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Inflammation - what is it exactly?

Inflammation - what is it exactly?
There’s a lot of buzz about inflammation – pop science websites, beauty bloggers and celebrity nutritionists alike are telling us that inflammation could be the cause of everything from obesity to cancer. Here we cut through the buzz to look at what science really knows, and how you can use that to improve the your health.


So what is inflammation?

Inflammation is an important part of your body’s natural healing and protection processes.

When everything’s working well, acute inflammation is a response to harmful stimuli – toxins, infection or physical damage, for example.

A type of white blood cell (called a monocyte) releases chemicals into the blood or affected tissues, that increase the blood flow to make the area red, warm and swollen.

You’ll have seen this when you slam your finger in the door, or after sunburn. The same process happens internally, too.

Chronic inflammation is when this important response starts to work against your body.

For a variety of reasons, the inflammation can occur without negative stimuli at all, or continue long after the infection, injury or toxin is cleared.

This is a growing field of research, but there are many studies that suggest chronic inflammation may at least contribute to conditions like rheumatoid, psoriatic and gouty arthritis and other joint-health problems.

We also know that all adults have some level of chronic inflammation, putting a strain on our tissues and organs, speeding our aging and making us a little more susceptible to aches and pains.

That doesn’t mean we’re all sick! It just means that by reducing inflammation, it’s possible that we could improve our long-term health.

Most of us won’t see any evidence of this, except in blood tests. Scientists can look for cytokine, types of protein that can be inflammatory, or anti-inflammatory. There's evidence to show that these proteins are behind chronic inflammation – and, at the very least, are a way to measure it.


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