Inflammation, a reaction your body produces to counteract substances it interprets as foreign or dangerous, has been linked to a slew of negative side effects and health issues. And if you’ve experienced it (you likely have), you know it can be painful. But, inflammation’s seemingly universal bad rap might be overstating the situation; it’s actually a useful bodily function that’s even desirable in some situations.
That bad rap is mostly associated with the side effects and health issues present when the inflammation is chronic or constant. In those cases, the inflammatory reaction is often caused by an chronic virus or something that isn’t actually harmful to the body, even though the body interprets the friendly intruder as dangerous (which, for example, is what happens when someone has a gluten intolerance).
But not all inflammation is chronic. When you have a scrape, cut, bruise, or virus, your body usually reacts with pain, swelling, redness, heat, fever, or tingling as part of the healing process, according to Magdalena Wszelaki a certified health coach and author of Cooking for Hormone Balance. All of these reactions are examples of acute (short-term) inflammation, and they’re “good” functions that your body employs to keep itself healthy and flush out the bad stuff that could otherwise cause harm.
Inflammatory responses are super necessary for repairing damaged tissue in the event of an infection. In fact, one doctor goes so far as to say that “without inflammation, humans would have died off long ago.”
Acute inflammation likely also has a guest-starring role in your workout-warrior training regimen, as Erin Stokes, naturopathic doctor and medical director at MegaFood, notes it can occur following intense exercise. So yes, when your muscles are sore and it’s extra tough to take the stairs the day after your HIIT class, it’s a sign that your body is repairing and strengthening itself to be even stronger and protect against injury—and you can thank inflammation for that.
Even more vital, inflammatory responses are super necessary for mending damaged tissue in the event of an infection. Because of this, Tieraona Low Dog, MD, an expert in integrative and natural medicine, and author of Fortify Your Life, goes so far as to say that “without inflammation, humans would have died off long ago.”
Take, for instance, the event of having a respiratory infection, which Dr. Low Dog explains leads your body to increase its body temperature, a form of inflammation. The increased body temp “activates your immune system and prepares your body to fight the infection. Once the immune system gets the infection under control, your temperature begins to fall,” she says. Essentially, inflammation can be to thank for keeping you healthy—maybe even saving your life—in cases like this.
So, when you’re dealing with inflammation, don’t immediately fret—first, take a second to understand what kind of inflammation is taking place, as it can be a sign that your body is simply doing its best to keep you in optimal healthy shape. But if you’re unsure if your inflammation is chronic or acute, contact a doc to make sure a serious health issue isn’t hiding beneath the surface.
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