gauge with man in background

Gauging Inflammation: Friend or Foe?

gauge with man in backgroundWhen it comes to gum disease and its relationship with your overall health, inflammation gets its fair share of attention – especially the damage it causes our bodies.

But negative effects are just part of the story. The truth is that inflammation is part of the body’s immune system. As such, it’s a key part of the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

When your body signals your immune system that something is breaking down, the immune system rushes in to help. It releases chemicals and hormones to fight infection or repair tissue. These trigger the telltale redness and swelling notoriously associated with inflammation.

Inflammation happens naturally when tissues are injured by bacteria, viruses, toxins, or other trauma – even exercise. And if your immune system is successful in healing the injury, the inflammation goes away.

But what if it’s not resolved? Your immune system keeps trying. This is what we call chronic inflammation. Doing its darnedest to heal what ails, the immune system spews out more and more chemicals and hormones. The body remains constantly on red alert, reacting as if under perpetual attack.

This is the kind of inflammation that can be systemically damaging, even downright fatal.

Here are some common chronic inflammation inducers and recommendations for anti-inflammatory resolutions:

Stress

Mental or physical stress can trigger inflammation. When the brain perceives anxiety or danger, the immune response goes into overdrive. While a little bit of stress can enable your immune system to release chemicals and hormones that will provide the energy, alertness, and strength you need to get through a crisis, chronic stress simply perpetuates chronic inflammation.

There are many strategies for keeping stress in check – even something as simple as getting outside for a while. According to one recent study, taking a break from stressful thoughts and exposing yourself to nature by going for a walk in a natural setting appears to reduces stress and improve a sense of well-being.

Nutritionally, probiotics may be helpful for boosting mood. Likewise, B vitamins and magnesium. Cutting out caffeine, sugars, and refined carbs can help you keep an even keel through the day.

Here are some more tips to help you get your stress levels under control.

Diet

Not only can diet drive or limit stress; it can trigger inflammation all on its own. Because we eat every day, our daily dietary patterns and selections play an important role in our body’s inflammatory response. Gluten, alcohol, casein, processed foods and sugars are common contributors to inflammation. One better choice is a traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, rich in monounsaturated fats, seeds, nuts, fatty fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Though if you were to make just a single dietary change, cutting the sugar would be the one to make. This presentation will give you all the whys you need.

Exercise

Research shows that short-term exercise – a/k/a acute exercise – can increase inflammation. But generally, studies shows a profound link between regular exercise and lower markers of systemic inflammation. For instance, long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation markers in those with type 2 diabetes. Other research has shown lower levels of C-reactive protein – a common marker of inflammation – in young women, elderly women, and adults who exercise regularly.

Lifestyle

When looking at reducing chronic inflammation, it’s important to look at daily habits. Your day-to-day choices can either support health or disease. While incorporating exercise, diet, and stress reduction are instrumental to reducing chronic inflammation, so too are other daily activities.

Smoking, for instance, triggers an immunologic response to vascular injury. This is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein and white blood cell count.

The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. Studies show the loss of sleep, even for a single night, can contribute to inflammation.

And, of course, effective oral hygiene is critical. Our mouths are full of bacteria, some good, some harmful. Some of the latter especially love to colonize on your teeth and in periodontal pockets. If you don’t regularly break up those colonies, the result is often gum disease – a disease of inflammation that has been linked to a wide variety of other inflammatory conditions.

Inflammation was beautifully designed to respond to instances of acute illness, stress, or trauma. And while our lifestyle appears to have hijacked a healthy functioning immune/inflammation response, luckily there is so much we can do to wrangle it’s healing power once again.

Image by Darron Birgenheler, via Flickr