Inflammation: Is It Good Or Bad?
Inflammation can be either good or bad for you, depending on the type of inflammation. First, we have to understand what inflammation is. It is the body’s normal response to injury or infection, and is a crucial step of the healing process.
When you have a wound, for example, the body goes through several steps to close and heal the wound. Step one is hemostasis, or blood clotting, to keep you from bleeding out. Step two is inflammation. The area is flooded with white blood cells which eat dead tissue and pathogens. Growth factor is involved in this stage and its role is to stimulate cell division. Step three and four are proliferation and maturation, where cells grow and remodel.
Inflammation is a necessary step in wound healing, so why are we constantly trying to block it? The answer has to do with the type of inflammation. In the acute phase, it’s beneficial, but there are times where the response isn’t shut off, and it becomes chronic. How does this happen? Let’s just say it’s very complicated:
This is an illustration of the mediators that control the inflammatory response. Don’t spend too much time looking at it, it’ll give you a headache. Just know that a deficiency in any of these mediators may trip the chronic inflammatory response (Lawrence & Gilroy, 2007).
What is the harm in chronic inflammation besides discomfort? A lot. Long term swelling in a joint can lead to synovitis, tissue damage, and even cartilage erosion (Bricca et al, 2017). Newer studies have now determined that chronic inflammation is involved in the formation of atherosclerosis (Malhotra et al, 2017). This brings me to my next point; location. Another way to categorize inflammation is local versus systemic. The local response is what we have already discussed and is beneficial. Systemic inflammation is triggered by disease processes, viral or bacterial infection, and most commonly, by our diet.
So in short, local and acute inflammation is beneficial, or rather necessary. If it persists for more than a few days, it becomes chronic and needs to be mitigated. Poor dietary choices, disease, and infection can trigger systemic inflammation. Systemic inflammation can lead to a cascade of negative consequences and is a signal that something is wrong with the entire organism. However, if you sprain your ankle and have some temporary swelling, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing and you don’t have to take anti-inflammatories unless you cannot function. Sometimes it’s best to let the body go through its natural healing process.
Lawrence, T., & Gilroy, D. W. (2006). Chronic inflammation: a failure of resolution? International Journal of Experimental Pathology, 88(2), 85–94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2613.2006.00507.x
Bricca, A., Juhl, C., Grodzinsky, A., & Roos, E. (2017). Impact of a daily exercise dose on knee joint cartilage – a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials in healthy animals. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage,25(8), 1223-1237. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2017.03.009
Malhotra, A., Redberg, R. F., & Meier, P. (2017). Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(15), 1111–1112. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097285