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What is Chronic Inflammation?

by Marianne Navada
anti-inflammatory food tomatoes

Chronic inflammation is not a disease in and of itself. However, remained unchecked, it can lead to a myriad of health issues. These conditions rage from muscle pain, depression, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and the list continues. 

What is Inflammation? 

Inflammation is our immune system’s natural healing response to a foreign or toxic stimulus. Whether we have a wound or an injury, inflammation lets our bodies heal by infusing pro-inflammatory cells. This process lets our body “keep out bacteria, viruses, and subsequent infection”. Think of how blood rushes to a wound or how we develop a fever when our body is fighting an infection. That’s our immune system at work.

Doctors agree that the key to managing inflammation is “balance”. You need a certain level of inflammation. For this reason, acute inflammation, inflammation triggered when the body responds to injury is needed. However, inflammation becomes a problem when it is out of control, or chronic inflammation. This happens when the immune system releases pro-inflammatory cells to parts of our body that don’t need tending and healthy tissues break down. 

Diet, stress, lifestyle, environment, and genetics all contribute to the shift from acute to chronic inflammation. 

Measuring Inflammation Levels

The medical community employs various ways to measure inflammation. In “The Inflammation Sepctrum”, Dr. Cole lists 10 metrics, from iron and protein levels, gut microbiome, and genetic markers. But perhaps the most commonly used is measuring the C-reactive protein. This measurement links chronic inflammation to cardiovascular problems specifically. 

Experts also take into account risk factors for chronic inflammation. These include weight, stress levels, smoking, and sleeping habits. 

Because the destructive effects of inflammation can manifest as certain diseases, targeting inflammation means tackling underlying causes of major health issues, which makes it a holistic approach to healthcare.

Food as Medicine

Berries, green-leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, turmeric…experts celebrate plant-based and Mediterranean inspired food as ideal for controlling inflammation.

Harvard Health includes tomatoes to their list of anti-inflammatory foods. There seems to be a myth that tomatoes exacerbate inflammation since it contains solanin, a chemical to avoid if you have arthritis pain. But experts believe it is just that: a myth. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation includes tomatoes as part of a diet combatting arthritis.

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