5 Things You Should Know About Inflammation and Autoimmune Disease
Do you know what inflammation is? Do you know what autoimmune disease is? Do you know how these two things are related? If not, no big deal, I'm going to break it all down and explain the 5 most important things you should know about inflammation and the relationship between autoimmune disease and inflammation.
What is inflammation? In the most simplistic terms, it is your body's response to threats such as toxins, infections, irritants, and injuries. But did you know inflammation, specifically chronic low-grade inflammation, is a major risk factor?
Chronic inflammation contributes to many serious health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases. Chronic inflammation occurs when your immune system is in a "constant state of alert," leading to the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other pro-inflammatory hormones like cortisol. These pro-inflammatory hormones can cause damage to your cells and lead to the development of chronic diseases if left untreated.
What is an autoimmune disease? Autoimmune diseases are conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and organs. While the causes of autoimmune diseases are still unknown, scientists believe that inflammation is a major factor. Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to diagnose because they often mimic other conditions.
Also challenging the situation is that symptoms vary widely with the body's autoimmune response, from mild to life-threatening. Most autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, graves disease and multiple sclerosis, can affect multiple organ systems. Treatment for autoimmune diseases typically focuses on reducing inflammation and mitigating symptoms because there are no cures for autoimmune diseases.
There is plenty of data out there on the causes of inflammation and autoimmune disease and the effects on your body. We’re only going to scratch the surface here, but in this post, we’ll go over the top 5 things you should know about inflammation and autoimmune disease.
1. Inflammation is useful for your body
Inflammation is a vital part of your body's immune response and is your body's natural defense against injury or illness. It’s a fundamental function of your immune system, which continually monitors for anything that appears as a foreign intruder in your body. For short-term conditions, the "acute inflammatory response" is triggered.
Examples include catching a cold, developing a fever, or breaking a bone. In these cases, your body sends inflammatory cells to the rescue. With a fever resulting from an illness, signs of this response can include pain and heat, and with a broken bone, you may see swelling and redness.
But what happens when the inflammatory response goes into overdrive?
2. Chronic Inflammation can be damaging
When your body recovers from injury or illness, the inflammation should go away. But when your immune system is disrupted, and inflammatory cells linger, your body puts itself in an unnecessary state of constant defense leading to persistent inflammation, or chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is the root cause of most chronic health problems and major diseases. This can happen with autoimmune diseases like Lupus, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriatic arthritis, vasculitis, etc. In these cases, the immune system mistakes normal cells for foreign cells and attacks them.
Chronic inflammation can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to debilitating, including these common symptoms in many autoimmune diseases:
inability to lose weight
muscle aches and pains
abdominal pain or other digestive tract or digestive system problems
changes to menstrual cycles
Examples of conditions where your body sustains low levels of inflammation include food allergies, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, thyroid disease, myasthenia gravis, ulcerative colitis, and celiac disease.
Chronic inflammation is also involved in the development of diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, and heart disease. These conditions can be a significant health risk and can even lead to heart attacks or strokes.
3. Treating chronic inflammation isn't simple
Treating acute inflammation is relatively simple. If you have a fever, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter fever-reducing medications are a quick solution. For injuries, ice or heat works well to reduce pain and inflammation.
But, it's not so simple with chronic inflammation, especially for autoimmune disorders. You may find some relief by making lifestyle choices that focus on anti-inflammatory foods and exercise while reducing inflammation and avoiding factors that trigger your body's inflammatory response.
You've probably heard about anti-inflammatory diets which focus on avoiding:
ultra-processed foods (especially fast foods, and fried foods)
Anti-inflammatory diets also recommend eating plenty of:
foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, nuts, and seeds)
whole foods (whole grains, wild grains)
green leafy vegetables
spices and herbs
4. Anti-Inflammatory exercise is crucial for autoimmune disorders
Exercise is important for the body's ability to manage inflammation. Exercise causes a stress response in the body that mimics a critical stress situation. In a normal body, this pro-inflammatory response of releasing high levels of cortisol and cytokines will return to normal levels within 24 hours. In an autoimmune body, however, that doesn't always occur. Especially when chronic inflammation is already present.
Exercise can exacerbate your autoimmune symptoms and it's called an exercise-induced autoimmune flare. You might feel the same symptoms or new symptoms. Common symptoms of exercise-induced autoimmune flare are:
excessive joint pain or muscle aches
If you are experiencing an autoimmune symptom flare, practice anti-inflammatory exercises like water walking, swimming, walking, low impact Pilates, low impact or gentle Yoga, and Tai Chi. These gentle forms of exercise can help promote healing and relieve symptoms without the immune system attacking your own cells.
This doesn't mean that you have to give up your favorite forms of exercise for good, but during a flare or if your experience exercise-induced flares, you need to change your workout routine. Working with a professional (like me!) to help you navigate through autoimmune and anti-inflammatory workouts is very useful.
5. Other healthy lifestyle modifications that help fight inflammation
Other actions you can take to reduce the risk factor of developing chronic inflammation and even fight chronic inflammation include:
maintain a healthy body weight
maintain proper hormone levels
practice stress management
get 7-8 hours of good sleep a night
build a healthy gut
eat plenty of fiber
address nutrient deficiencies
Inflammation and autoimmune diseases affect can have many consequences, it's always a good idea to check with your physician to determine your risk level and discuss appropriate steps for you to keep your symptoms of autoimmune disease under control.
Do you suffer from signs of inflammation? From headaches, arthritis, gut problems? Or something more chronic?
I hope this information has been helpful. I offer online autoimmune coaching if you're looking for more in-depth help. The Transformational Autoimmune Coaching program provides personalized support and tailored solutions to help you reduce your chronic inflammation and feel your best.
The program offers a variety of services, including individualized exercise programs, anti-inflammatory recipes, stress management strategies, and mindset training, to help you reduce your autoimmune flares, tone your body, and live a healthier life. Click here and say "transform" and I'll email you right back!