Six Subtle Signs of Inflammation

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on July 12th, 2012)

I have just spent a week with close friends and family and I always come away from time like that amazed at the amount of inflammation that people are willing to live with or are oblivious to. But then I remember that I was the same way before I learned about it in school so I would like to take this week to point out some of the more subtle forms inflammation can show itself in your body. In the past we have discussed the more systemic effects of chronic inflammation but those are difficult to see on your own.

1. Mosquito Bites
We are nearing the middle of summer now and the bugs are out and about doing their thing, which unfortunately includes biting us. The bites are itchy and red and swollen but you may have noticed that some people react much more than others with huge, raised welts that look angry and painful. This is sometimes due to allergies and an appropriate inflammatory response but more often than not this due to a high level of inflammation within the bloodstream which jumps at the chance to show itself. Many people discover that their reaction to mosquito and other insect bites decreases when they reduce the inflammation in their diets and lifestyles.

2. Skin Health
Our skin is constantly being shed and replaced and so it is generally one of the first things about our bodies to show outward signs of an internal change. In chronic inflammation, the new skin cells are constantly under a barrage of chemical effects. This can cause dry and flaky skin or blotchy red marks, or even acne. People spend tonnes of money every year on skin care products when many skin conditions have been known to respond incredibly well to simple changes in diet. Instead of throwing our money away on more chemicals why don’t we try taking the inflammatory foods out of our diets?

3. Lingering Colds, Coughs, and Congestion
The chemicals of inflammation are responsible for mucus production among other effects and this, when chronic can lead to lingering coughing after an illness long after the initial cold is gone as well as chronic congestion. In the case of infection or invasion of a foreign particle, this mucus production is designed to trap the substance and physically push it out of the body and is quite effective. Some long-standing sinus problems can be relieved through the elimination of inflammatory foods and activities.

4. Swelling/Puffiness
As we’ve discussed previously inflammation is a chemical process and the body’s main mechanism for dealing with chemical build-up is to hold onto lots of water to dilute it. In appropriate situations this aspect of inflammation aids in the swelling of the site of injury, where as in chronic inflammation, the chemical process is happening throughout the body and so this retention creates a general puffiness. Due to gravity is can be sometimes felt more in the legs and feet than the upper body.

5. Weight gain and difficultly losing weight
People who have chronic inflammation often have difficulty losing weight and sometimes even end up gaining weight. This can be in part due to the water retention but also due to the nature of fat within the body. One of the most efficient mechanisms our bodies utilize when dealing with a toxic or irritating chemical is to store it away inside our fat cells where it cannot cause any further damage. In chronic inflammation there is a lot of irritation going on inside our bodies and so they attempt to decrease the burden by increasing fat storage.

6. Aches, Pains, and Stiffness
Some of the other effects of inflammation include chemical pain production and heat/fever initiation. In low-grade, systemic inflammation this generally appears as a propensity towards achy muscles and joints. This chemical process will also increase the pain experienced with arthritis.

Many times in the past we have talked about reducing inflammation through diet, exercise, and lifestyle, so if you notice these signs in your daily grind think about what might be causing inflammation in your lifestyle and try to change it. Remember, make a small change today for a big difference later.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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