By Dr. Michael Miles
Special to the Crier
Inflammation describes what takes place when the body responds to a problem area within itself. The hallmarks of inflammation include redness, swelling, heat, immobility and pain.
These hallmarks are the result of an influx of blood to the area. The body is making an effort to clear up the problem by sending in additional amounts of blood that carries with it a variety of helpful components. It will carry in antibiotics and other immune components to help fight an infection if one exists. It will carry in components to repair any tissue that’s been damaged. It will set up conditions for removing debris and other foreign objects, as well as for diluting any chemical irritants.
You can see that inflammation is a beneficial response to many problematic conditions. Unfortunately, the swollen tissues of inflammation can also precipitate problems of their own.
The inflammatory response can be short lived (acute) or long term (chronic). Short lived responses are often seen with traumatic injuries or exposure to toxins. This can be a beneficial response that may not be too annoying and might best be left to it’s own. The stiffness that results from inflammation can be viewed as the body’s way of immobilizing an area to facilitate healing (much like a cast or a brace).
Chronic inflammation on the other hand can be a bit less tolerable and certainly more concerning.
Some common locations for long term inflammation include the mucous membranes of the nasal passageways, the intestines, blood vessels, joints, gums.
Nasal passageways are the primary area of inflammation during allergy season. This can set up a vicious cycle where the inflamed tissue caused by a histamine release widens the gap in the cells of the mucous membrane thus allowing other pollens to enter that trigger the immune system to make new antibodies. These new antibodies then respond to their particular pollens and cause more histamine release and more inflammation.
Intestinal inflammation is associated with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis. Sometimes antibiotic use can disrupt the normal intestinal flora (bacteria) enough to cause inflammation and precipitate opportunistic infections. Swollen tissues in the intestines can predispose someone to developing allergies by setting up a leaky gut syndrome. The tissue can also become overly pliable and develop polyps or diverticuli.
Swollen tissue in general becomes more friable (easy to bruise and bleed). Tissue like this can injure easily and are more prone to becoming cancerous.
Prolonged inflamed tissued in the blood vessels can facilitate hardening of the arteries by allowing cholesterol and other fat to dig into them.
Inflamed joints can be related to overuse or the breakdown of cartilage or an autoimmune condition misguidedly attacking various tissues.
Inflammation of the gums is associated with periodontal disease. If the tissue loses enough structure, the teeth will not be anchored well enough and may fall out.
Once the cause of inflammation is determined and it is ascertained that prolonged inflammation is not beneficial, anti-inflammatory methods can be employed to relieve the pain and immobility associated with it.
There are various drugs on the market that relieve inflammation – the most common of which would be ibuprofen. Some foods are anti-inflammatory, while others contribute to inflammation. There are many herbs that are anti-inflammatory. In more severe cases steroids can be used to shut down the defense response of the body which is causing the influx of blood.
Inflammation is another situation where a normal biological response can become a health risk itself if its causes are not adequately addressed. Moral of the story: always listen to your body.