We’ve all heard about inflammation, but what is this mysterious thing exactly? Underneath the surface, our bodies are working hard to protect us every day. Countless tiny battles are going on in which our immune systems ward off invaders, carry away irritants or clean up dead cells. This natural process is called inflammation, and it is an essential part of the body’s attempt to heal itself. It is not an infection, it is the body’s response to an infection or other harm.
Inflammation has a bad reputation, but it is certainly not all bad. When needed, inflammation is how the body responds to an acute, harmful stimulus. Inflammation does not occur without reason, and it is a useful part of the body’s healing process that should be allowed to run its course. Without inflammation, infections and wounds would never heal.
Sometimes, though, the inflammation lasts too long. This may happen because the repair work never gets completed orthe attack becomes prolonged. In these cases inflammation may get out of hand and become long-lasting (chronic). Many things may increase inflammation, such as emotional stress, environmental toxins, inflammatory foods, nutrient deficiencies and more. In fact, inflammation may cause more inflammation! And when these factors get layered together, what was once acute inflammation can become chronic inflammation, and this can lead to disease.
Chronic inflammation is a player in many chronic illnesses, such as asthma, hay fever, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back pain, tooth and gum disease, sinusitis, digestive problems and many more. If it goes on long enough, chronic inflammation can even contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol and even some cancers – all common problems for older adults. High cholesterol cannot cause heart disease without an inflammatory effect also present, so knowing about and treating inflammation is especially important in preventing heart disease in our later years.
What can be done about this inflammatory domino effect? Often in medicine, doctors are called upon to treat symptoms instead of developing a deeper understanding of the causes of disease. If a patient comes in with pain or another problem due to inflammation, it is important to make them feel better, but this is only the first step in the path of bringing them back to balance: the inflammation itself must also be addressed at a deeper, more pervasive level. It is also important that the therapies used to combat inflammation do not also wipe out the benefits of inflammation. This is why we use gentle and effective therapies at Insights to Health Clinic.
Naturopathic physicians take a whole-person approach to examine all the layers that contribute to the patient’s inflammation. We examine the diet, explore stressors and sort out the lifestyle pieces that result in an inflammatory state. For example, insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality raise inflammation, and no treatment would be complete without an exploration of this often overlooked factor. As every patient is unique, the process of returning to health is also unique. Treat yourself to exceptional health in 2014!