Is inflammation good or bad?
You’ve probably heard that inflammation is the cause of many degenerative diseases. From hay fever and arthritis to cancer, inflammation is certainly involved, and can cause long-term changes to tissue that lead to disease. Inflammation is also how our bodies heal and fight off infection, so what’s the deal? Well, inflammation isn’t the *cause* of anything… it’s merely a tool that can be used to either build or destroy. When any tool is wielded improperly it can be destructive, so perhaps we just need to learn how to use inflammation properly. To do so, we first need to talk about what inflammation really is.
What is Inflammation
Inflammation is classically described as “Heat, Pain, Redness, and Swelling” (or Calor, Dolor, Rubor, and Tumor for those enthusiasts among you).
So let’s say you bump your knee, your body uses:
- Heat to increase the activity of the tissue you’ve injured;
- Pain to prevent you from further injuring the area that’s trying to heal;
- Redness as a result of increased blood flow, which increases the amount of oxygen/nutrition being delivered to the tissue;
- And swelling to both allow the immune and lymph system to clear out waste and to restrict movement a bit.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well that’s a healthy, acute healing response. If these things were still happening a month later, as if the tissue wasn’t healing quickly enough, the inflammation would become chronic –and frankly, not very nice to live with.
What is Chronic Inflammation
So what’s the deal with Chronic Inflammation? Why does it happen? Well, it usually occurs when the injured tissue isn’t able to properly heal – which can be caused by constant re-injury/strain or suppressed Acute Inflammation. When Acute Inflammation isn’t able to properly do its job it just smoulders like a junk-fire that never takes off –it should be blazing hot and short lived, ideally.
The two most common things that suppress Acute Inflammation are Stress (cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory) and, no surprise, Anti-Inflammatories.
When we injure ourselves and are in pain, it’s natural to want to take an anti-inflammatory so we feel better. However, every time we do this it’s like throwing water on that junk-fire. How will we clear up the junk if we don’t have a blazing fire? There’s certainly a time and place for pain killers, like when you *need* to be active. You also *need* to heal, so it’s a matter of choosing what’s most important for you.
What you should do if you think you have inflammation.
Inflammation isn’t bad, but it can be.
Chronic inflammation can cause long-term degenerative changes that can lead to disease. Acute inflammation is a healing process.
Basically, supporting acute inflammation as best you can so that healing occurs properly is your best bet at preventing chronic inflammation!
So there you have it – some general guidelines. Remember there are always exceptions to these rules, so it’s best to have a professional’s opinion regarding the matter if there’s any doubt. Naturopathic medicine is effective at managing inflammation, so don’t be afraid to book in with us at True Potential Health Services in Saskatoon if you’re having trouble!
By: Dr. Kahlen Pihowich, ND