We hear a lot about “inflammation” nowadays, but what does it really mean?
Inflammation is the body’s natural response against harm. There are 2 types:
Acute inflammation occurs almost immediately when you bang your knee or cut your finger. It usually only lasts a short time. It’s a good thing because it’s your body’s way of healing itself, defending against viruses and bacteria, and repairing damaged tissue.
When you bang your knee, your body sends out cytokine proteins that act like emergency signals to get your immune cells, hormones, and nutrients in to fix the problem. White blood cells go into the injured area and eat up germs, dead or damaged cells, and any other outside crud.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells. The white blood cells swarm the injured area, but they don’t have anything to do, so they start attacking internal organs or other good tissues and cells.
It’s a long-term problem that can be caused by environment and poor lifestyle habits, including pollution, smoking, and an unhealthy diet.
How exactly? When you eat sugar, for example, it gloms onto fat and protein already in your body, creating a chemical reaction called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that damage those fat or protein cells. Your immune system rings that emergency signal (hello, cytokines!) to try to break those AGEs apart. The cytokines are looking for a problem like an injury or virus, but find nothing, since all you did was eat some sugar. But they are warriors who fight when called, so eventually they can start attacking good tissues and cells.
Unresolved chronic inflammation is what causes systemic, long-term diseases, including:
– Alzheimer’s disease
– Atherosclerosis (plaque that restricts blood flow)