Inflammation: The Good, Bad and Ugly


In the Western World, inflammation is seen as the bad guy.  Inflammation is characterized as a body part which has become reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection.     (Oxford Dictionary).  Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and has different names depending on the area involved.  Inflammation in joints is called bursitis or arthritis.  Tendonitis is inflammation of tendons.  Inflammation related to respiratory infections or allergies cause mucous production, like congested sinuses, phlegm, wheezing or snot.  Inflammation can affect organs as well, as in gastritis, pericarditis, irritable bowel, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  So far, inflammation sounds bad.

What’s the good part about inflammation?  Why is the body so defective that it seemingly causes disease states for no good reason?  Inflammation does have a purpose, and a very good one.  Acute inflammation protects us from foreign invaders, such as dirt and germs that enter the body by penetrating the skin or absorbed through our membranes.  Inflammation is the process by which white blood cells are activated and released to the site of foreign invaders to kill or neutralize them, isolate them and protect you from harm.     Inflammation also does this in sites of bodily injury.  When cells are damaged, their highly acidic insides can damage other cells around them, causing a chain-reaction of cell-death that we know as gangrene.    Inflammation serves to stop this process in much of the same way it fights foreign invaders.  Without acute inflammation, simple infections and small injuries can create big problems that have no end until you’re dead.

How does inflammation get out of control?  Many of us have lifestyles that create an inflammatory state, like a tinder-dry forest which takes only the littlest spark to start a full-on forest fire.  If the body tissues are already acidic or unhealthy, it takes little damage for the body to sound a huge emergency.  There are foods that promote an acidic or inflammatory state.  We call them pro-inflammatory foods.  The Chinese have labelled these as heat-producing foods for millennia and have always recommended limiting them in your regular diet and avoiding them entirely when you’re not well.  Highly inflammatory foods include sugar, deep fried foods, caffeine, and carbonated drinks. Pretty much all junk food and highly processed foods fall into this category.

Other ways to create an inflammatory state is being overly sedentary.  When you don’t move much, inflammation gets stalled and swelling builds up and spreads.  Stress, anxiety, anger and depression also cause your body functions to seize up or become uncoordinated and thus ineffective.  A lack of rest prevents your body from recovering from charged emotional states, plus slows down general maintenance and healing in the body.  You can also induce a pro-inflammatory state with chemicals.  Their toxicity alone can trigger the inflammation cascade.  This includes medications, vaccines, household cleansers, air fresheners, radiation, etc.

The ugly part is how, in not understanding the nature and purpose of inflammation, we might try to suppress it, and then unwittingly create even bigger problems down the road.  Say you’re eating a fairly typical, standard American diet (S.A.D.), which regularly includes fast food, frozen dinners, chips, chocolate, coffee, and hardly any vegetables (unless you’re counting French fries, potato chips and ketchup).  This diet includes a lot of toxic, pro-inflammatory foods which triggers inflammation in your digestive tract.  Acid reflux, stomach aches, ulcers, and indigestion follow along with constipation and bloating, sluggishness and irritability.  With this list of symptoms, you may take antacids, Maalox, Pepto Bismol, Zantac, Prilosec, or suppositories.  They may give you temporary relief from the symptoms, so you continue with the same diet, quietly building up toxicity in your body.  Over time, you start developing rashes on your body and allergic responses, plus pains in your joints that don’t seem to have a cause.  Next comes pain relievers (aka “anti-inflammatory” pills), anti-histamines, and corticosteroids.  These medications, like the ones before, don’t remove the toxins from the body.  In fact, they add to your toxic load, and inhibit your body’s natural healing response.  The body tries harder to alert you to danger and to try to rid you of the toxins.  Unfortunately, most people will respond with even stronger medications, and more of them.  Eventually, the body loses control over the inflammatory process because too many checks and balances have been interfered with.  This breakdown can take place over many decades, or very quickly in a baby or young child exposed to harsh chemicals, injuries or emotional trauma early in life.

What is the result of a broken inflammatory cascade? Either the inflammation is out of control in a hyper manner, or it cannot be mounted when needed.  In the first case, we see the body over-responding to mild or non-toxic states, as in allergies to healthy foods, or attacking healthy cells.  When the body attacks its own cells, we call this an “auto-immune” disease like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis. When the inflammatory process is overly suppressed or exhausted, the body cannot fight invaders or protect itself during injuries.  This presents as prolonged infections, repeat illnesses, easy bruising, and slow healing from cuts.     Cancer cells grow undetected and unimpeded in this environment.  Excessive use of antibiotics and antibacterial products, especially early in life, can prevent the body from learning how to mount a proper immune response, including inflammation.

What can you do?  Should you avoid all medications?  Not necessarily.  Medications serve a vital purpose in life-or-death situations or if you’re in excruciating pain. Otherwise, you have the option to take a more natural, long-term approach to health.  First, stop traumatizing yourself with toxins, if you can. Clean up your diet. Use fewer chemicals in your home and work place.  Stop taking or wear off unnecessary medications (you may require professional help to do this safely).  Secondly, help rid yourself of toxins and toxic emotional states with exercise, chiropractic care, drinking lots of water.  If possible, get out of dangerous situations and simplify your life to reduce stress. Thirdly, fill yourself with necessary ingredients for healing your body, mind and spirit.  This includes anti-inflammatory foods (click here for a list), nourishing foods (supplements if you’re really deficient), more chiropractic care, meditation or prayer, having fun, being with supportive people, getting enough rest, and being kind to yourself.

What is chiropractic’s role in a healthy inflammatory response?  Your nervous system oversees all bodily functions, including those that operate subconsciously. The inflammation cascade is a part of the immune system, which is intimately connected to your nervous system, digestive system, emotional state, endocrine system (hormones), and circulatory system.  A properly-functioning nervous system ensures your body knows what to do in response to stressors (injury, infection, toxins, mental challenge, emotional trauma, fear, malnutrition, lack of sleep).  The first response is a danger warning or symptom to tell you to stop the stress or trauma.  If that’s not possible, or the damage is done, the nervous system coordinates ways to protect from further injury, and adapt to the non-ideal conditions (compensation). If possible, the nervous system begins the healing process as well.  Misalignments to the spine can inhibit the nervous system from sending proper messages, resulting in dysfunction of the body and mind.  Chiropractic care re-instates proper brain-nerve communication to help the brain and body function at its best for optimal healing and functioning.  Especially if the body and mind have been traumatized, chiropractic care is vital to re-set proper patterns of functioning so you can regain optimal health, including the inflammatory response.

Do you know someone who needs help with over- or- under- active inflammatory responses in the body?  Are you looking for optimal long-term health and wellbeing for you and your family?  Take the first step by downloading our free Baseline Health Questionnaire.  We always give free consultations to see if our services might be right for you.