Symptoms of Inflammation: Acute Versus Chronic
If you’ve sprained your ankle, cut your finger, or got stung by a bee, you’ve experienced inflammation. Although you might want to reduce inflammation, inflammation is your body’s way of protecting you.
Acute inflammation, caused by spraining your ankle or a cut, comes on rapidly, and stimulates your immune system to begin the healing process. While it might last a few hours or even days, you will experience reduced inflammation.
Although they may vary based on where the inflammation occurs in your body, the five classic signs of inflammation are:
- Loss of function
Acute inflammation helps your body recover from infection, injury, or disease. Without this type of inflammation, your body can’t properly heal.
Inflammation should stay around for a short period until your body heals. While symptoms might feel severe when you’re injured, your body typically resolves this type of inflammation within two weeks.
Think of acute inflammation as a reset button to restore your body to health. It can benefit you in the short run.
But another type of inflammation — called chronic inflammation — isn’t always so obvious. Symptoms of chronic inflammation can go unnoticed, but have more of an effect on your body.
Chronic inflammation is a type of inflammation that is silent and can linger unnoticed. Here, inflammation and your immune response stick around even when they no longer serve a purpose.
While acute inflammation may last about two weeks, chronic inflammation often lasts more than six weeks, months, or even years.
Chronic Inflammation Can Lead to Disease
Researchers believe the number of diseases that chronic inflammation contributes to will increase over the next 30 years for Americans.
Worldwide, three out of every five people die because of chronic inflammatory diseases. These include stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
This type of inflammation can even occur without injury, infection, or disease. Over time, chronic inflammation may lead to autoimmune disorders and prolonged stress. Rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases have all been related to chronic inflammation.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation are more diverse than those of acute inflammation. Depending on the area of your body, they include:
- Body pain
- Constant fatigue and insomnia
- Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders
- Frequent infections
Chronic Inflammation and Disease
These and other symptoms can affect your body in many ways. Consider the autoimmune condition rheumatoid arthritis.
Here, your immune system attacks your joints. For certain reasons, it believes these joints are “enemies”, so your immune system mistakenly attacks them to protect your body.
With rheumatoid arthritis, you can experience symptoms that impact your entire body, including:
- Joint pain, swelling, stiffness, or loss of joint function
- Numbness and tingling
- Limited range of motion
Inflammation can impact any organ, but your gut might be one of the most obvious.
When your immune cells attack your digestive tract, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can result. IBD is further defined as being ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of these autoimmune diseases are diarrhea, cramps, and ulcers.
The inside of your mouth can also be affected by chronic inflammation. Periodontitis, or chronic inflammation of the gums, can weaken or damage your teeth.
Weight loss also becomes harder when you’re chronically inflamed because inflammation impacts hunger signals and slows down your metabolism. You eat more and burn fewer calories.
Inflammation can increase your risk of insulin resistance, which can raise your diabetes risk. Those problems, in turn, make weight loss more difficult.
What Causes Inflammation?
Numerous things can create or increase inflammation. If it runs in your family, you’re more likely to have chronic inflammation.
You can’t control your genes, but you can reduce inflammation by being aware and eliminating common contributors to inflammation:
- Certain medications
- Environmental toxins that your body can’t effectively remove
- Poor sleeping habits
- Low amounts of certain hormones, such as your sex hormones
Talk with your healthcare practitioner about tests to measure inflammation, including:
- Serum protein electrophoresis (SPE): The best test to confirm chronic inflammation. It measures certain proteins in the liquid part of your blood. Too much or too little of these proteins can signal inflammation.
- C-reactive protein (CRP): Your liver makes CRP to help your body handle inflammation. Too much CRP can signal inflammatory conditions. CRP cannot tell the difference between acute and chronic inflammation, but it can help your healthcare practitioner make a more accurate assessment.
Reduce Inflammation by Knowing the Root Cause of Inflammation
Your healthcare practitioner might also recommend anti-inflammatory over-the-counter or prescription medications to manage your condition such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs.
While these drugs can help you manage inflammation in the short term, they don’t address what causes that inflammation. Many of them also have side effects such as stomach upset, heartburn, and ulcers.
Talk with your healthcare practitioner about the following natural strategies to reduce inflammation. Never modify or discontinue any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.
Reduce Inflammation with an Anti-inflammatory Diet Focus First on Food
You have plenty of control over chronic inflammation and how it impacts your body. Start with what you eat.
Essential Omega-3 Fats
You need fat. But there is unhealthy fat that can make inflammation worse and healthy fat that can make it better. There are two types of essential fatty acids:
Our Paleolithic ancestors ate about an equal ratio of these essential fatty acids. Today, we eat about 20 times more omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation.
Higher amounts of these inflammatory fats in our modern diet contribute to obesity and almost every chronic disease.
Many processed foods also have inflammatory fats, including white bread, pasta, fried foods, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, and margarine. These foods can make you gain weight and increase your risk of disease.
To lower inflammation, you’ll want to eliminate or minimize these and other inflammatory foods. Also, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. You can get the two dominant ones — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — in wild-caught fish. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are especially rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Other foods to reduce inflammation include lots of vegetables, low-sugar fruits, and spices. Look for foods with lots of color, such as:
- Berries and cherries
- Green tea
- Mushrooms like portobello and shiitake
- Turmeric, ginger, clove, and other spices
Besides being rich in nutrients, these and other plant foods contain soluble and insoluble fiber that can lower inflammatory markers.
You’ll find these and other anti-inflammatory foods in our Core and Advanced Nutrition Plans. To effectively get chronic inflammation under control, start with the Advanced Plan.
5 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation
An anti-inflammatory diet makes a great way to get your condition under control. To help reduce inflammation even more, try these five additional natural methods:
- Exercise. Just 20 minutes of moderate exercise — that can even be a fast-paced walk — can help reduce inflammation.
- Sleep well. Insufficient sleep can increase inflammation. The right amount is key: Too much or little sleep can increase inflammatory markers. Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly and use MaxLiving Sleep + Mood Formula if you have trouble falling asleep.
- Minimize toxins. There are toxic chemicals in many products you use every day that can contribute to inflammation. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has several guides — including the food you eat, cosmetics you use, and products you clean with — to help reduce your exposure to these toxins.
- Manage stress levels. A little stress can make you stronger, but too much becomes a bad thing. Chronic stress increases inflammation. You can’t banish stress, but you can reduce its impact with yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or whatever helps you relax.
- Take the right nutrients. A number of well-studied nutrients can lower inflammation. Talk with your healthcare practitioner about these and other supplements to manage inflammation levels.
Inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time, that damage increases your risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disease, cancer, and much more. You can control inflammation and reduce inflammation in your body with an anti-inflammatory diet, exercise, and some key nutrients.