How Inflammation Affects the Body

Tired woman holding her head in her hand

Inflammation is part of the body’s natural immune response. When potentially harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or toxic substances are introduced, the body initiates an inflammatory response in order to begin the healing processes, signaling to the immune system to send more white blood cells to the affected area. 1 

While it is an integral part of the immune system, inflammation is also a common condition that can become chronic, causing health problems, physical discomfort, and even mental and emotional complaints. 2 The exaggerated and inappropriate immune response begins to attack the body, setting up a long list of potential concerns depending on the root cause of the excess inflammation.

Symptoms of Inflammation

Often, people experiencing chronic inflammation do not realize what the problem is right away because the symptoms are varied and not necessarily easy to identify. Common symptoms include feeling fatigued, weight issues (up and down), gastrointestinal problems, difficulty fighting infections, fever, swelling, redness, and pain.3  4 In addition to these symptoms, chronic inflammation may lead to more severe conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. 5  6 Another common area for common inflammation is the mouth. Bleeding gums may be a sign of periodontal disease, which, long-term, is shown to hasten more serious health conditions like atherosclerosis, heart disease and diabetes. 7

Causes of Inflammation

Inflammation can be caused simply by genetics and is a common part of aging, but there are a number of other factors that can increase or decrease it as well. 8 Inflammation may be characterized as acute or chronic depending on its duration. Acute inflammation is the body’s immediate response to injury and infection

Frequent acute infections, or persistent chronic infections can be implicated in longer term illness. Chronic inflammation persists for months or even years. 

Causes of chronic inflammation can include the following:

  • Unresolved infections like parasites, Lyme disease and fungi 
  • Continued exposure to environmental pollutants including mold, air and water pollution
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Increased oxidative stress from high stress levels,, diets high in trans fatty acids, meat, and alcohol, low sex hormones, smoking, obesity, and sleep disorders. 9 10 11 12 13 

The following foods  may help reduce inflammation:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Turmeric
  • Green tea
  • Dark chocolate
  • Bell peppers
  • Chili peppers
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Berries
  • Tomatoes

If you have chronic inflammation, developing healthy stress coping mechanisms and making dietary changes  can help you feel healthier and more energetic. A naturopathic doctor (ND) can work with you to develop a diet and lifestyle plan that reduces an overactive inflammatory response. If you think you may be experiencing excessive inflammation, making an appointment with a naturopathic doctor is a great first step in understanding why your symptoms are there in the first place.


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