Inflammation is your body’s protective response to harmful insults like injuries, toxins, and pathogens. On the outside we see signs of inflammation like edema or swelling, redness, heat, pain and loss of function like stiffness. How does short term inflammation have a positive effect on injury recovery?
Let’s explore what happens after an injury.
After the event, local cells release signaling molecules activating local (mast cells) and calling distant effector immune cells to the site of injury. Some of the signals are called histamines and bradykinins which lead to heat, pain and swelling. These effects allow greater blood flow (open highway) to the insult so the defenders can come quicker and do their work. Other signaling molecules include cytokines, chemokines, and prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are the target that medicines like ibuprofen block.
Then the full army arrives, neutrophils, T cells, including natural killer T cells, B cells, macrophages. All these cells work to phagocytose or eat up intruders and directly kill intrusive cells. During the cleanup, cells are made that will remember the intruder so the next time the offender presents itself your body can clean it up faster.
Another major player in inflammation is reactive oxidative species, or oxidants. These are natural byproducts of most cellular processes such as when the powerhouse of the cell creates ATP! In chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure these ROS accumulate above the body’s ability to safely get rid of them and cause direct DNA damage. When a cell’s DNA is damaged it can either lead to cancer or more often the cell can die.
Usually, inflammation is good! It helps clean up harmful things that attack your body like infections, physical injuries, and toxins. Long term inflammation, such as caused by diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure leads to increased risks of cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
Physical fitness is the most important aspect to preventing the negative aspects of oxidants and inflammation. Effective blood circulation is extremely important. Antioxidant supplements can also be used to assist in fighting back against oxidant related damage.