We’re hearing much more about inflammation than ever before. Between television doctors and magazine articles, the information coming out about the inflammation response and how to stop it is confusing, to say the least. Is inflammation really responsible for cancer, heart disease, and all kinds of other life-threatening conditions? Can you eat your inflammation away by adding certain spices to your diet? It’s time to take a look at the myths and truth about the inflammation response.

Inflammation is Actually for Something
White blood cells (leukocytes) release chemicals to stimulate the inflammatory response following a cut in the skin.

White blood cells (leukocytes) release chemicals to stimulate the inflammatory response following a cut in the skin.

Inflammation isn’t all bad all the time. Inflammation is our body’s immune response to injury and infection. When we are exposed to anything that damages our cells, our body responds with a series of signals that lead to a ton of physical and biochemical activity:  the release of fluids rich with proteins and antibodies, an increase in blood flow to the distressed area and more, depending on the severity of the trauma.

Sometimes, when the injury is severe enough, you’ll see the telltale signs of inflammation, like swelling, redness, and heat in the area of the injury. A minor injury still produces the inflammatory response but with little to no visible signs. The pain and swelling don’t exactly feel good but it means that our inflammation response is working. Inflammation, after all, isn’t an accident or some kind of unfortunate biological byproduct; it’s a functional system with a job to do, which is to offer first-line defense against further injury and to kickstart the healing process.

An inflammatory response that is out of control is what’s bad and, yes, that can get ugly. Since its goal is to stop further invasion of infection in your damaged tissues, an inflammatory response that’s  working overtime can wreak havoc on your healthy tissue as well. Chronic inflammation in the body has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases in various studies for years now because the hyper-active environment it creates fosters the initiation of tumors and other tissue abnormalities.

Diet and Inflammation

You can’t surf the net without stumbling on claims of dietary miracles for reducing inflammation. Does diet even have anything to do with inflammation in the first place?

The short answer is yes; however, the promise that adding one specific food or supplement to your diet is going to prevent inflammatory response damage or the chronic inflammatory diseases is not true.

What has been proven in regard to diet and inflammation is that certain dietary factors do play a role in the treatment and even the prevention of inflammatory diseases. For instance: eating a better diet can help you lose excess weight which can lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in the body. CRP levels rise when there is significant inflammation in the body. And since being overweight increases your risk of other diseases, like heart disease and diabetes; then your diet can help you with inflammation.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health at Oregon State University, studies have also found that diets that produce high glycemic load can stimulate inflammation, as can diets that are high in saturated fat and trans fat, while diets that are high in monounsaturated fats can reduce inflammation. An example might be the traditional Mediterranean diet, which generally includes olive oil, nuts, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and yes, alcohol in moderation.

NSAISs and other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Popping a couple of ibuprofen tablets is pretty common practice when we’re dealing with inflammation and pain. And, those dealing with chronic inflammation and inflammatory conditions like arthritis may take it a step further and treat their symptoms with steroids and other medications. While these may offer relief, they are not—as commonly thought—a cure for inflammation. Many people are under the misconception that taking anti-inflammatory drugs is the key to curing chronic inflammation. It isn’t.

slide13All these drugs do is temporarily block the inflammation response, which, you might recall, is the body’s primary method of repairing itself. They do nothing to prevent the cause of the inflammatory response in the first place. Unfortunately, even after years of understanding the link between inflammation and disease, there have been few new treatments for inflammation.

So what’s a person to do? A change in lifestyle to one that is aimed at education and prevention is, as with so many other common health problems, our best bet for now. It certainly beats routinely suppressing your body’s normal biochemical reactions.

To get more information on inflammatory diseases and the latest research on inflammation, click here.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a blogger for healthline.com as well as a freelance author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking about her beach town with husband and dogs or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board. You can follow her here.


Immune Response. (February 2014). MedlinePlus. Retrieved on February 24, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000821.htm

Inflammation 101: Frequently Asked Questions. Massachusetts General Hospital. Retrieved on February 24, 2014 from http://www.gluegrant.org/faq.htm

Rakoff-Nahoum S. Why cancer and inflammation? Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 2006;79 (3-4):123–130. Retrieved on February 24, 2014, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994795/

Drake, Victoria J, Ph.D., Gombart, Adrian F, Ph.D. (2010). Nutrition and Inflammation. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Retrieved on February 24, 2014, from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/inflammation.html

2 Responses to “Guest Blog! Understanding Inflammation (and Anti-Inflammatories)”

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    Thank you so much for another informative posting about our good health.
    Any doctor worth his salt will tell you that pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory therapy is sometimes a good thing. When you reduce the inflammation from an injury (elbow, knee, shoulder, ankle, hip), or inflammation due to an infection (like sore throat), with the use of an anti-inflammatory drug, the affected area can actually heal more quickly. However, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs for chronic inflammation due to osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis (as opposed to inflammation due to injury or illness) should be undertaken with circumspection. Often, joint and tendon inflammation can be linked to diet. But the solution may not be as simple as adding turmeric or cinnamon or garlic or ginger to your diet, but in excising something FROM your diet – like corn, or dairy, or gluten, or shellfish, or soy, or tree nuts, or nightshade vegetables. We tend to want always to “add” something to fix a problem, when very often the solution is in “subtracting” something.

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    Great post. It’s informative, without giving in to typical media hype about one certain thing (inflammation and how to solve it right this instant). Thanks for putting in perspective, that it should be a long term lifestyle change.


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