We all know the obvious signs of inflammation. For example, when we cut or scratch a finger in the kitchen or the garden, we’ll experience:
Inflammation is a good thing, but only if it’s at the appropriate level for the appropriate length of time. It’s simply the body’s initial healing response to either infection or damaged tissue.
Inflammation may be caused by:
- Physical reasons such as injury, burns, insect bites, frostbite or radiation
- Chemicals such as pesticides, toxic fumes and particles, and hydrochloric acid*
- Microbes such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi
- Antigens to which the body is sensitive and cause an immune response (for example, the milk protein casein, or peanuts)
What Exactly is Inflammation?
As mentioned above, inflammation is the body’s response to damaged tissue or infection.
This is what happens in the body:
- Blood vessels leading to the site of injury or infection dilate, so that more blood can get to the area.
- Meanwhile, blood vessels leading away from the site constrict, so that more blood is available to go towards the site. More blood brings more oxygen for healing.
- Pain receptors in the nerves are activated, via chemicals such as Substance P. Pain has the important, if unpleasant, purpose of alerting you to a problem, and is a warning to you to rest this area of the body.
- The vessels become more leaky, which allows easier entry of the following:
– Leukocytes (neutrophils and macrophages) – these render unwanted pathogens harmless.
– Excess fluid, to dilute toxins and help with their removal from the body.
– Large protein molecules, such as antibodies and fibrinogen. The antibodies ‘eat’ the unwanted pathogens, such as bacteria or allergens, whilst the fibrinogen helps to seal off the inflamed area to help prevent the spread of the toxins.
So you see, short-term inflammation, lasting only a few hours or days, is a good and protective response. Problems arise though when the short-term ‘acute’ inflammation becomes long-term ‘chronic’ inflammation. Chronic inflammation is now known to be implicated in so many of our major diseases, such as cardiovascular, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s Disease.
This will be covered in the next article – Chronic Inflammation – Consequences of a Good Response Gone Bad.
*hydrochloric acid is the stomach acid required to help digest protein, absorb calcium, and deal with parasites in food or drink. It’s vital to our health, and the stomach is normally protected with a layer of mucus, so that the stomach wall is not damaged by it. However, if the acid leaves the stomach (e.g. acid reflux) it will cause inflammation in areas not protected by mucus, such as the oesophagus.