Last updated on July 25th, 2023
Inflammation is a term we often associate with pain, discomfort, and redness. Yet, beyond the surface-level symptoms, there’s a fascinating world at play within our body. A double-edged sword, inflammation can either be our body’s superhero, protecting us from harm, or a malevolent villain, wreaking havoc on our health.
At its core, inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury, infection or any form of cellular stress. It is a dynamic defence mechanism that mobilises an army of specialised cells and chemical messengers to affected areas in the body. This response is vital for healing wounds and fighting off harmful pathogens while maintaining tissue homeostasis. However, when the delicate balance of this immune response is disrupted, inflammation can spiral out of control, in some cases eventually leading to chronic diseases and an overall decline in wellbeing.
Various factors contribute to the activation and perpetuation of inflammation in our body beyond injury or infection. To truly understand this complex physiological process, let’s dive into the inner workings of what else drives inflammation in the body.
How we eat
When our way of eating is laden with ultra-processed foods, excessive sugar, poor quality fats and artificial compounds, it can trigger a cascade of inflammatory responses. These foods contain substances that can stimulate the release of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines, which fuel the flames of inflammation throughout the body. Eating in a way that focuses on whole real food and minimises processed foods can be a fantastic step towards lowering inflammation in the body.
How we move
Just as impactful is a lack of movement. The body is designed to move and a mostly sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate inflammation. Some physical activity acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. It enhances blood flow, stimulates the release of endorphins and reduces the production of inflammatory markers. Engaging in regular movement and exercise can have a profound impact on reducing systemic inflammation and promoting overall wellbeing.
Stress, often an unwelcome guest in our modern lives, also plays a significant role in inflammation. When adrenaline (one of our stress hormones) floods our system, it can trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals. Chronic stress can lead to a persistent state of inflammation, increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders. Incorporating stress-management techniques like meditation, yoga or slow breathing exercises can effectively help to curb stress-induced inflammation. Often, we need to also explore our perceptions of pressure and urgency, as the way that we think and feel plays a significant role in whether our body perceives aspects of our life as a source of stress or not.
Beyond lifestyle choices, environmental factors also contribute to inflammation. Air pollution, for instance, is a silent yet can initiate an inflammatory response in the lungs. Exposure to problematic levels of substances such as heavy metals, pesticides and industrial chemicals, can trigger chronic inflammation and damage cellular structures. Minimising exposure to these harmful substances through what we consume, apply to our skin and use in our household can help reduce the burden of inflammation on our body as well as in the environment.
The composition of our gut microbiome can be another driving force behind inflammation in the body. Emerging research suggests that a problematic gut microbiome – disrupted by factors like antibiotics, stress and poor diet – can trigger chronic low-grade inflammation. When you consider that your gut health is intimately connected to your immune system and your immune system is a key player in activating inflammation, this makes sense. Consuming a diverse range of vegetables, fibre-rich foods and fermented foods can nurture a healthy gut ecosystem and foster a more harmonious relationship with our immune system.