Understanding Inflammation, 1/3 Jeanne Rosner, MD
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito? Had a cold? Stepped on a rusty nail? I am sure the answer is yes to having experienced at least one of these scenarios. You likely had a combination of some redness, swelling and pain–critically important reactions that occur in our body due to acute inflammation. These reactions are a sign that our body is protecting us from outside threats and danger.
There are barriers in our skin, our respiratory tract and our digestive tract that help protect us from infection. Without these barriers of defense, we would constantly have a cold, or experience repeated food poisoning, etc. However, when these barriers do break down, the immune system steps in to safeguard us in the form of acute inflammation. We are able to see it, feel it and measure it as local heat, redness, swelling and pain. This is our body’s way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity into an area that needs to fend off infection and heal. Acute inflammation and the inflammatory response continue until the foreign material is eliminated and the wound is repaired; it is self-limiting and it resolves.
When inflammation persists for a long period of time and/or serves no purpose, it is called chronic inflammation. The outcome of chronic inflammation can be ongoing tissue damage and destruction (healthy neighboring tissue can be affected too), thickening and scarring of connective tissue and eventual death of cells and tissue.
Chronic inflammation frequently goes unnoticed until serious disease is diagnosed. This chronic, often imperceptible, low-level inflammation appears to be the root cause of many grave illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for instance), depression, asthma, allergies, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
Reducing the risk for chronic inflammation is the best health strategy for disease prevention. Chronic inflammation can be influenced by genetics but can be offset by:
Rest and good sleep habits
Maintaining an ideal body weight and avoiding obesity
Environmental toxins are everywhere: in our air, water, soil and household products. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins is important in lowering your risk of chronic inflammation.
Recommendations on limiting environmental toxin exposure:
Do not smoke cigarettes and avoid second-hand smoke
Use a water filter to remove potentially harmful toxins in your drinking water
Use glass containers (vs. plastic) when microwaving and for food storage to avoid transference of toxins from plastics
Make sure your home is well-ventilated
Use paints and sealants that contain low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and choose low-VOC carpeting
Buy organic produce or grow your own. This list by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is good to keep with you: The Dirty Dozen
Replace your HVAC filters every month or every few months to reduce indoor air pollutants
Purchase toiletries and other household products that are made with natural ingredients. Use baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar as safe alternatives. Here's another helpful guide from EWG: Guide to Healthy Cleaning
Add houseplants to help absorb formaldehyde, benzene and other indoor air pollutants
Choose non-toxic forms of pest control in your home
Rest and good sleep habits are imperative for cell rest and renewal, memory consolidation and metabolic health. Getting enough quality sleep can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life and safety. Lack of sleep can increase stress hormones and CRP (C-reactive protein, which is a marker present in the blood indicating the presence of chronic inflammation). Sleep deprivation has an adverse effect on your heart health, brain function, kidneys and blood pressure, and it increases one's risk for diabetes, obesity and stroke.
Goal: sleep between 7-8 hours/night
Maintain regular sleep and wake times
No bright lights in bedroom
No electronic stimulation 2 hours before bedtime
IPads, computer screens, TVs and smartphones emit blue light, which poses a danger to sleep by preventing the natural release of melatonin
Move cell phones to another room
Make sure you can sleep through the night: avoid tossing and turning/ snoring/ pauses in breathing; make sure there is no sleep apnea
No napping during the day (if you do nap, keep it to less than 30 minutes)
Avoid caffeine after 12pm
Avoid alcohol within 3-4 hours of bed time
Keep the temperature in your bedroom in the cool range (65-70°F)
Research has shown there is a strong link between social relationships and health outcomes. Adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer in comparison to their isolated peers. Poor quality of social ties has been associated with increased inflammatory biomarkers and impaired immune function, factors associated with adverse health outcomes and mortality.
There is a strong need for humans to have social connection; in fact, our physiology demands contact. Through physical touch, the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is known to reduce the stress response, calm us, lessen our perception of pain, increase romantic attachment and increase empathy.
In the next few posts I will continue the discussion of ways to reduce chronic inflammation. Stay tuned…
Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org
The science of sleep: A brief guide on how to sleep better every night: jamesclear.com/sleep
Sleep loss linked to psychiatric disorders: www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/10/22_sleeploss.shtml
Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy J Health Soc Behav. 2010; 51(Suppl): S54–S66. DOI:10.1177/0022146510383501
Stress and health: major findings and policy implications. J Health Soc Behav. 2010; 51 Suppl:S41-53. DOI: 10.1177/0022146510383499. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20943582
Jeanne Rosner, MD
Jeanne Rosner is a board-certified anesthesiologist who practiced pediatric anesthesia at Stanford Medical Center for nearly 20 years.
In 2011 she began teaching nutrition classes in her son’s 5th-grade science class. It was an “aha” moment for her. She realized that learning and teaching about nutrition, health and wellness in her community was her destiny.
Since retiring from anesthesia, Jeanne has been a nutrition educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, at local middle and high schools. She teaches middle school children the importance of eating food closest to the source, making good food choices and eating in a balanced and moderate way.
Dr. Rosner started SOUL (seasonal, organic, unprocessed, local) Food Salon in 2014. SOUL Food Salon’s mission is to educate and empower people to be healthier. She holds small gatherings (salons) at which experts in the health and wellness community share their knowledge on how to lead a healthier life.
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