February 3, 2017

Inflammation is the innate immune system response to an attack on the body. This can occur through a blunt-force or penetrating tissue injury or in response to an infection caused by a pathogen. Exposure to chemical irritants or toxins will cause inflammation, as will burns, frostbite, or other injuries.

The word inflammation comes from the Latin “inflammo”, meaning “I set alight, I ignite”. Inflammation is a process by which the body’s white blood cells and substances they produce protect the human body from infection with foreign organisms, such as bacteria and viruses. With inflammation, white blood cells are released to protect the body from injury. These white blood cells have chemicals within them that, when leaked, induce swelling. If the injury occurs near the surface of the skin, the damaged area will throb and become red and warm. Blood flow also increases during inflammation. Inflammation can also affect internal organs, displaying a variety of symptoms depending upon the organ involved. The most common symptom of inflammation is pain.

However, in some diseases like, asthma, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and other aging diseases, researchers have proven significant link between inflammation and the host.

The inflammation process protects the body by isolating the damaged area, attracting immune cells and molecules to the site and, in later stages, promoting the healing of affected tissues. In fact, without inflammation, wounds or infections would never heal.

Types of Inflammation

Acute inflammation occurs within minutes of an injury such as a cut, splinter, or insect bite. Or, it can take several hours to become fully activated in cases of bacterial infection, for example. But, in either case, it is a comparatively sudden, rapid, and short-term response to infection, injury, or toxic exposure. Signs and symptoms are only present for a few days, but in some cases may persist for a few weeks. Examples include –

  • Acute bronchitis
  • Infected ingrown toenail
  • Sore throat from a cold or flu
  • A scratch/cut on the skin
  • Exercise (especially intense training)
  • Acute appendicitis
  • Acute dermatitis
  • Acute tonsillitis
  • Acute infective meningitis
  • Acute sinusitis
  • A blow

The acute inflammatory response requires constant stimulation to remain active. So, when the injury starts to heal or the source of infection has been neutralized, the symptoms of inflammation also go away.

Chronic Inflammation occurs when the immune system can launch an inflammatory response against what should be relatively harmless irritants like, for example, dust or pollen. The resulting asthma or allergy attacks can often be far worse than the effects of exposure to the allergen itself. In some cases, the body can sustain a long-term inflammatory state in response to a lingering, low-grade infection that is never fully knocked out by the rest of the immune response. Examples include –

  • Asthma
  • Chronic peptic ulcer
  • Tuberculosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic periodontitis
  • Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Chronic active hepatitis

However, chronic inflammation can eventually cause several diseases and conditions, including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and hay fever. Inflammation needs to be well regulated.


There are many causes of inflammation ranging from blunt trauma and injuries to long-term, chronic health conditions. Inflammation can also be provoked by sore joints, muscles, and broken bones that have either not healed at all, or have healed incorrectly. Inflammation is one of the man conditions that can result from a compromised immune system.

  • Microbial infections – One of the most common causes of inflammation is microbial infection. Microbes include viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi and various parasites. Viruses lead to death of individual cells by intracellular multiplication, and either cause the cell to stop functioning and die, or cause explosion of the cell (cytolytic), in which case it also dies. Bacteria release specific toxins – either exotoxins or endotoxins. What’s the difference? Exotoxins are produced specifically for export (like anthrax toxins or tetanus toxins) whereas endotoxins are just part of the cell walls of Gram negative bacteria and they do terrible things to the body too but they aren’t as specific in their actions as the exotoxins.
  • Hypersensitivity reactions – A hypersensitivity reaction occurs when an altered state of immunologic responsiveness causes an inappropriate or excessive immune reaction that damages the tissues.
  • Physical agents, irritant and corrosive chemicals Tissue damage leading to inflammation may occur through physical trauma, ultraviolet or other ionizing radiation, burns or excessive cooling (‘frostbite’). Corrosive chemicals (acids, alkalis, oxidizing agents) provoke inflammation through direct tissue damage. These chemical irritants cause tissue damage that leads directly to inflammation.
  • Tissue necrosis – Death of tissues from lack of oxygen or nutrients resulting from inadequate blood flow (infarction) is a potent inflammatory stimulus. The edge of a recent infarct often shows an acute inflammatory response.

Possibly, one of the greatest reasons for inflammation is an imbalance of essential fatty acids. It is very important to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and most omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. An inappropriate balance of these essential fatty acids contributes to the development of disease while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health.

A healthy diet should consist of roughly one to four times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet tends to contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids and many researchers believe this imbalance is a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States.

The four Principle Effects of Inflammation

  • Redness (rubor) – An acutely inflamed tissue appears red, due to dilatation of small blood vessels within the damaged area (hyperemia).
  • Swelling (tumor) – Swelling results from edema, the accumulation of fluid in the extravascular space as part of the inflammatory fluid exudate, and to a much lesser extent, from the physical mass of the inflammatory cells migrating into the area.
  • Heat (calor) – Increase in temperature is readily detected in the skin. It is due to increased blood flow (hyperemia) through the region, resulting in vascular dilation and the delivery of warm blood to the area.
  • Pain (dolor) – Pain results partly from the stretching and distortion of tissues due to inflammatory edema and, in part from some of the chemical mediators of acute inflammation, especially bradykinin and some of the prostaglandins.
  • Loss of function (functio laesa) – Loss of function, a well-known consequence of inflammation. Movement of an inflamed area is inhibited by pain, either consciously or by reflexes, while severe swelling may physically immobilize the affected area.

Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation

An autoimmune disease, also known as autoimmune disorder, is one where the body initiates an immune response to healthy tissues, mistaking them for harmful pathogens or irritants. The immune response triggers an inflammatory response. These include –

  • Rheumatoid arthritis – There is inflammation in the joints, tissues surrounding the joints, and sometimes some other organs in the body
  • Ankylosing spondylitis – There is inflammation of the vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, and also the sacroiliac joints (where the spine and hips meet)
  • Celiac disease – There is inflammation and destruction of the inner lining of the small intestine
  • Crohn’s disease – The gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed. Inflammation is most common in the ileum (small intestine), but may occur anywhere in the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus
  • Fibromyalgia – Often a set of symptoms related to another autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. There is pain in various parts of the body. Location and even the existence of inflammation is unclear
  • Graves’ disease – One of the signs is goiter; when the thyroid gland is inflamed. Exophthalmos, inflammation of the muscles behind the eyes. Grave’s dermopathy, inflammation of the skin, usually the shins and the top of feet (uncommon)
  • Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – The role of inflammation is unclear. Experts used to think that the disease was mainly caused by inflammation within the alveoli (tiny sacs within the lungs
  • Lupus – There can be inflammation in the joints, lungs, heart, kidney and skin
  • Psoriasis – There is inflammation of the skin. In some cases, as in psoriatic arthritis, the joints and tissue surrounding the joints may also become inflamed
  • Type 1 Diabetes – Inflammation in various parts of the body are likely if the diabetes is not well controlled
  • Addison’s disease – Inflammation of the adrenal glands. The stress to the body caused by this disease can also lead to inflammation elsewhere
  • Vaslculitis – Refers to a group of disorders in which inflammation eventually destroys blood vessels, both arteries and veins
  • Transplant rejection – There is already substantial inflammation caused by the transplant operation. If the organ recipient’s immune system rejects the new organ, there is typically inflammation in and around the donated organ
  • Various allergies – All allergies have inflammation. Asthma has inflammation of the airways, in hay fever the nose, ear and throat mucous membranes become inflamed, people who are allergic to bee stings may have serious life-threatening inflammation which affects the whole body (anaphylaxis)
  • Vitamin A deficiency – Inflammatory responses are much more likely if the person is deficient in vitamin A.

Inflammation and Gut

Inflammation leads to disturbed gut flora, malfunctioning toll-like receptors, and leaky gut, allowing proteins to enter the body and provoke an inflammatory response by the immune system. More inflammation, more bacterial overgrowth. A bout of antibiotics thrown in for good measure which wipes out the bacteria, leaving a clean slate and prompting another mad dash by microbes to fill the vacancies, and the result is – potentially – a permanently altered/disrupted distribution of gut flora both supporting and supported by chronic systemic inflammation. When damaging proteins (like lectins from grains and legumes, for example, or gluten) slip into the blood stream, they are recognized and the immune system responds as it normally would to foreign, damaging intruders: with inflammation.


Conventional Treatment

Analgesics – These reduce pain, but do not reduce inflammation. These include Acetaminophen like Tylenol. Side effects include depleted Glutathione, which plays a critical part in the detoxification and anti-oxidation processes of the enzyme system.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – These are the most widely used and prescribed medications, since they reduce pain as well as inflammation. These include Aspirin which reduces inflammation, suppresses fever, and acts as an anticoagulant. Side effects include reduction in the levels of Folic acid, iron, potassium, sodium, and vitamin C.

Corticosteroids – These are synthetic forms of naturally occurring hormones produced by the adrenal glands that provide powerful and immediate short-term relief of inflammation. These include Cortisone, Hydrocortone, and Prednisone.

Alternative Treatment

Essential Fatty Acids – GLA (GammaLinoleicAcid) & Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA/DHA from fish oils). The daily consumption of fish oil, omega-3 reduced both inflammation and anxiety in a group of young healthy people.

Antioxidants – Acai, blueberry, cranberry, grape seed, green tea, hesperidin, lycopene, mangosteen, pomegranate, quercetin have has anti-allergy, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antihistamine properties.

Minerals – Calcium,magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium are powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient.

Vitamin D – The increased levels of vitamin D was shown to improve muscular function, control blood pressure and improve levels of glucose in the body.

Vitamin C – A hardworking antioxidant, vitamin C offers two added bonuses: it helps the body deal with stress, and it boosts the activity of another outstanding anti-inflammatory, vitamin E.

Vitamin E – While vitamin E is commonly known as a fat-soluble antioxidant, it is also becoming a more popular choice to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Trace Minerals – Boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silver, zinc help in inflammation.


Harpagophytum procumbens – also known as devil’s claw, wood spider or grapple plant comes from South Africa and is related to sesame plants. European colonists brought devil’s claw back home to treat arthritis, fever and pain.

Ginger, also known as ginger root, is the mass of roots (rhizome) of the Zingiber officinale plant. It is used as a medicine or a spice. It has been used for hundreds of years to treat dyspepsia, constipation, colic, other gastrointestinal problems, as well as rheumatoid arthritis pain.

Curcumin a powerhouse anti-inflammatory, curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, the spice used in curries and other Indian foods.

Boswellia (frankincense). Similarly, the boswellia plant, from which the aromatic resin frankincense is derived, contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds known as boswellic acids.

Spirulina. This increasingly popular blue-green microalgae variety is poised to become the next big thing as far as “superfoods” are concerned, and for good reason.

Cannabis contains a cannabinnoid called cannabichromene, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.