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Inflammation – Understanding The Good and The Bad

Our bodies are amazing. They perform when we push them, continue to operate when we don’t feed them right, and heal when we hurt them. They even try their best to tell us what’s damaging them before we go too far. Ah – if we’d only pay attention. image: grandparents.com.   

In lieu of smacking us upside the head and saying “stop that”, our bodies send some effective messages that something’s not right (i.e. pain, swelling, numbness, stiffness, weakness, etc.). Fortunately, this usually does get our attention, and we back off (whether we want to or not) and allow the body to rest and heal.

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The trick is to learn how to recognize these signals, hit ‘pause’, and figure out what’s causing the trouble. And, to do this sooner vs. later, before a temporary physical set back turns chronic.

Our body’s main communication strategy to protect itself is inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s response to battle stress, whether physical, mental or environmental, from which we feel the results:
Fighting off a cold virus? We may feel a fever or inflamed sinuses.
Worked out too much or too hard? We may feel stiff, sore, inflamed muscles.
Repetitive action with incorrect form, bad posture or poor mechanics? We may feel pain, heat, swelling, inflammation.

Some Inflammation is Not a Bad Thing
It’s our immune system kicking in to remove the thing the body deems harmful and to start the healing process.
“Without an inflammatory response, infections, wounds and other tissue damage would not be able to heal. When an injury occurs, acute inflammation can increase blood flow to the injured area, resulting in increased redness, heat and swelling. Defense cells may bring fluid to the inflamed tissue, which also causes swelling. Though symptoms stemming from inflammation can be frustrating and sideline a person from his or her normal daily activities, the root cause of the symptoms serves a purpose. Greater blood flow and immune system activation are critical steps in the healing process.ACEfitness.org

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This sort of “acute inflammation” is the result of obvious things, like taking a bad fall or the flu. We feel the effects quickly, correlate to the cause, and treat accordingly. Our immune system kicks in and we recover. Other factors, however, can sneak up on us over time and are more difficult to pinpoint.

Chronic Inflammation IS a Bad Thing
As creatures of habit, we can easily get lulled into a lifestyle or living situation that is bottom line unhealthy. This is when inflammation can quietly slip in, without noticeable impacts and cause harm over time.

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“Chronic inflammation, sometimes called persistent, low-grade inflammation, happens when the body sends an inflammatory response to a perceived internal threat that does not require an inflammatory response. The white blood cells swarm, but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they sometimes eventually start attacking internal organs or other necessary tissues and cells…
Other times, the threat is real but we do not feel it or the inflammatory response, and the inflammation can persist forever. Persistent inflammation has been linked to a variety of ailments, including heart disease. It is often associated with environmental or habitual factors, such as pollution or poor diet, which has made it of interest to nutritionists.” Livescience.com

The laundry list of ailments and illnesses stemming from long-term, chronic inflammation is sobering: Diabetes, lung health, bone health, depression, anger, cancer and heart disease to name a few – yikes!
We’re hearing more and more about diseases resulting from chronic inflammation. No matter our age, now is the time to start paying attention and making corrections in our daily lives.

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Take Steps to Help Reduce Inflammation
While inflammation is the body’s go-to method to fix, we want to understand the root cause and take steps to clear it up. That usually means recognizing the ‘harmful stimuli’ that causes the inflammation in the first place.

Consider: Movement
A lack of movement and inactivity leads to a host of not-so-good physical results, including the inability for the body to flush out harmful toxins that can trigger inflammation.

“Our body has an incredible way of preventing threat and warding off problems.  The theme “exercise is medicine” or “motion is lotion” is very important to remember.  Naturally clearing out toxins that have accumulated as a result of inflammation through exercise and movement is more effective as it allows the body to heal itself along its proper lines of stress.  As well, it creates circulation and natural pumping to increase blood flow and promote lymphatic drainage to take away the debris that has accumulated.” Backandneck.ca

Simply put: Move. And move correctly. Meaning: good posture, good form, and supported by a strong core foundation of abdominal, back and hip muscles.
Paying attention to the fundamentals helps protect the joints, the back and the rest of our skeletal system from stressful overuse and ward of chronic inflammation.

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A few proactive steps to be aware of include:

Move often. Ideally do something each day. Walk, take the stairs, a quick run, hit the gym or dance around the living room. It doesn’t matter. Just move – each day – getting the heart pumping and toxins flushed out.

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Mind your head and neck position. Watch how long you look down as you text, read your phone, work on the computer. That 8-10lb head increases in weight when it hangs downward or juts out and puts stress on the upper back.

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Mind the slouch. Sitting or standing slouchy with rounded shoulders and abs “relaxed” causes undue stress on the entire back as it works to hold you upright. Remember, ongoing stress on the body leads to inflammation and the pain, discomfort, etc. that accompanies it.
Think: Atten-TION! Stand, sit and walk around with the good ‘ol book balanced on the head.

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Postural alignment. Think: shoulder-hip-knee-ankle-foot, all aligning as you stand, walk, step, squat or sit. Joint alignment works wonders to helping muscles work in an integrated, supportive fashion through all modes of movement.

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Consider: Diet
Not new news, and our bodies tell us all the time. Too much sugar, greasy fat, artificial preservatives, etc., wreak havoc on our systems, cause weight gain, lack of energy, internal “discomfort” and more.

Plus, the continual state of dehydration (that people typically ignore) results in our gastrointestinal systems working overtime to compensate for the lack of good fuel (nutrition + hydration). The good news is that there are nutritional strategies to help combat inflammation.

Choose your fuel wisely. Think of your meals as tasty, satisfying AND operational fuel. The good rule of thumb is balance: protein, fiber, healthy carbs and fat. Feed your body the right balance with enough nutritional content to give it what it needs (vitamins, minerals, branch chain amino acids). And limit the extra stuff it doesn’t need (added sugars, artificial ingredients and chemicals). Make the calories count!

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Remember to hydrate. “Since the average human body is 75 percent water, with blood 92 percent water, bones 22 percent water, and muscles 75 percent water, it’s no surprise our immune system depends on our water intake.” Medicaldaily.com
Dehydration is a scary thing when left unaddressed. Lack of balance and cognitive abilities, headaches and high blood pressure are a few results of dehydration. So drink up – and help flush out bad toxins.
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Reduce the acidity in your diet. “When blood becomes acidic, as it does when you eat a diet of processed foods, it causes inflammation. It then draws calcium and other acid-buffering minerals from you bones, in order to raise the pH back to its healthy alkaline range. If your body fails to bring the blood back to an alkaline state, it will continue to draw calcium from your bones, thereby weakening them. In athletes, an acid diet is a rocky road to stress fractures during sport. In everyone, chronic acidosis promotes numerous diseases as we age.” Drmichaelcolgan.com
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“The principles of an anti-inflammatory diet are healthy ones. The recommended foods are typical of a Mediterranean diet and include eating more fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy fats; eating moderate portions of nuts; eating very little red meat; and drinking moderate amounts red wine.” Medicaldaily.com

Try taking stock of your diet and compare it to an acidic vs. alkaline diet. Resources such as Dr. Axe Food Is Medicine can guide you to immediate changes you can make to start helping the effort to an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.

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The Good and the Bad of Inflammation

Our bodies are miracles with amazing regenerating abilities. “Without inflammation, wounds would fester and infections could become deadly. Inflammation can also be problematic, though, and it plays a role in some chronic diseases.” Livescience.com

By paying attention to what our bodies are telling us, making some changes and creating good health habits (starting with diet and exercise), we can help the regenerative process and set ourselves up for a lifetime of activity and feeling good!

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