Inflammation – The Quiet Danger


Perhaps more than any other subject, inflammation is the topic about which we get the most questions at Back in Shape. Here we take a look at why inflammation is essential, what’s unhelpful about it… And what you can do to help avoid issues.

Inflammation Information:
While many people initially think of inflammation as being something that only happens around, say, a cut finger or stubbed toe, it’s also believed to be linked to a whole host of serious conditions. These include Alzheimer’s, arthritis, acne, cancer, chronic pain, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes… And visible signs of ageing! Before we get ahead of ourselves though, let’s clear up some confusion! It’s important to understand that inflammation itself isn’t entirely bad – in fact, it’s essential.

Why Inflammation is Helpful:
When you injure yourself – by getting a splinter, say – inflammation is part of your body’s healing process. It’s an attempt to eliminate whatever’s causing a problem, and then start fixing it. Typically there are changes to the affected region: your blood flow alters, and your blood vessels begin to allow more fluid, proteins, and white blood cells to migrate.

There’s More!
As you may know, inflammation does another job… It occurs without you injuring yourself, and is the result of your immune system rushing to defend your body when you get ill. Inflamed areas are battlegrounds for your immune system and bacteria, illness, pathogens and other unwelcome bodies… That’s why so many illnesses have the suffix ‘itis’ – which means "inflammation": bronchitis, meningitis, gastritis, hepatitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis and so on…

When Inflammation is Unhelpful:
So far, you should have formed the idea that inflammation is on your side! Perhaps that raises the question: when is inflammation unhelpful? The answer is that inflammation becomes unhelpful when it occurs in the wrong amount, works for too long or attacks the wrong thing!

Think of it this way: your body’s defensive system rushing to your aid over some perceived threat is great… Like an army arriving to defend important territory. But what if, for some reason, the army didn’t leave after the battle? Or even worse, started attacking tourists visiting the area?! To put it crudely, you can have too much of a good thing: it’d be horribly destructive.

What Does All That Mean?
In a nutshell, your immune system sometimes picks a fight when no fight is strictly necessary. This is why the medical profession considers chronic inflammation a problem, and prescribes no small amount of anti-inflammatory drugs to people. It would be better, though, if we weren’t giving inflammation ‘false targets’.

So… What Helps?
First we should say that some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to chronic inflammation. With others, though – it will come as no surprise to hear – the condition is exacerbated by smoking. It should also be no surprise to hear us say that the answer partly lies in maintaining a healthy lifestyle! Specifically, though, your diet may hold the key…

Not Another Diet!
It’s infuriating, isn’t it? Almost every condition seems to need us to eat – or avoid eating – this, that or something or other! Happily, though, regular readers of our Info Sheets may already have heard of this one: The Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet:
Nutritionists often conclude that the traditional diet of those that live in the Mediterranean is generally the most beneficial for our health. In brief, The Mediterranean Diet tends towards:

Plenty of colourful fruit
Leafy vegetables
Legumes and whole grains
Olive oil instead of butter
Less salt – replaced with herbs and spices
Very little red meat
Occasionally poultry – not the kind that’s finger lickin’ good!
Very little sugar
Oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel

Now As it Happens…
If you were to write up a list of anti-inflammatory foods it would coincide very nicely with The Mediterranean Diet! But even if you’re not able to switch over and consume food along these lines, there are still others that you should avoid at all costs…

Foods Associated with Inflammation:
We finish off this Info Sheet with no surprises… The foods we should avoid for the purposes of inflammation are foods you probably know we should avoid for other reasons, too! They include anything sugary, trans-fatty acids, dairy produce, processed meat, cooking oils and refined grains such as white rice, white bread, noodles and pasta.

Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Newsletter or Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health.