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Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Autoimmune & Inflammation: The Connection

Mar 13, 2024 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease

Inflammation and autoimmune diseases are closely linked. While it’s unclear which comes first, inflammation exacerbates autoimmune disease symptoms. Conventional and alternative therapies for autoimmune diseases target inflammation to prevent disease progression. However, inflammation actually isn’t all bad. Our bodies need inflammation to heal and grow. However, the issue with inflammation happens when it doesn’t go away. It’s when chronic inflammation sets in that autoimmune diseases become more cumbersome.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s natural defense mechanism for healing. It occurs when your immune system recognizes a foreign object (like bacteria or viruses) or notices cell or tissue damage. Chemical messengers called cytokines and prostaglandins are released to help direct and manage the inflammatory process. These messengers send activated white blood cells to the area of concern. The activated cells attack foreign invaders or remove damaged cells to initiate the healing process. This entire process is what we see in acute, or short term, inflammation. Acute inflammation is usually resolved in a manner of hours to days. Once it is resolved, the body and immune system return to normal. This is the good side of inflammation because it helps your body heal, fight off illnesses, and return back to baseline.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation is not the type of inflammation we want. Chronic inflammation happens when your body continues to send out activated white blood cells, even after the invader or damage is resolved. This means that cytokines don’t stop sending messages to the immune system. These white blood cells then settle into your tissues and cells and create more damage.

How are Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases Connected?

The connection between autoimmune diseases and inflammation is still quite confusing. While many believed that it was the innate immune system – or your body’s first line of defense against invaders, now it’s becoming more clear that autoimmune diseases are triggered by the adaptive immune cells – or your body’s long term defense system, by way of the innate immune system.

The adaptive immune system is the part of the immune system that makes antibodies. Antibodies are your immune system’s memory. They help your body recognize foreign invaders so you can quickly attack and destroy them to avoid getting sick or injured. In some autoimmune diseases, it’s the innate immune system that forces the adaptive part of the immune system to create the autoantibodies against the self. You can think of autoantibodies as rouge immune cells. Along with recognizing bacteria and viruses as invaders, they also see your own cells and tissues as foreign. Therefore, your own immune system starts attacking itself, which causes inflammation and thus a vicious cycle of chronic inflammation.

While not all people with autoimmune diseases have autoantibodies, inflammation is a consistent trend. Autoimmune diseases can cause inflammation, and inflammation tends to make symptoms of autoimmune diseases worse. Most conventional therapies (i.e. drugs) target the inflammation cascade in an attempt to stop or limit inflammation. However, autoimmune diseases are complex. And humans are complex. This is why drug therapy results are inconsistent.

How to Lower Inflammation

Besides medication, how else can you lower inflammation? Here are a few ideas to consider when lowering inflammation:

Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Food can make a huge difference when it comes to inflammation. Removing common inflammatory foods like refined sugar, refined oils, processed foods, additives, colorings, flavorings and possibly gluten may lower inflammation in your body. Eating foods rich in phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables can also help lower inflammation.

Get Adequate Sleep: Sleep is an amazing process that can actually lower inflammation. For one, sleep protects our body from stress. Stress is a major driver of chronic inflammation. Sleep also allows your brain to detoxify and repair. Without sleep, those protective processes won’t happen. In addition, the lack of sleep can negatively affect immune cells.

Move Your Body: Moderate exercise can actually lower inflammation. In addition, moving your body throughout the day can help improve your metabolic health, reduce stiffness in joints, and increase your longevity. The key here is moderate exercise. When exercise becomes too intense, it can actually raise inflammation.

De-Stress Your Life: Easier said than done, but stress is directly correlated to inflammation. It’s not a matter of lowering stress, it’s understanding how to work and live with stress so it doesn’t overwhelm you. There are plenty of techniques out there to help you live a less stressed life. Things like meditation, yoga, breathing and therapy may all have long term benefits for you. The key is to find the one that’s the most effective.

Remember, inflammation isn’t all that bad. We need inflammation to fight off the everyday exposures from our harsh environments. However, inflammation is harmful when it becomes chronic. Even if you have an autoimmune disease and/or chronic inflammation, there is still a lot you can do to stop inflammation in its tracks. For more tips on how to use food and lifestyle to lower inflammation, be sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. If you need specific advice or guidance, please contact me directly.


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