Inflammation -- Medium Scary
(July 26, 2016)
I know that you already know what inflammation is. I also know that you know that inflammation is a Bad Thing. And it is, too. Sometimes. But not always. It depends on when and where it's happening.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place” is a phrase that might have been coined to describe a rather curious aspect of body function. There are quite a few processes that your body carries out fabulously well as long (and only as long) as they STAY PUT. You'd think that because things happen so close together in your body that it can tolerate a fair amount of sloppiness. This is not the case.
The most obvious example (well, actually, just the first one I thought of) is stomach acid, which is very appropriately named. Stomach acid ideally has a pH (pH being the sciencey way we measure acidity) of 1.0 to 2.0. You know what else has a pH of 1.0? Battery acid. Stomach acid IS hydrochloric acid, and if you have seen as many horror movies as I have, you know what THAT can do to you.
So then, how does your stomach manage to keep hydrochloric acid in it all the time without turning you into a potential extra for The Walking Dead? Well, it is very cleverly built to do just that. But the esophagus, which is right next to it, is not. And that is why the various forms of acid reflux disease are not just painful , but (left uncontrolled) eventually very, very destructive, just because the stomach acid insists on going no more than a couple of inches out of its proper container.
Bile acids are caustic outside of the gallbladder. E. Coli are very important fecal bacteria, but heaven help you if they wind up in your body in a non-fecal location. Your brain super-filters your blood in order to keep everything but a very short list of substances away from it. Et cetera. The list of “not in my backyard” body functions is a long one, and inflammation is one of them.
Inflammation is a normal abnormal condition of the body, sort of like pregnancy. (No, I’m not going anywhere with that. Be my guest.) It is a series of steps that your body takes to protect itself against something it perceives to be damaging. As such, its existence is crucial for maintaining normal health. But because those steps can often be uncomfortable or seem abnormal in themselves, an awful lot of what we think of as disease are the measures that the body is taking to handle disease.
A fever is your body deliberately driving up your temperature to kill invading bacteria, for example, and is part of the inflammatory response. Swelling is something that also normally happens with inflammation, because your body is trying to bring a whole lot of blood, white blood cells and repair material to the location of an injury as soon as possible. The function of normal inflammation, in a nutshell, is to eliminate a noxious stimulus, get rid of dead tissue and fix the injured tissue. But, like the aforementioned example of stomach acid, when inflammation occurs inappropriately it can cause a lot of damage.
Inflammation is especially problematic when it becomes chronic – meaning, when it doesn’t just do its job and get out. Sometimes inflammation continues indefinitely because your body is doing its best to deal with an issue it can’t quite fix. Sometimes it happens completely inappropriately in tissue that should be healthy. Chronic inflammation in one or more of its forms is a very, very common, almost universal, condition these days.
One form of chronic inflammation occurs in arthritis (which by definition means "inflammation of the joint(s)"), and that is the type I would particularly like to talk about. Particularly I mean the kind of arthritis you discover when you keep hurting for no good reason that you or anyone else can see. You go to the doctor, s/he takes x-rays and points to the area of pain and says, “you’ve got arthritis”. THAT kind of arthritis.
Now, here’s an interesting thing. It is possible to have an x-ray that shows arthritis BUT THERE'S NO PAIN. You can even have a questionable MRI and no pain (that’s pretty common, actually). That is for this reason: there is NOT a one-to-one correspondence between an abnormal imaging finding and pain. The thing that connects those two things is INFLAMMATION.
When you injure yourself and acquire, for example, a bulging disc, you will go through chiropractic manipulation or physical therapy or exercise and usually the area stops hurting. But THE BULGE IS STILL THERE. The difference is, you got rid of the inflammation. Re-imaging the injured location would still show the bulge or the stenosis or whatever. But with the inflammation gone, so is the pain.
Pain is a necessary step in inflammation to help mobilize the body to heal appropriately, but it often sticks around unnecessarily after an injury. So very very often, you still have pain without a problem. Meaning if you can then get rid if the pain, you won't have a problem anymore.
What works on this kind of inflammation? (Aside from aspirin and its pharmaceutical cousins, which can cause bad problems if you use them continually.) Well – diet, exercise and supplements can all help eliminate chronic inflammation. Often they don’t even address the inflammation directly, but deal with the reason why the inflammation is there in the first place. And you can’t beat THAT.
Sadly that is too big a subject to dash off in a couple of paragraphs, so I am leaving it for next time. But I do want to make one more point today – and that is that it is the rare person who is unable in some way or another reduce their pain and inflammation naturally, if they face it square on and take the appropriate steps. So be of good cheer.
--dr. diane holmes
Copyright © 2016