An Inflammatory Situation

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 22nd, 2011)

Continuing on last week’s topic of The Current Rise of Food Allergies, I would like to discuss the idea of inflammation. Inflammation is a chemical process that is triggered by the immune system or a chemical imbalance. It results in the creation of messenger molecules called prostaglandins and produces pain and congestion. Inflammation is a good thing, when it happens appropriately and in the correct place it is extremely useful. It draws white blood cells to the area of injury or infection, increases local circulation, and causes smooth muscle contraction.

As I said before, inflammation can be triggered two ways. The first is through activation of the immune system when it recognizes a foreign substance or damaged tissue it needs to clean up. The white blood cells that have found the problem send out signals that initiate what is called the “Inflammatory Cascade”, a chain of chemical reactions that lead to the production of multiple useful signals and eventually the prostaglandins.

All chemical reactions, be they in a beaker in a lab or in our bodies, are driven to some degree by concentration. When there is too much of one substance on one side of the reaction then that will push the process forward until balance is reached where there are equal amounts on either side of the conversion. The inflammatory cascade starts with fats, specifically Omega-6 fats. When there are a lot of Omega-6 fats in our bodies then the balance of the inflammatory cascade is tipped towards the production of the prostaglandins. This second mechanism for inflammation is less specific than the first. When we have too many Omega-6 fats in our bodies this is going to hold true throughout the body. This means that the inflammation will be throughout the body as well rather than a specific, limited area like a sprained ankle.

In last week’s post we talked about larger food particles entering the bloodstream from the gut and the immune system reacting to them. Because this and the Omega-6 instances of inflammation are generally in the bloodstream and not in the tissues the inflammation spreads widely and the symptoms crop up accordingly. Inflammation increases the amount of aches and pains throughout the body, can cause headaches, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, muscle cramps, and increase the intensity of symptoms from other conditions. One significant example of this is menstrual cramps and pain. Many women discover that when they eliminate inflammation from their systems their cycles become much more bearable and even a non-event.

Weight gain is also associated with inflammation. This is because one of the body’s main defences against high chemical concentrations, in this case the prostaglandins, in either the blood or the tissues is to keep extra water to dilute the chemicals and decrease the probability of damage to the body until they can be dealt with. So when inflammation is decreased many people discover that they quickly shed those extra few pounds that have been stubbornly sticking around.

Next week we will discuss dietary triggers and ways to eliminate unnecessary inflammation from our bodies.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Ben

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