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What Is Inflammation & What Can You Do About It

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation comes from the Latin word “inflammare’ (in – ‘to cause to’ + flammare – ‘to catch fire’) and you’ll definitely feel like you are alight if you ever experience any of the classic symptoms of inflammation – redness, swelling, pain or heat.

Inflammation is a normal physiological response to injury or infection in the body. It’s usually short-term or acute while the body gets to work defending and repairing.  When you’ve sprained your ankle or have an infected cut your immune system sends special types of molecules called cytokines to the infected cut or trauma. These molecules signal and tell other immune cells to repair the damage. To get to these molecules to the site of infection or injury, your blood supply will increase resulting in redness, swelling, heat in the area with the injury. And while the inflammation process can be rather annoying but it’s completely necessary so healing can happen.

So that’s what happens ordinarily but what if the cause of the inflammation isn’t dealt with or is continually served up to the body?

In this case, the inflammatory process continues unabated. This is chronic inflammation and it is damaging to the body.

Chronic Inflammation

This type of inflammation is often referred to as silent inflammation because it doesn’t necessarily hurt nor show externally. And like the teacher who is constantly having to tell off the unruly kid in class, the immune system is always in this inflammatory state as it tries to deal with the physical, emotional or environmental invasion.

Eventually, and frankly understandably after years of responding, the immune system may become a little bewildered discerning between you and the invader and can start attacking cells in your body.

Underlying chronic inflammation has been linked to a range of conditions from neurodegenerative disorders like Alzehiemer’s and Parkinsons to obesity.

Around 70% of our immune system is located in the intestines, so a gut immune system that is constantly being provoked by food triggers and the environmental toxins within them, will be in an inflammatory state with limited or no symptoms.

Over time, this inflammation can irritate the walls of the intestines causing it to become more permeable or leaky (hence the term leaky gut) than it should be.

Inflammation in the gut can also affect the balance of bacteria in the gut which has consequences. Gut inflammation may push the balance of bacteria towards the growth of more unfavourable bacteria which produce molecules that further irritate the lining allowing inflammatory molecules and partially digested food particles into the blood further provoking an immune response beyond the borders of the gut.

So, what happens in the gut doesn’t stay in the gut!

How to Reduce Inflammation

There are some foods that contribute to inflammation and eating these foods daily will add fuel to the fire.  These include sugar, alcohol, food preservatives , refined vegetable oils, gluten and dairy. But it’s not just food, being inactive, stress and even mild sleep deprivation can all induce an inflammatory state.

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom, being active, managing our response to stress, getting good quality sleep and eating anti inflammatory foods, like wild-caught mackerel or salmon or flax and pumpkin seeds can help. In addition, probiotic foods full of good bacteria and the prebiotics food that feed them can all help us to dampen the flames of inflammation.


I specialise in helping people feel well again, by using functional and lifestyle medicine. It’s an approach to health and healing that addresses the root cause of illness or symptoms and seeks not only to re-establish good health, but also avoid disease in the first place.