“Inflammation” is quite the buzzword in the wellness world these days—but what, exactly is it, and how do you know if you have it?
“Inflammation is the immune system’s response to offending agents,” says Fred Pescatore, MD, a natural health physician and New York Times best-selling author who’s worked with clients including Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson, and Renée Zellweger.
He tells Best Life that inflammation flares up “when your body is trying to fight off infection, recover from injury, or clear toxins.” Pescatore stresses that inflammation, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. “Inflammation is necessary to heal the body, and the process can take a few days,” he notes.
It’s when inflammation lingers that it causes problems. “We call this chronic inflammation—when the body continues sending inflammatory cells even when there is no threat, leaving your body alert and filing a response erroneously aimed at the body’s own tissue,” Pescatore explains. “This can cause damage to tissues and organs, making you more susceptible to illness and discomfort. Over time, chronic inflammation can lead to various health problems ranging in severity, including fatigue, joint pain, diabetes, and skin and heart health. “
Following an anti-inflammatory diet, as well as taking certain supplements, can help reduce these symptoms, says Pescatore. Read on for four changes you can expect to feel when you begin to address chronic inflammation in the body—plus, how to ward off chronic inflammation for good.
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The first benefit of addressing chronic inflammation, Pescatore says, is that you may experience less swelling throughout your body. This makes sense, since swelling is a hallmark of inflammation. But what makes it happen?
“When inflammation happens, chemicals from your body’s white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from invaders,” WebMD explains. “It can cause redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, resulting in swelling. This protective process may trigger nerves and cause pain.”
If you suffer from creaky knees, popping hips, and aching fingers, taking steps to resolve chronic inflammation may help, Pescatore says.
“Chronic inflammation in the joints can damage cartilage, bones, tendons (which attach muscle to bones), or ligaments (which hold joints together),” the experts at Harvard Health write. They note that inflammation can also irritate nerves and cause stiffness. “The joint damage may be progressive and irreversible,” they add.
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If you’ve ever had a pimple—and who hasn’t?—you know that inflamed skin is red, puffy, and sensitive. Chronic inflammation is a little different, because it’s not a response to a clogged, infected pore, but it can still keep your skin from looking its best.
Healthline lists dermatitis and psoriasis as common symptoms of chronic inflammation, and both of these can cause redness, itching, and dull skin. Pescatore says when you take measures to address inflammation, you can look forward to a brighter complexion.
“There are steps you can take to reduce inflammation in the body to help maintain the balance between the necessary immune response to heal and harmful chronic inflammation,” says Pescatore.
“Evaluate your stress, diet, and nutrition, as these are thought to play a role in chronic inflammation,” he recommends, adding that research shows incorporating foods like tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, blueberries, and salmon can help reduce inflammation. He also recommends taking a natural anti-inflammatory supplement “such as Pycnogenol French maritime pine bark extract, [which] can help fill any gaps in your diet.”
Other things you can do to reduce chronic inflammation include getting regular exercise and avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, according to Harvard Health. Their experts add that your doctor may be able to give you a blood test that checks for tell-tale markers of the condition.