflammation is a healthy diet. When you eat unhealthy foods, you can wreck your health and cause a host of problems to appear. Conversely, eating healthy can help fight and reverse common inflammatory conditions. Try incorporating the following foods into your diet regularly:
•Tomatoes — They contain various compounds that may benefit your health, particularly lycopene. It has been studied extensively for its health benefits, and research indicates that lycopene may help inhibit inflammation related to various cancers,58 as well as cardiovascular disease.59
•Berries — They may be small, but they pack a powerful punch of antioxidants that may help fight inflammation. They're known for their anthocyanin content, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory characteristics.60
In a supporting study, blueberry consumption helped raise anti-inflammatory cytokines in human test subjects.61
•Fatty fish — Wild-caught salmon, sardines and anchovies contain generous amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to have effective inflammation-fighting properties.62
Studies have found that omega-3 consumption may help fight obesity-related inflammation,63 as well as reducing as reducing the production of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), an inflammatory marker.64,65
•Broccoli — This vegetable belongs to the cruciferous family, which includes other nutritious members such as cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale.
They are highly regarded for their antioxidants that may benefit your health. Broccoli, in particular, is rich in sulforaphane that may help fight against oxidative stress.66
•Avocados — Well-known for their diverse mix of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats, avocados contain carotenoids that may help lower NF-kappa B, a known inflammatory pathway.67
•Peppers — Bell peppers and chili peppers are rich in various antioxidants that may help ward off inflammation.
In one study, bell peppers were discovered to contain phenolic compounds and flavonoids that had anti-inflammatory effects in carrageenan-induced pleurisy in mice.68 Chili peppers also contain capsaicin, which has been studied and discovered to help ease inflammation. Researchers learned that capsaicin works by inhibiting specific target pathways of inflammation.69
•Grapes — These small and succulent fruits are rich in anthocyanins, which are a type of antioxidant that may help reduce inflammation.
In a study in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, researchers note that grapes contain stilbene compounds, which are natural antioxidants found in grapes that may help protect against oxidative stress and aging-related diseases.70
•Dark chocolate — Real, organic dark chocolate is rich in various compounds that may help fight inflammation. Research suggests that flavonols found in dark chocolate may help modulate inflammatory markers related to atherosclerosis.71
Eating unhealthy foods can cause inflammation, especially when consumed in excess amounts. Over time, your health may suffer and you may have a hard time getting back on track to optimal health. Avoiding these foods can go a long way in helping prevent unwanted chronic inflammation:
•Sugar — This is one of the biggest culprits of chronic inflammation. According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, sugar consumption increased the levels of inflammatory markers among test subjects.72 In another study, researchers suggest that sugar intake activates the innate immune system as a response to the higher production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.73
•Trans fat — Foods cooked in trans fat vegetable oils such as soy, corn, sunflower and palm oil contain high amounts of omega-6. According to the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, which may increase your risk of chronic inflammatory diseases in the long run.74
•Fried foods — Aside from being high in omega-6, unhealthy fried foods such as French fries, fish sticks and onion rings contain advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
These substances are known to increase oxidative stress in your system, leading to inflammation in the long run.75
•Artificial sweeteners — The main ingredients used in artificial sweeteners, particularly sucralose, have been linked with altered gut microbiome that can result in inflammation. Researchers have found that sucralose enriched bacterial pro-inflammatory genes that may lead to eventual tissue inflammation.76
•Refined grains — In one study, the consumption of refined grains has been associated with increased plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) and C-reactive protein (CRP), which are inflammatory markers.77
•Red meat — Excess consumption of red meat may increase your risk of developing chronic inflammation. As evidenced in one study, higher consumption of red meat was associated with an increased chance of developing diverticulitis. However, substituting at least one serving of red meat with fish or poultry helped lower the risk.78
Supplements That May Help Manage Inflammation
If a healthy diet is not helping you meet your health goals, you may try dietary supplements. There are many supplements sold in the market today, so it's important to be selective about which product you choose. Select supplements made from natural sources to help minimize possible side effects and health complications. Some of the best you can choose from are:
•Pycnogenol — This supplement is derived from the bark of the maritime pine tree (Pinus pinaster).79 Research has shown that it may help manage inflammatory conditions, particularly asthma. In a study published in The Journal of Asthma, pycnogenol supplementation helped asthmatic patients reduce their dependency on inhalers for respiratory treatment.80
•Krill oil — As the name implies, krill oil is a supplement made from krill harvested from the ocean. Similar to fatty fish, krill oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids