Inflammation, you have heard it’s bad for you. You don’t want it…but what the heck is it?

Inflammation is a root cause of countless health problems and is the only factor common to all chronic diseases. In functional medicine we are very interested in the subject of inflammation because until it is brought under control you simply cannot restore function and therefore health.

Is Your Body on Fire?

That may sound like a rather harsh question, but this is where the word inflammation comes from. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word inflammatio; inflammare which means to set on fire. The best way to describe inflammation is to say the tissues of the body are “on fire.” Your body is creating this fire in response to damaged cells in your body. When your cells are damaged by anything, your body starts a fire. The purpose of this fire is to contain/limit the damage so it does not spread, break down damaged cells for removal and permit the development of new, healthy cells.

What Causes This Fire?

Inflammation is like a fire in your body, but since it is not an actual fire, what causes this body-fire?

Below are some of the chemicals your body makes to create this fire:

“Body-Fire Chemicals”

  • Histamine
  • Bradykinin
  • Serotonin
  • Prostaglandins
  • Complement system (a group of about 20 different proteins)
  • Cytokines including lymphokines and monokines
  • Etc.

As you can see from the list above, the process of inflammation is not caused by a single chemical; it is a complicated process, involving many different chemicals. This is why so few people understand what inflammation actually is…there is not a single cause. You just need to know that inflammation is like a fire in your body.

Healthy Inflammation is Good!

When inflammation is short-term and controlled it is a very good thing because it is a necessary part of the healing process. The “fire” of inflammation cleans out the useless and damaged cells and lets new healthy ones take their place. This is what I call “healthy inflammation.”

Chronic Inflammation is Bad!

Healthy inflammation is like a cleansing process of the body. It is short-term and beneficial. It is like fire that occurs in nature. For example, fire is a cleansing process in forests; old, sick and decaying vegetation is burned and removed, making way for new life, triggering new trees and other plants to sprout, grow and take the place of the old, sick and dead vegetation. This process in nature is beneficial when it occurs periodically. It would be harmful if the forest was constantly burning or if it burned down every year. This is what happens in your body with chronic inflammation…the fire never dies out. The cells of your body cannot repair themselves and new, healthy cells can’t form. Your “forest” can’t rebuild and thrive and function as nature intended.

How Chronic Inflammation Affects Your Health?

Chronic inflammation can affect all systems of your body.

Brain

  • Fatigue, brain-fog, insomnia, depression, anxiety and dementia.

Gut Health

  • IBS, SIBO, gas, bloating, pain, cramping, leaky gut and malabsorption.

Thyroid

  • Autoimmunity, low thyroid function, fluctuations in TSH, poor thyroid hormone conversion and decreased effectiveness of thyroid hormone.

Weight Gain

  • Inflammation decreases energy production in cells and lowers metabolism. It changes your metabolic rate or your metabolic set point which is set by your brain in the hypothalamus.

Hormone Balance

  • Inflammation interferes with hormone regulation at the level of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, ovaries or testicles. This can lead to low testosterone in men and poor regulation of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in women. It is also a cause of infertility and the primary cause of pain during menstruation.

Liver

  • Increased stress on the liver, leading to damaged cells, elevated liver enzymes on blood tests and even fatty liver.

Heart disease and Stroke

  • Inflammation is the first stage of blood vessel damage; this is followed by the adherence of cholesterol ultimately causing plaque in the arteries. Inflammation affects the control of the autonomic nervous system and this often leads to poor blood pressure control and hypertension. Hypertension damages blood vessels, the heart and kidneys.

Autoimmune Disease

  • Your immune system plays the major role in the inflammation process. Healthy inflammation and chronic inflammation are primarily regulated by your immune system. Chronic inflammation and therefore a non-stop immune system response (fire) leads to loss of healthy function and therefore regulation of the immune system. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system fails to regulate itself and begins to attack your body. Autoimmunity is not caused by an overactive immune system (as it is often explained to patients) it is in fact a poorly regulated immune system.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea, chronic inflammation causes many problems for your body.

Functional medicine doctors specialize in finding the root cause of chronic inflammation. The root cause of inflammation; the thing that causes it is cell damage. The next step in your healing process is to identify what is damaging your cells.

Now you know what inflammation is…the body on fire and this fire is your body’s response to damaged cells. Discover what is causing the damage to cells and you can reduce inflammation.