This blog is excerpted from Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School.
The familiar sensations of pain, redness, swelling, and heat that result from an injury or infection are hallmarks of the inflammatory process. Inflammation represents an essential survival mechanism that helps the body fight off hostile microbes and repair damaged tissue.
How Does Inflammation Happen?
Inflammation is a vital function of your innate immune system that is triggered immediately when it detects an invading pathogen or damaged tissue. Near the area of damage, the walls of tiny blood vessels called capillaries expand to bring more blood to the area. They also become more porous so that fluid, proteins, and white blood cells are allowed to migrate into the spaces between cells in the affected tissue—a necessary step to contain an infected area.
The area then quickly becomes hot, red, and swollen from the increased blood flow and fluid accumulation. Pressure from the fluid buildup and inflammatory molecules that are drawn to the area can irritate nerve fibers and lead to pain. As a result of these changes, the tissue in the inflamed area may not be able to function as it should. For example, you may not be able to walk if you have a twisted ankle, or swallow properly if you have a sore throat.
The final stage of the inflammatory process is termination and repair. Once the offending pathogen or substance has been eliminated, tissue repair begins. The surviving cells regenerate to replace damaged ones. Cells that are part of less complex structures, such as the surface of the skin, regrow easily. Cells in more complicated organs, such as the liver or glands, do not normally increase in number but may be prompted to do so after damage has occurred. If it is impossible to regrow normal tissue at the site of the inflammation, scar tissue may form to fill in the deficits. However, if the threat remains and the immune response is constantly triggered—or an individual has a condition that is causing the immune system to react as if there is a threat—the inflammatory response can continue and damage the body instead of healing it.
Two Types of Inflammation
- Acute inflammation comes on rapidly, usually within minutes, but is generally short-lived. Many of the mechanisms that spring into action to destroy invading microbes switch gears to cart away dead cells and repair damaged ones. This cycle returns the affected area to a state of balance, and inflammation dissipates within a few hours or days.
- Chronic inflammation often begins with the same cellular response, but morphs into a lingering state that persists for months or years when the immune system response fails to eliminate the problem. Alternatively, the inflammation may stay active even after the initial threat has been eliminated. In other cases, low-level inflammation becomes activated even when there is no apparent injury or disease. Unchecked, the immune system prompts white blood cells to attack nearby healthy tissues and organs, setting up a chronic inflammatory process that plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including degenerative spine conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and even Alzheimer’s.
One Way to Fight Inflammation: Make Healthy Choices
Our diets play an important role in chronic inflammation because our digestive bacteria release chemicals that may spur or suppress inflammation. The types of bacteria that populate our gut and their chemical byproducts vary according to the foods we eat. Some foods encourage the growth of populations of bacteria that stimulate inflammation, while others promote the growth of bacteria that suppress it.
Fortunately, you are probably already enjoying many of the foods and beverages that have been linked to reductions in inflammation and chronic disease. As long as you are not allergic to any of these foods or beverages, they include the following:
- Fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and brightly colored vegetables naturally contain high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols – potentially protective compounds found in plants.
- Nuts and seeds. Studies have found that consuming nuts and seeds is associated with reduced markers of inflammation and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Beverages. The polyphenols in coffee and the flavonols in cocoa are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is also rich in both polyphenols and antioxidants.
Inflammation & Your Spine
If inflammation is causing severe back or neck pain, pain that has extended into the extremities, or pain has worsened after being diagnosed with conditions like spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis, the patented Bonati Spine Procedures can help. If you feel you’ve done everything to try to treat your pain, allow our highly-skilled physicians and staff to review your case, and verify if the Bonati Spine Institute can help you. Click here to complete our online contact form and one of our Bonati patient advocates will contact you directly, or call us at 855-267-0482.
Read the full article from Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-inflammation