The word inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflammare,” which means “to set on fire.” In the context of your immune system, heat, redness, pain and swelling form as a reaction to either an injury, or a perceived threat in your body.
If you’ve ever hit your thumb with a hammer, the swelling you see is due to inflammation. When you have a cold, the swollen glands and puffy eyes are in response to your immune system at work trying to banish the virus from your body.
Sometimes however, the immune system can get confused. Chronic inflammation can cause the immune system to start attacking various parts of the body that it sees as a threat. In turn, that inflammation can lead to damage and disability, and leave you open to acquire more illness.
Inflammation has now been linked to many serious illnesses including:
- Heart disease
- Various forms of cancer
- Arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and gout
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Thyroid conditions that can lead to hypothyroidism (slow thyroid)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one example of the role chronic inflammation plays in the body. With RA, the body attacks the tissue that lines the inside of your joints, known as the synovium. RA causes the synovium to thicken, which in turn causes pain and swelling in your joints.
The synovium creates synovial fluid, which helps lubricate your joints and keep them moving like a well-oiled machine. If the synovium is damaged, the joints will not be lubricated properly. This will lead to pain, swelling and friction which can damage the cartilage and bones if not treated effectively. If you have ever seen someone with gnarled and twisted looking fingers and hands, you can clearly see the effects of RA on the body.
In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the immune system starts to attack the myelin sheath that protects our nerves. If the nerves get damaged, it can lead to a myriad of symptoms throughout the body including:
- Blurred or double vision.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Lack of coordination and muscle strength
- Loss of balance.
- Numbness or tingling in a foot, arm or leg.
RA and MS are two examples of the effects of inflammation. But as previously stated, most forms of arthritis, heart-related illness and cancers are linked to inflammation. There are many more illnesses in which inflammation has been discovered to be the instigator.
Your immune system is a delicately balanced system with inflammation being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, inflammation can be helpful in fighting off bacteria and virus’ so you do not get sick. On the other hand, if your immune system is subject to chronic inflammation, it may get confused and cause your body to start attacking itself. Studies have shown that inflammation can affect almost every system in your body.
Fortunately, you can reduce inflammation by avoiding the foods that trigger inflammation, steer clear of harsh chemicals, reduce your stress, abstain from smoking and exercise daily. If you focus on reducing inflammation you will see a difference in your health.