Ana Theresa Williams BSN RN
We learned in nursing that inflammation comes from the Latin word “set afire.” In some conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, you feel heat, pain, redness, and swelling. But in other cases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes mellitus it’s not so obvious. If you didn’t go looking for it with tests, you wouldn’t even know it’s there.
It’s not always bad. Inflammation actually is good in the short run. It’s part of your immune system’s natural response to heal an injury or fight an infection. It’s supposed to stop after that. But if it becomes a long-lasting habit in your body, that can be bad for you. Long-term, or “chronic,” inflammation is seen in many diseases and conditions.
Inflamed arteries are common among people with heart disease. Some researchers think that when fats build up in the walls of the heart’s coronary arteries, the body fires back with inflammatory chemicals, since it sees this as an “injury” to the heart. That could trigger a blood clot that causes a heart attack or stroke.
Diabetes connection. Inflammation and type 2 diabetes are linked. Doctors don’t know yet if it causes the disease. Some experts say obesity triggers the inflammation, which makes it harder for the body to use insulin. That may be one reason why losing extra pounds and keeping them off is a key step to lower your chance of getting type 2 diabetes.
Tied to Alzheimer’s. Chronic brain inflammation is often seen in people with this type of dementia. Scientists don’t yet understand exactly how that works, but inflammation may play an active role in the disease. Experts are studying whether anti-inflammatory medicine will curb Alzheimer’s. So far, the results are mixed.
It can hurt your gut. Chronic inflammation is tied to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which are types of inflammatory bowel disease. It happens when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy bacteria in your gut, and causes inflammation that sticks around. You could have symptoms such as belly pain, cramping, and diarrhea.
In RA, it does damage. What many people think of as “arthritis” is osteoarthritis, in which the tissue that cushions, joints, cartilage, breaks down, particularly as people age. Rheumatoid arthritis is different. In RA, the immune system attacks your body’s joints, causing inflammation that can harm them — and even the heart. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and red, warm, swollen joints.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that can cause pain, tenderness, and fatigue, but not because of inflammation. Unlike in RA, inflammation doesn’t attack the joints in fibromyalgia. Someone who has fibro could have inflammation in their body from another illness. But it’s not driving their fibro.
Sometimes inflammation strikes suddenly when your body is fighting an infection. Maybe it’s cellulitis, a skin infection, or appendicitis, which affects your appendix. You’ll need to see your doctor to get the right treatment quickly.
The types of food you eat affect how much inflammation you have. Get plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plant-based proteins like beans and nuts, fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna and sardines, and healthier oils like olive oil. Also eat foods with probiotics like yogurt but check that it doesn’t have too much sugar. Limit saturated fats, found in meats, whole-fat dairy products, and processed foods.
Stay active. Even if you have a condition like RA, in which inflammation is a problem, exercise is still good for you. If you make it a habit, it pays off in many ways. For instance, it helps you stick to a healthy weight, which is another good way to keep inflammation in check. Ask your doctor what types of activities are best for you.
Get some sleep! Mom was right: You need to get your rest. Research shows that when healthy people are sleep-deprived, they have more inflammation. Exactly how that works isn’t clear, but it may be related to metabolism. It’s one more reason to make sleep a priority!
Smoking makes it worse. Lighting up is a sure-fire way to raise inflammation. Like most people who try to kick the habit, it may take you several tries before you quit for good but keep trying! Tell your doctor it’s a goal and ask for her or his advice.
HEALTHWATCHING: Call unto Me and I will answer you and show unto you great and mighty things which you still don’t know. Jeremiah 33:3