Inflammation, the Root of All Disease?

There is a new comment heard repeatedly in Western Medicine (conventional medicine) which says, “Inflammation is the root of all disease.” Let’s take a look at this concept and see why this assumption is both right, and wrong.

Here is the definition of inflammation from Wikipedia:

Inflammation (Latin, inflammatio) is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants,[1] and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and to initiate tissue repair.

The classical signs of acute inflammation are calor, dolor, rubor, tumor (heat, pain, redness and swelling) and loss of function.

This sounds complex to non-medical ears so I will simplify what is being said. Inflammation is an automatic response of your bodies’ immune system. This means your body has the wisdom and programming to create inflammation, it is not a mistake. Immune responses are both protective and reparative and happen for 3 primary reasons:

  1. Injury– inflammation produces heat, pain, redness, swelling, and loss of function when for example we sprain an ankle. This is a healthy reaction which protects us from continuing to use and injure it and initiates the repair of the flesh and tendons/ ligaments that were damaged.
  2. Infection– our bodies respond to germ invasions by producing heat (fever), pain (head and body aches), redness (red cheeks or wounds), swelling (puffy infection site), and loss of function (can’t go to work because I feel so bad). Combined, this is a healthy reaction which kills viruses and bacteria and encourages us to rest so we can devote our resources to creating a strong protective response.
  3. To keep toxins from entering our blood– this is the inflammatory process that is most out of “sight”, most hidden, but arguably the most impactful to your health. It is an immune response in your digestive tract in response to something in or on your food. This could be the food itself, a strong pathogen like E.coli, or chemicals. When an inflammatory response occurs in your digestive tract you experience heat (gas and acid reflux), pain (abdominal cramps), redness (red cheeks and hemorrhoids), swelling (bloating and weight gain), and loss of function (loss of appetite from bloating). The effects of diet, both food and other things you ingest, on inflammation will be covered in a future installment.

Your immune system is incredible in its ability to protect and repair you. It is not wise to do things that interrupt an inflammatory response since it is happing for a reason. Standard treatments for the symptoms of your immune responses include putting ice on injuries (like sprained ankles), taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (Advil, alieve, aspirin, Tylenol) to reduce the pain of injury or lower a fever, and the ingestion of digestive suppressants like antacids to quell the symptoms of healthy immune function in your digestive tract. It is wise to allow inflammation to run its course unless it threatens life or limb. It is wise to look for the reason that your body is responding with inflammation and remove the cause. When there is no call for an immune response it does not happen. Well almost, we will examine why in a later installment.

Let’s return to the question, is inflammation the root of all disease? If it is a healthy mechanism of your bodies’ wisdom to protect and repair, how can it be the root of all disease?

From what we covered above it is clear that your defense mechanisms do not respond for no reason. There must be a challenge or threat. In a healthy person, when a challenge is withdrawn and repair of damage is complete, inflammation ceases. It is like the end of an old- fashion defensive war on home turf, when the attacking enemy is defeated and repelled and the war damage repaired, the troops are no longer needed and return to a normal life at home.

So the short answer to our central question is NO, inflammation is not the root of all disease, the causes of inflammation are the root of all disease. The long answer is, kind of, because when our immune systems are constantly on alert they do fuel many disease processes.

What, you may ask, is causing so much inflammation in humans today, so much calling up of our immune systems to protect us? In my next installment, I will look at a broad spectrum of potential assaults.

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