Inflammation – Friend or Foe?

December 6, 2016 in Health, Health Claims, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

In my life I’ve had some interesting effects resulting from my immune system. During my paid career, I used to directly supervise dietitians and dietary technicians in California. When an employee would get sick, I would often go to see them; and they’d say; “Don’t get near me, I’m so sick.” I’d almost always say; “No worry, I just don’t get sick.” I considered my extremely effective immune system as a wonderful blessing.

I never really connected the dots linking my reactive airway disease to the same inflammatory response that kept me from getting sick. My reactive airway condition was set off as a result of a lengthy exposure to chemicals in a commercial facility. And finally when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2012; I definitely did not see my overactive immune system as a great and wonderful blessing.

Inflammation, the biological mechanism that defends us from bacteria, and hauls away infected and injured cells; is a lifesaver that enables our bodies to fend off disease and heal itself. Sometimes you may even see the reddened (inflamed) tissue – think, splinter in the finger. Or you may get a fever; think of your body fighting off a cold or flu. After the inflammation period, the process subsides and the healing begins.

Sometimes, however, the inflammation process doesn’t shut down; it becomes chronic. This inappropriate chronic inflammation response seems to underlie a wide variety of diseases. There is more research on chronic inflammation, than I can read in a reasonable length of time. But suffice it to say, that each week, new research seems to uncover additional ways in which chronic inflammation harms the body. Chronic inflammation seems to contribute to the propensity of cholesterol deposits/plaques to rupture and cause heart attacks and even strokes; also, to the destruction of nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. In addition it is involved in insulin resistance and the origins of diabetes; and is even involved in the proliferation of abnormal cells in the genesis of cancer. Certainly, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus are clear examples of bodies at war with themselves – inflammation gone wild. The evidence is enormous that chronic inflammation plays a larger role in diseases than was ever imagined.

Inflammation was a wonderful strategy that our bodies developed to survive when there were no water purification plants or vaccines for common pathogens. But now that we live longer, in a world of diets high in sugars and saturated fats, and with little exercise built into our workdays, we may fall victim to chronic inflammation.

Of course, the drug companies are working diligently trying to find the perfect drug that will protect us from overactive inflammation. This is the way of Western Medicine; find a new drug or surgical procedure to fix every disease. But we must beware. Surely, we don’t want to go too far and risk knocking out our immune system too far – there are still microbes in the air and on the doorknob; and we still get injured. But when our immune systems go berserk, then we need to take a good long look at what we can do.

I realize that my relatively good health and extremely mild reaction to rheumatoid arthritis is just a single observed case; but if it’s your health/your body; then it becomes significant. My good health may be because I’m doing the first four of the five behaviors below; I don’t know. I’m going to strive to make the fifth part of my life in the future. It’s sure worth the effort to not have my joints screaming at me; and also, to know that I’m giving my brain, heart, arteries and body in general a lower risk of suffering from chronic inflammation.

Five things short of drugs that we can do having good evidence that they might help each one of us:

Certainly, future drugs will be far more powerful in taming chronic inflammation. But until medicine and science know enough to say which pill to pop, maybe we should consider some non-drug alternatives, which we already know are related to less inflammation; including the five bulleted items above. Inflammation is like many functions of the body, a little is good, but too much is not. Science and technology still need to learn how, for each unique individual, where to draw the line for inflammation, friend or foe?