Simply put, inflammation is the body’s physiological response to any injury, infection or any irritant.
Inflammatory processes are common and a normal defense response of the body, acting to protect against invading organisms and processes that affect that can potentially cause us harm.
Acute inflammation is an immediate, overwhelming response to a trauma, irritation, endo-toxins, bacteria, viruses, micro-organisms and other noxious stimulus. For example, whenever we cut ourselves or sustain any other type of injury, within a few milliseconds the inflammatory cascade becomes activated. Damaged cell membranes first release products of arachidonic acid metabolism, like prostaglandins and leukotrienes, as well as bradikinins and histamins all of which are substances that have an important role in an acute inflammatory process.
These chemical mediators cause an increased blood flow to the site of injury and are typically the cause of the initial localized pain associated with an acute inflammatory process. The increase flow of blood and fluid into the injured area, causes swelling and the increased vasodilation causes redness.
The immune system also becomes activated, and white blood cells, by a process called chemotaxis, arrive at the site of injury. Neutrophils are the white blood cells responsible in finding and eliminating any bacteria. It does so by engulfing these micro-organisms, and destroying them with potent enzymes within its cell structure. The neutrophils are helped in removing cellular debris by another type of white blood cell called macrophages.
Depending on the type of injury, the hematologic system can also be activated with platelets quickly clumping to form a localized blood clot to stop any potential bleeding.
In addition to these blood cell components the injured area is also flooded with other anticoagulant factors and chemicals that work together to protect the body from the potential damage.
In a healthy person, this response to injury or infection is quick and efficient, with resolution occurring before the immune system is chronically activated. After the acute process is contained and resolved, the skin eventually returns to its normal color and temperature.
An example of this would be with a flare up of gout. As uric acid levels increase they may precipitate and form crystals and deposit in the fluids and lining around the joints. This causes the area to become irritated and inflamed, manifested by redness, swelling and tenderness to the affected area. Another more common example of an acute inflammation is that of a common head cold.
In contrast, to an acute inflammatory response, a chronic low-level inflammation is a persistent inflammation due to chronic irritation by exposure to a noxious stimuli or an auto-immune reaction. Instead of a response by neutrophils and macrophages it is monocytes, lymphocytes and fibroblasts that typically predominate. As this inflammation continues indefinitely, other components of the body’s defense system become activated. The compliment system is activated to aid antibodies and phagocytic cells in removing noxious stimuli. Phagocytic cells that engulf and destroy invading cells and generate and produce many enzymes and chemicals like reactive oxygen species. The coagulation system is activated to limit bleeding, by forming a network of fine protein strands that localize to the area of injury. The kinin system of proteins is activated and acts as inflammatory mediators to cause vasodilatation and finally the fibrinolysis system is activated to limit and counter balance the coagulation system. Several different inflammatory mediators result from each of these systems, all of which form part of the immune response.
Reactive oxygen species are unstable compounds useful in eliminating various noxious threats if left un checked can lead to oxidative damage of nucleic acids and proteins, causing illness.
Chronic inflammation can become a state of continuous stimulation that for whatever reason, cannot seem to turn it self off. In these settings chronic inflammation leads to involvement of the immune system.
An immune system that cannot turn itself off, then turns against the body, producing a myriad of chronic diseases.
Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to develop certain chronic inflammatory diseases.
Chronic inflammation can result from an acute inflammation, or develop slowly and have a delayed onset, lasting for months or years, and end with tissue destruction, tissue fibrosis or cell death.
In chronic inflammation, we don’t have the typical cardinal signs of heat, redness, swelling and pain as in an acute inflammatory process, and many times we are not even aware of an ongoing inflammation. Most low grade inflammation produce no identifiable symptom because it typically occurs in cells, tissues and organs deep within the body and often times we are not aware that the illness.
Examples of chronic inflammation include; atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, peptic ulcer disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, pancreatitis, Alzheimers disease, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma and many others.
from the book: “Change your Diet, Change your Health” (2012)