Inflammation is the body’s response to damage or trauma. When we receive a cut or bruise or we twist an ankle, the body’s healing responses automatically kick in, sending healing blood and fluids to the damaged area. This leads to the familiar sight of a raised bruise or swollen ankle.
Although we are suffering from the wound, the body is working exactly as it should, magically patching us back together until we are as good as new again. Once the damage is repaired, the inflammation gradually subsides.
But inflammation has a darker side. Sometimes the systems inside our body are out of whack and the repair process doesn’t happen as it should. Once the inflammation response is turned on, it stays turned on.
The result is continued, chronic inflammation in a particular part of your body such as your skin or joints.
These conditions, such as arthritis and psoriasis, are known as autoimmune conditions and they make life miserable for millions of us every day.
Even worse, our whole body can be inflamed. We may experience chronic tiredness, headaches, puffiness and water retention, skin complaints, moodiness and generally feel like shit.
What could cause our body to react like this? Why would our immune system continually be in fixing and repairing overdrive?
A big factor appears to be the health of our gut and the state of our microbiome.
Normally the food we eat is contained safely within our bowels during the digestive process, with our gut wall only allowing useful nutrients to pass through.
However, the gut wall can become damaged and leaky, the result being that partially digested molecules of food pass into our bloodstream where they are recognised by our immune system as foreign bodies to be defended against. This sets off inflammation.
Leaky gut also enables toxins produced by bad bacteria to pass into the body. One particularly nasty bacteria-produced toxin is known as LPS, short for lipopolysaccharide.
LPS is believed to trigger flareups of autoimmune conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and it’s also linked with obesity and brain disease, again because of the inflammation it provokes. We talk about this more in Brain Health Begins In The Gut.
Another thing that can trigger leaky gut and worsen inflammation is stress. Check out How Stress Wreaks Havoc On Your Microbiome
Over-Heated Immune System
High levels of chronic inflammation also go hand-in-hand with conditions such as Crohn’s Disease and Colitis, where the gut becomes inflamed, painful and unable to properly absorb food.
If you imagine our immune system like central heating with a thermostat, it needs to be set at just the right level. If it’s set too high or too low we feel uncomfortable.
When our immune system is set too ‘hot’ it will react to harmless stuff like pollen or peanuts as if they were threats. It can even attack our own organs, causing autoimmune conditions.
Scientist and doctors have struggled for years to understand why our immune system would attack our own body.
Recent studies have revealed a remarkable discovery: certain species of friendly bacteria in our gut are in communication with the cells of our immune system, guiding our immune system on when to react and when not to.
When we have insufficient numbers of friendly bacteria in our gut, it appears that our immune system is literally unable to find the right level of intensity and ends up ‘overheating’, attacking our own organs and creating rampant inflammation.
Experts aren’t yet sure in the case of Crohn’s and Colitis whether the immune system is overreacting to something harmless, such as friendly bacteria, or is attacking the gut itself.
Either way, there’s no doubt the immune system is confused and malfunctioning.
We talk about this more in Supercharge Your Body To Crush Autoimmune
Putting Out The Flames
The good news is that by making some changes to our food and lifestyle, our microbiome will gradually come back into balance and the gut wall is able to repair itself. This enables our immune system to find it’s optimal level rather than overheating, which in turn allows the body to heal.