Inflammation is something we have heard about a lot lately, but what exactly is inflammation and why is it so important?
Inflammation is a process in which the body tries to fight off harmful stimuli. It is an attempt at self protection involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The aim is to eliminate the initial stimulus, remove any dead or damaged cells, and begin the healing process. Inflammation is very complex and can involve any part of the body.
Inflammation is not the same thing as infection, although infection can cause inflammation. Think about the swollen red nose, sore throat and wheezy lungs you get with an upper respiratory infection; these symptoms are not caused directly by the virus, but instead by the body's response to the virus.
Inflammation can be due to almost anything - foreign bodies (sliver), uric acid (gout), infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, fungi), and sometimes is the body attacking itself (autoimmune diseases). The body can have acute inflammation - a rapid response of the body that can become severe. Examples of this include acute appendicitis, tonsillitis, sprained ankle, ingrown toenail, skin infection, acute gout, and exercise response. Chronic inflammation is long term resulting from failure to remove the stimuli, a low intensity chronic irritant, or an auto-immune response. Examples of this include vascular inflammation, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn's disease.
Obesity is also a pro-inflammatory state. Studies have been done which show that people who are obese have higher blood inflammatory markers, and the levels of all of these markers increase with increasing fat mass. One theory is that expanded fat has outgrown its blood supply causing too little oxygen to cells.
Insulin resistance is also an inflammatory response. Ever present (toxic stiumli) sugar causes increased insulin levels which in turn supplies surplus sugar to the cells; this prompts the cells to shut down the gateways that allow additional sugar into the cell. When this happens, any additional sugar present outside the cells is stored as fat (for an excellent, easy to read description of this, see Dr. Jason Fung's "Insulin Resistance is Good?").
When insulin resistance occurs, the immune system becomes more alert (read: more inflammatory). The results are more joint pain, more risk of heart disease and stroke, more gout, more irritable bowel, and more chronic pain.
The deposit of fatty streaks in blood vessels is also an inflammatory response. Why do we get fatty streaks? The most plausible answer is because of oxidative stress to the small LDL particles. LDL particles are necessary (not bad as we've been taught) and are useful in cell functions and a necessary part of cell membranes. When they become oxidized, they are no longer recognizable except to white blood cells (a large player in inflammation) which cause them to form fatty streaks in the blood vessels. These fatty streaks eventually become plaque and can rupture causing an intense inflammatory response that can progress to block the vessel, resulting in a heart attack or stroke. What causes this oxidative stress to the LDLs? One of the main causes is oxidized polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and the biggest source of PUFAs is vegetable oils. The most common cause of oxidation of PUFAs is heating them. What do you do with vegetable oils? Heat them and use them to cook other foods. This plus the overall increase in inflammation due to insulin resistance increases risk of heart attacks significantly.
What is the root cause of all of this disease? Inflammation? No - inflammation is the protective response of our body. One major root cause is the Standard American Diet (SAD), high in sugar, refined highly processed carbohydrates, and vegetable oils (just look: soybean oil can be found in just about everything!). The cure? It goes back to eating real, whole food (see How to LCHF), getting enough sleep, quitting tobacco if you use it, and exercising regularly.