Inflammation is Good for Your Health: My Current Position on a Natural Biological Process
Inflammation gets a lot of flak. Medical authorities point at inflammation as the cause of many symptoms and diseases. Advertisements push anti-inflammatory supplements, diets, pills, and even lifestyles. Based on what we see and hear, it seems like inflammation is the basis for all health problems. The buzz surrounding inflammation certainly doesn’t tout any attributes. How is it that I can have such gratitude for acute inflammation?
Appreciate Acute Inflammation
I’m ambidextrous. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for most of my life. The truth is, the only thing I can do reasonably well with my right hand is to use a pen. Admittedly, even that’s subjective if you attempt to read my writing. I play sports with my left hand, and I’m stronger on my left side of my body in nearly every way.
Although we toss the term about with ease, most of us don’t give the concept of inflammation much thought until symptoms bench us from physical activity. Here’s where I’m about to share something personal.
Why I chose to use my right hand to use a saw three weeks ago is beyond me. I won’t bore you with the details of what makes for a perfect storm in an impromptu DIY project but instead will share how physical trauma gives me pause and helps me appreciate my health, the human body, and oddly, acute inflammation.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the natural biological response by your immune system to some sort of injury, noxious or viral exposure, or otherwise stressor to your body. When something compromises your health, inflammation is your immune system’s mechanism it uses to fight it.
Inflammation can easily be divided into two categories; good inflammation versus bad inflammation. Rather, acute versus chronic inflammation.
Regardless of how it feels at the time, acute inflammation is the good kind of inflammation. It comes on quickly, lasts for a relatively short time and generally goes away after whatever induced it, is rectified.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is the bad kind. It comes on slowly, lasts for longer durations, and is harder to manage. I’m not here writing words of poetry about chronic inflammation if you know what I mean.
(Coming up separately, we’ll take a deep dive into chronic inflammation and how you can have too much of a good thing.)
Similar to a security company, your immune system monitors your body’s health status and triggers an inflammatory response when there’s a security breach. Stressors that threaten your health status will alert your immune system that there’s an attack and to send out reinforcements.
Physical trauma, viral infections, toxic exposures, and irritating pollens can threaten your health and stress your body. Trauma and illness cause injured cells to issue a ‘distress’ call to your immune system, which sets off a series of inflammatory responses to repair and heal your body.
Signs of Acute Inflammation
Symptoms typical to inflammation are observed when immune cell activity is high and, the healing process has begun. Hopefully, it’s been longer than a few weeks, but we’ve all experienced the joys of acute inflammation after a physical insult.
- Warm to touch
- Loss of function
These are all signs of a healthy immune system in action. If you fall and scrape your knee, twist your ankle, or stupidly use a saw with the wrong hand, acute inflammation will respond to restore health.
What Does Acute Inflammation Do?
Hypothetically, let’s say a saw blade slices through your finger. Damaged muscle, blood vessel, nerve, bone, and tendon cells send an S.O.S. to your immune system. Almost immediately, acute inflammation begins when your immune system responds by increasing blood flow to the wounded site, bringing in healing nutrients.
Next, your blood vessels dilate, allowing immune cells and fluid pass through, flooding your injury. Increased vascularity and cellular activity lead to inflammation’s characteristic redness, swelling, and heat output. Initial trauma and swelling cause you pain and eventually loss of mobility if your injury is severe enough. Help is on its way in the form of acute inflammation.
Why Embrace Acute Inflammation
Unpleasant as it may be, acute inflammation performs several necessary biological functions. The obvious, keeping you living and breathing. Without your immune system’s inflammatory response, you wouldn’t be able to fight off infections, heal wounds, or even recover from an allergy attack.
Acute Inflammation Protects + Defends
Perhaps the best defense mechanism your body has, acute inflammation protects your body when in distress or if you’re struck down with an illness. After a severe injury, inflammation safeguards your health in a couple of ways.
First, acute inflammation and its accompanying pain force you to deal with whatever is causing it. Not only will you naturally shield an injury, but you will also be inclined to seek medical attention if inflammation is critical enough. Life is busy, and few of us have time to be derailed by maladies.
Raise your (injured) hand if you would ignore an injury if you could.
Second, acute inflammation protects you from yourself and prevents further damage. There’s actually a rational reason as to why you may lose function of an injured area. While your immune system is hard at work repairing tissue and cellular damage, the last thing you need is to extend your healing time with re-injury.
Raise your injured hand again if you’ve ever returned to daily activities only to prolong your healing period. (For the record, not me this time.)
Acute Inflammation Keeps it Clean
We bombard our immune systems 24-hours a day. Dust, pollen, environmental chemicals, viruses, and food ingredients are all suspects of causing inflammation. When your immune system encounters a foreign invasion, acute inflammation protects your health. Inflammatory immune cells work hard to engulf and evict irritating offenders to restore your health.
You get to breathe easy with the help of acute inflammation. Imagine what it would be like without it. Going down a dusty road would be deadly without your immune system’s response to help flush out invasive particles from your lungs. As obnoxious as phlegm is to expel, that inflammatory response is keeping you alive and breathing. Acute inflammation is cleaning up and protecting you.
Acute Inflammation Makes You Strong
It’s pretty easy to appreciate inflammation as a protective and healing force in the body. But inflammation is more than just about defending and restoring health. Acute inflammation can actually accelerate your health. And your fitness.
Here’s the bad news. Your body isn’t going to get tougher or become conditioned on its own. If you want to get stronger, you have to stimulate or challenge your body to do so. In other words, you are going to have to workout. Further, you will need to rest and recover; muscles don’t grow and get stronger in the gym. Allow me to explain.
Step One: Stimulate Inflammation
For the sake of simplicity, there are two stages of producing a change in the body: stimulation and recovery. Exercise is the stimulus that triggers your immune system’s response to build a stronger body. When you lift heavy weights, you’re placing a demand or load on the bones and muscles executing the exercise. Eventually, weakened muscle fibers alert your immune system and inflammation responds to repair damage and improve muscular strength and endurance. But only after you leave the gym and move onto phase two.
Step Two: Recovery
Phase two (recovery) is where hard-earned strength is gained; adaptation. In sports and athletics, recovery is the term used to describe the period following a strenuous workout when your body is busy at repairing and building.
Back to lifting weights as our example. As you carry out a particular exercise, muscle fibers start to fatigue and fail, recruiting more fibers until you can’t perform anymore. Small tears in muscle tissues trigger an immune response to repair damage and ultimately build muscle and bone strength. There would be no recovery from exercise without an inflammatory response.
Inflammation and Adaptation
You’ll never hear me begrudge inflammation following a demanding workout. Stimulate and adapt; it’s as if human biology made a deal. Exhaust (stress) the muscles enough to elicit a strength-inducing, albeit inflammatory response.
Adapt + Thrive
Acute inflammation definitely has its attributes. In order to heal, fight off infection, and flush out intruders, it’s essential. But beyond necessity, acute inflammation is the key to improving health, fitness, and in my case, even perspective. If you happen to be sidelined due to an injury or illness, take a minute to consider everything your body’s immune system is doing to fix you.
Coming up Next:
- How almost cutting through my (dominant) finger has me writing an ode to acute inflammation.
- Why, and more importantly, how medical cannabis is the only thing that I’m taking to manage pain, swelling, nerve damage, and infection from a rusty metal blade ripping my flesh apart.
- The exact cannabis product I used to reduce the acute inflammation by 90% with the pictures to prove it.
- Other tricks I’ve learned over the years that manage acute inflammation symptoms and speed up recovery.