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Inflammation: Friend or Foe?

According to this article, inflammation is both your body’s best friend and worst enemy. 

Inflammation is how your body takes care of you. When you are cut or have an infection, your immune system rushes cells to the site to start the healing process. There’s even an acronym to describe inflammation: PRISH (Pain, Redness, Immobility, Swelling and Heat). Some forms of inflammation, like that of the lung caused by pneumonia, may not show all these symptoms. But if you’ve ever had a serious cut, you’ve witnessed most of them — the painful, red, hot swelling that may prevent you from, say, bending a nearby joint.

That’s acute inflammation, your “body’s best friend.” As the cells do their job to fight infection and disease, inflammation decreases and then goes away. The immune system turns off the inflammatory process when it’s no longer needed.

When does inflammation become your worst enemy? When it becomes chronic, that is, when it doesn’t stop on schedule, often as part of a disease process. One well-known example is rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In people with RA, the inflammatory process affects mostly the lining of the joints, but can also affect other organs. RA is thought to be the result of a faulty immune response, which attacks the joints and fails to turn off.

Inflammation is believed to play a role in other diseases, such as diabetes, depression, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s. One researcher notes that the body’s pro-inflammatory chemicals need to be balanced by anti-inflammatory ones.

How do you know if your body is in balance? It’s hard to say — while there are tests that help doctors decide if a person has rheumatoid arthritis, there’s no one test that can tell you if you have chronic inflammation. You can, however, reduce your risk through a healthy lifestyle.

  • Lose weight. Haven’t we all heard that before! Fat can lead to higher levels of inflammation, especially if you tend to carry excess weight around your waist.
  •  Eat right. Many believe a Mediterranean-type diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish may help to lower the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.
  • Exercise in moderation. Marathon running can increase inflammation, but a moderate amount of exercise may help to keep it in check. The CDC offers these general fitness guidelines for healthy adults age 65 and over.

What we know about chronic inflammation is changing constantly. According to “Buzzed on Inflammation” from the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, we need to “stay tuned.” We haven’t heard the last word on chronic inflammation yet.

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