Have you ever bumped your knee so hard that it swelled up and became red and warm? That’s your body’s inflammatory response. A bump on the knee is the kind of inflammation you can see, but what’s all this talk about lowering your body’s overall inflammation? If you don’t see redness or have a fever, is inflammation an issue for you?
Here, we’ll describe what inflammation is, what the signs are, and the top foods you’re eating that may be contributing to inflammation.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the way our immune system fights off anything that might harm us—whether it's something as small as a paper cut or larger such as bacteria trying to infect your cells.
Acute inflammation is your body’s response to damage, usually by injury or infection.
This is usually inflammation you can see, like a red knee, a swollen finger, or feeling feverish and achy because your body is fighting off the flu.
Symptoms of acute inflammation may include
- Flushed or red skin appearance near the injury site
- Pain or soreness
- Warmth near the injury site
In cases of chronic inflammation, your body sends a continuous stream of inflammatory cells to a site. Sometimes there is damage, sometimes there isn’t.
Chronic inflammation is often the type of inflammation you can’t see—like autoimmune thyroid disease, dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) or certain types of arthritis (inflammation in the joints).
Symptoms of chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a little trickier, because symptoms often point to something else. If you have chronic inflammation, you may experience:
- Pain specific to one or more body regions
- Skin flushing or rash
- Swelling, bloating, or water retention
- Brain fog
- Unstable moods
Causes of Inflammation
There are probably enough causes of inflammation design a whole medical school curriculum around them. But here are a few of the most common examples:
- Injury or infection. Injury or infection may cause an acute inflammatory response that you can see.
- Environmental exposures. Pollution and chemicals can produce an inflammation response as your body prepares to excrete them.
- Food intolerances or allergy. Foods that don’t work with your body may contribute to acute inflammation if you generally avoid it and ingest it once, or chronic inflammation if you aren’t aware of the intolerance and consume it often.
- Autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease happens when your immune system attacks and damages healthy tissue in your body.
- Aging. Your immune response becomes more easily triggered as you age.
- Overweight or obesity. Maintaining a healthy body composition may help maintain a healthy inflammation response.
- Unhealthy sleep patterns. Quality sleep is foundational when it comes to health, and poor sleep could throw off your immune and inflammation response.
- Hormone imbalance. Hormone imbalances are often associated with inflammation and inflammation-based conditions.
Foods That May Contribute to Inflammation
People don’t realize the impact that everyday foods can have on inflammation. If you feel like your inflammation response is quick to trigger or you have conditions that indicate your inflammation may be high (autoimmune disease, etc.), you might experiment with eliminating certain trigger foods. Here are some of the more common ones.
Added sugar doesn’t occur in nature, and humans aren’t built to metabolize it as well as we would a plate of vegetables. When blood sugar rises steeply, you might experience an inflammation response until it can return to optimal levels.
Alcohol is a toxin, even in small amounts. That’s why you may wake up with a headache and puffy eyes the morning after you’ve had a few.
Artificial ingredients aren’t food and your body doesn’t recognize them as food. So, artificial ingredients may trigger an inflammatory response because your body wants to get that stuff out, ASAP.
Foods you don’t tolerate
If a food doesn’t work with your body, you may notice things like digestive discomfort, joint pain, bad moods, feelings of anxiousness, skin reactions…the list goes on. Some of the most common offenders include gluten, dairy, eggs, caffeine, sulfites, eggs, yeast, and food dyes. This is all individual though, so if you suspect a food intolerance, contact your doctor for testing.
Diet with low nutrient density
If you’re eating mostly empty calories, you may start to experience symptoms of inflammation as a result. Aim for plenty of colorful veggies alongside high-quality proteins and high-quality fats.
Inflammation is your body’s response to injury or illness. Acute inflammation may look like warmth, redness, pain, or swelling at the site, but chronic inflammation can have a wide array of symptoms. As the root of most disease processes, it’s a good idea to understand what inflammation is and tune in to your body during times you might be experiencing symptoms of inflammation.