Have you ever woken up and found a rash on your chest in the morning or how about a large red spot on a paper cut? Any individual has the ability to heal himself or herself from injury or infection with the help of the immune system. For the most part, we normally don’t notice it but healing occurs through the process of inflammation (#inflammation) in which your body is alerted to where it needs help most. It is not always due to injury or infection. There will be times that diet can cause an irritation or allergic reaction in your body. There will also be times where your immune system will be working night and day to treat inflammation. What if I told you that heart disease was caused by inflammation and we are treating heart disease improperly through cholesterol drugs. As we understand this process more and more, we are making better assessments on how our bodies work.
The inflammation definition has to be separated from the definition of infection. An infection is the response created by your immune system to the invasion of foreign agents such as viruses which infect or multiply in its host. An infection has more to do with body tissues affected by the foreign agents or the toxins released by these invaders. Inflammation is a natural immune response not just to foreign invaders but also to repair cell injury, replace dead cells, and repair damaged tissues for whatever reason. An infection relies on an attacker and a defender while inflammation is just the defender’s response to an injury.
The purpose of inflammation is to alert the body to start tissue or cell repair. This is the natural alert system for the immune system to be activated. This process is done by activating white blood cells which release chemicals to alert the body for the need to heal itself. There are five main types of white blood cells associated with the defense of the human body: neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes and monocytes.
Neutrophils are your first line of defense by attacking bacteria and fungus that may invade your body. Neutrophils are abundant in your blood stream and kill off any bacteria or fungus which are not naturally forming in your body. Eosinophils are designed to deal with parasitic infections such as hookworms or tape worms. They have a second function which is to create an inflammation response especially allergies such as asthma, hay fever, and hives. Next up are the basophils which act like your defense communication system. Their main function is to excrete two chemicals called histamine and heparin. Histamine is responsible for widening blood vessels which increases blood flow and allows more white blood cells to reach injured tissue. Heparin is an anticoagulant which means that it prevents blood clotting. The purpose of this is to promote the movement of white blood cells into an area and not be stopped by a clog. Lymphocytes are your T cells and antibodies which actually fight and kill off infections. Lastly there are monocytes which clean up the mess after all the fighting is over.
All of these white blood cells with different roles work together like a symphony to fight infections. Since all of this happens inside your body, you can always tell when something is wrong when you see the classic signs: pain (lots of it), heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. Anytime these are seen, your immune system is active and working. There are other cases where the symptoms and signs are present but no infection actually occurs. These cases are a result of an autoimmune disease. This is where your immune system will activate, create inflammation and attack its own tissues because it can’t tell the difference between a healthy cell or an infected one. Arthritis is a classic example whereby the immune system responds to normal tissues and cells as if they were damaged or infected. The easiest way to detect your immune system response is perform blood work and do a white blood cell count. The higher the count, the more probability of an active immune system response.
There are two main inflammation types: chronic inflammation and acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is the immune system’s immediate response to an injury or infection. This has a short duration that comes very fast and can last minutes, hours or days. Some good examples of this are skin rashes, minor cuts and bruises. Chronic inflammation comes about slowly, lasts a lot longer meaning weeks, months or years and does more damage to healthy tissue if not regulated. Some examples of this are ulcers, tuberculosis, lupus, gout, rheumatoid arthritis (#arthritis) and diabetes.
Being overweight is also a good indicator of chronic inflammation. It turns out that fat cells when stored in your gut, releases toxins into your body which create an allergic response. This is a double whammy since heart disease speeds up due to being overweight and your immune system is constantly active which also affects healthy tissues and cells. There are also certain foods that cause inflammation and fast food restaurants have some of these items on their menus. All of these foods can be avoided or minimized by going on an inflammation diet. This will not only help you lose weight but also help reduce the source of an immune response.
How have you dealt with inflammation?