The Inflammatory System

Inflammation is a hot topic right now, but only one aspect of this complex phenomenon—chronic inflammation—is usually discussed. Today I want to share a little more about inflammation, and hopefully give you a better understand of the amazing thing that inflammation is. That’s right, I said amazing! Although chronic inflammation is getting all the press right now, without inflammation in our bodies, we would be sick, injured and maybe even dead!

Inflammation is the body’s way to protect us from invasion, and heal damage that occurs in our bodies. This damage happens constantly… it’s not just something that happens when we twist our ankle or get stung by a bee.

Inflammation is the body’s response to anything that damages our bodies, inside or out. Some of the triggers for inflammation are infection, mechanical damage (injury), oxygen deprivation, nutrient deprivation, genetic or immune defects, inflammatory foods such as sugar and grains, chemical agents, temperature extremes, and ionizing radiation (including free radical damage). These types of damages happen on a very regular basis, some of them even as byproducts of healthy metabolism. After damage happens, inflammation is what cleans up the mess. There are various responses and branches of the inflammatory system, and each of these serve a purpose. You can watch more about this in the video below.

As you can see, inflammation is good—if it’s the right kind! It cleans up messes, heals damage, fights off infection, and keeps our body in repair. The problem comes when inflammation becomes chronic.

There are a few main reasons why inflammation changes from something helpful, to something that causes problems.

First, an unhealthy or overwhelmed immune system can initiate or continue the inflammatory process when it’s not actually needed. To fix this we need to provide support and direction to the immune system by eating the right nutrients, and providing an environment for good gut flora (which communicate with our immune system) to flourish.

Second, if the stimulus (damage) is constant, then the need to activate the inflammatory system will be constant. To correct this we need to find the source of the inflammatory stimulus and stop it! This may mean doing things like cutting out sugar, gently detox your body, or increasing the nutrition you eat in your diet.

Thirdly, inflammation can become chronic if the process is stopped too early. If we intervene with non-natural ways (such as antihistamines or steroids) that force a certain effect on the body, we may be inhibiting the very thing that turns inflammation back off when it’s not longer needed to repair or protect.  This can be seen if we look at histamine receptors. When histamine is produced, it goes to different cells and binds to histamine receptors. The type of receptor determines the effect. H1 receptors are generally pro-inflammatory, meaning their effect is what turns on the inflammation. H2 receptors are generally anti-inflammatory, and are what tell inflammation to turn back off. If we block histamine from being released, we may be blocking the signal for the inflammation to stop!

That being said, I am thankful that we have medications at certain times. If someone is not able to function in his or her life, or if they are in danger from an allergic reaction, it is appropriate and necessary to take medications. But if you want to have a healthy body, medications are never a long-term solution. You have to address the root!

What do you think? The inflammatory system is pretty amazing, isn’t it! Take a minute to reflect on the amazing and complex system that is inside you, working full time to keep your body repaired and safe.

We only scratched the surface of this amazing process today.

Do you have questions about it? Leave a comment below.


Citation: McCance, K., Huether, S. (2006). Pathophysiology: The Biological Basis for Disease in Adult and Children (5th ed.) (pp. 177-193). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

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