However, in recent years inflammation’s gotten a bad rap. It’s been implicated in myriad ailments, from heart attacks to cancer, Alzheimer’s to mood disorders. A proliferation of anti-inflammatory diets have made their way onto the health scene, and various clinical studies have cited concern when an inflammatory response gets out of control.
So which is it—friend or foe? Here’s everything you need to know before you start freaking out over inflammation.
1. Sometimes inflammation can be a really good thing for your body—in fact, it’s a fundamental function of your immune system.
An extreme version of acute inflammation? Swelling around the brain after injury. Of course, not a great thought, but again, it’s a clear example of how inflammation is a bodily response designed to protect—not harm—our own bodies.
2. Our bodies are always in some kind of inflammatory state.
“Inflammation is a part of our immune system,” says Loewendorf. “It’s the immune system at work.” Things like open wounds healing, swelling around broken bones and even a fever when you’ve caught a virus are all examples of the inflammatory response at its finest, making sure to repair what needs fixing, she tells SELF.
Nutritionist and holistic health coach Amanda Goldfarb, R.D., of Pawley’s Island, SC, concurs. “Despite the buzz around the ‘anti-inflammatory diets,’ you can’t kill the bodily function entirely—your body is always going through some sort of inflammation,” Goldfarb tells SELF.
3. But if our immune systems start to overreact, that’s when problems could kick in.
“The first sign of your immune system going above and beyond is allergies,” says Loewendorf. Let’s say you’re allergic to peanuts: If you eat one, your immune system overreacts causing an allergic reaction, which, depending on the sensitivity of your allergy, could even kill you, she notes.
“Diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis, both autoimmune conditions, are when the immune system is unable to differentiate between what’s dangerous and what’s not,” Loewendorf tells SELF. “When you have one of these diseases, your immune system doesn’t understand that ‘This is myself, this is me.’”