What Is Inflammation? A Simple Guide
Inflammation is a process involving the body’s white blood cells and chemicals which work to help the body sustain injury, repair damaged tissue and protect us from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses.
We need it to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury and to get rid of dead cells that occur from injury. This is achieved through diluting, destroying or neutralizing harmful agents. This sets the stage for healing and reconstruction of injury sites.
This video explains what is inflammation well:
You can also visit WebMD for their interpretation on What Is Inflammation
Types of inflammation are:
• Acute – an immediate non specific response to inflammation via injury of short duration. Focus to remove injurious agent and limit tissue damage. ie: ankle sprain. Cardinal signs are redness, swollen join that is warm to touch, joint pain, joint stiffness, loss of joint function. Can lead to exudate (scab formation). Process involves several stages working with blood vessels, capillaries, tissues and immune cells.
• Chronic – can last two weeks, months or years. Can lead to scarring, deformity, ulceration. Occurs due to recurrent, progressive acute inflammation or failed responses to acute responses. Causes foreign bodies, asbestos, viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites.
Both can include fever, skeletal muscle catabolism (muscle wasting), fever, fatigue/low energy, headaches, loss of appetite, muscle stiffness, increased white blood cells, swollen lymph nodes.
Inflammatory events involve different stages:
Tissue repair has to take place so injured cells are replaced with new cells or tissue (latter leaves a scar). Also involves smooth muscle and blood vessel input.
Another stage known as wound healing needs chemical mediators and growth factors. The inflammatory phase occurs at the time of injury, followed by the proliferative phase which occurs 2-3 days after injury and involves re-building new tissue and remodelling, 3 weeks after this (roughly) involves remodelling of scar tissue.
There is usually less strength in the area, which can be problematic in areas like joints as this can limited movement and cause deformities. Wound healing can be effected my malnutrition, blood flow and oxygen delivery and age.
This video here shows the inflammatory response
We cannot talk about inflammation without mentioning the immune system as this helps explain what is inflammation caused by:
• Your immune system is spread out over your entire body. It’s not an organ or any kind of stationary mass. It has many different kinds of cells, each with its own job to do. These cells come from your bone marrow. Large numbers of cells are found in the lymph system and its organs (ie: thymus, spleen, bone marrow, tonsils, appendix and lymph tissue in the respiratory, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems).
• Some cells get special training to understand their job and they get this in the thymus gland. Some are “born” knowing what to do. The cells make a choice about what kind of immune cells they’re going to be when they “grow up” however no one seems to have a “for sure” idea about how they do that. There are many other associated immune factors as well. It’s a complicated system and one that the most advanced researchers still don’t fully understand.
• There are lots of different immune cells and they’re dependent on one another to work because they have different jobs to do. Examples include:
- Natural Killer cell (kill viruses and cancer cells). They know what to do and they just do it, if all is well.
- T-cells – more deadly in their power but are slower to react and need help in identifying who and where in your body the problem might be. They need other special cells that “help” them.
- Macrophages kill bacteria and cleans up any kind of “garbage” it comes across. It’s a good “siren” for danger as well. If there’s not something serious going on, it spends a lot of time just ambling through your body gobbling up whatever “foreign thing” it bumps into.
• Cells depend on each other through communication as they are all so spread out. That us communication molecules called cytokines which are little hormone proteins and tell immune cells to grow in number, where the action is and when then enemy is destroyed.
• The immune system has 2 defence mechanisms, the innate and adaptive immune responses. We are born with innate which gives resistance via physical, chemical or cellular approaches.
For example, the skin barrier, the lining in the GI system. It helps prevent colonization, entry and spread of microbes and pathogens. The adaptive response is our 2nd line of defence and specifically focuses on recognition and response to each unique form of foreign invader. Response can occur via blood or specific cell types.
I love this video on innate and adaptive response
When the immune system turns bad
This system can be inadequate, inappropriate or misdirected causing debilitating or life threatening illness.
The body’s defence system (immune system) inappropriately triggers an inflammatory response where there are no foreign substances to flight off. In these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues. The body responds as if normal tissues are infected or somehow abnormal.
Examples include arthritis, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease.
When inflammation occurs normally, chemicals from the body’s white blood cells are released to protect us from foreign substances. Sometimes, however, the white blood cells and their inflammatory chemicals cause damage to the body’s tissues.
This is seen in hypersensitivity disorders divided into 4 classes involving specific antibody and immune cell responses and correlated symptoms. Type 1 reactions are immediate allergic reactions (ie: protein, dust, animal dander, foods) via inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. Examples are asthma, anaphylaxis, seasonal rhinitis or atopic (ie: hives, hayfever, dermatitis, food allergies).
Type 2 examples are mismatched blood transfusions or certain drug reactions.
Type 3 are linked to autoimmune disease and type 4 examples include allergic contact dermatitis, TB, some viruses, fungi and parasites.
You’ve probably heard that the immune system weakens as you age. However, we make the same amount of immune cells (in bone marrow) when we’re very old as we did when we were young.
With the exception of bone marrow damage (chemotherapy for instance), it’s likely you’re still producing immune cells in good numbers!
If that’s true, then why are cancer, and viral infections, and bacterial infections, and autoimmune disease and chemical intolerance, and the seemingly hundreds of diseases chronically plaguing people today?
And why does your immune system weaken as you age if you’re still producing immune cells in good numbers?
A variety of factors that contribute to this include:
Poor Nutrition – lack of essential factors the immune system needs to operate, example: NK cells (immune cells: won’t work without iodine.
Poor digestion –results in the same lack of factors as poor nutrition: the digestive system “steals” enzymes from the immune system; causes other problems; examples : increased toxic load.
Lack of essential fatty acids – a lack of this nutritional element depresses immune function through its action with prostaglandins
Stress- increased cortisol knocks out cytokine pathways
Hormone imbalance – depresses thymus gland (trains T-cells), knocks out cytokine pathways among other things
Toxins – causes free radicals that bind and knock out cytokines
Free radicals – a big deal and behind some other factors listed: knocks out cytokines, promotes cell and gene mutations; associated with a multitude of problems
Infection -, ie EBV, CMB and HIV- directly damages immune system by infecting immune cells themselves.
Antibiotic overuse – kills good bacteria that promote immune function; increases strength of remaining bacteria through bacterial mutation
Radiation – causes the worst free radical causing damage to cell and cytokines.
You won’t know your immune system isn’t working because the immune system doesn’t have any nerves (pain) to tell you something’s wrong. The symptoms you’ll get will be the result of whatever illness your immune systems’ lack of function finally becomes.
Supporting Immune Function Will Support Just About Everything
Everything in your body is interrelated. The idea behind health “naturally” is to raise your entire level of functioning by supplying those things your body needs.