How To Beat Inflammation: Part 1
Overcoming The Pain and Disease of America’s #1 Silent Killer
This is the first of a 4 part series looking at one of the key factors in muscle growth and recovery. But if left unchecked, can also be a silent killer.
AND SO IT BEGINS
I’ll never forget my first, of many, sprained ankles. Seventh grade basketball. I jumped up for a rebound, collided with another kid, and came down on the side of my foot. Man, I remember that hurt. But what I remember most was that, in minutes, when I took off my high-top to check it out, it had swelled up like a balloon. I had never seen anything like it, and I’ll bet you can remember something like that from your past too.
Inflammation. The fact is we can’t live without the benefits of the inflammatory process, but the flip side of that coin is that inflammation can be the foundation of a wide range of diseases long term. It’s one of our physiology’s greatest blessings, but can also be one of its greatest curses.
Particularly these days, more and more people are living with a greater degree of chronic inflammation in their bodies than ever before. There are good reasons for that as well, which we will get into below. Yet most people still don’t fully understand the inflammatory process, what happens and why, what’s good, and what’s not so good.
As a result, inflammation has a bad reputation––most people incorrectly think that it’s something that always needs to be suppressed. Countless times each day, they reach for a bottle of their favorite brand of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication/pain reliever. You know. You’ve doubtlessly seen all the TV commercials.
BUT the inflammatory process is a critical function of our immune system and is actually required for us to be healthy and stay healthy. Without inflammation, our tissue can’t heal. As in ever. Inflammation is even a signal for muscle growth after a workout (more on that later).
Clearly, there’s more to the balancing act of the inflammatory process than first meets the eye.
WHAT IS INFLAMMATION?
To get a better understanding of inflammation, we must first realize that it’s the product of the inflammatory process (duh). The process, in terms of what happens and why it happens, is really the heart of the matter. When tissue (a collection of cells) in our body gets injured/damaged, is under attack by a bacteria, by a virus, or some other irritant, it releases chemicals that attract various components of the immune system, which in turn initiate the inflammatory response. Think of it as the immune system’s Emergency Response Team.
These Emergency Response Team members include:
• The various types of white blood cells, which attack bacteria and viruses––other types of white blood cells attack foreign allergens.
• Cells which can “gobble up” debris from dead cells (toxin waste removal), which were destroyed during trauma or injury.
• Other chemicals such as histamines, which can increase local blood flow in the problem area, and cytokines, which can signal the immune system response and initiate healing.
The various chemicals in this response both increase vasodilation and vascular permeability, making the tiny arterioles in the injured area “leak” both Emergency Response components, as well as blood proteins into the injured tissues. All of these factors work together to attack invaders, clean up, and initiate repair and healing.
The inflammatory process then has three stages: the acute/immediate swelling stage, the sub-acute regenerative stage, and the more chronic scaring and remodeling stage. That’s all well and good, but how does this vary when we are trying to differentiate between “acute” and “chronic” inflammation?
To help make sense of it all, we can break the subject of inflammation into these two main categories, each of which has very different consequences:
ACUTE INFLAMMATION: USUALLY A REALLY GOOD THING
Acute inflammation, either from injury or infection, is by far the most familiar form of inflammation to most people. This can be from injury (strain, sprain, trauma, or burn) or from infection. The four main signs of acute inflammation are redness, heat, swelling, and pain (as if you didn’t already know LOL).
As mentioned above, acute inflammation is needed to fight infection and begin the healing process. That’s a really good thing. In fact, acute inflammation not only signals and initiates defense and healing, but it also signals muscle growth as an adaptation to exercise.
Inflammation is a regulator of muscle growth that few talk about. Hard training causes trauma to muscle fibers in the form of micro-tears, which then initiates the signaling that begins the cascade of events known as the inflammatory process. This process can ultimately lead not only to tissue repair, but tissue growth, strengthening, as well as muscle building as proteins rush into the area.
A key modulator in regulating the inflammatory process involved in muscle repair is Interleukin-6 (IL-6). Interleukins fall into a group of special signaling molecules, called cytokines. The presence of IL-6 is like a siren calling for an immune system response. For positive muscle cell adaptation to occur (in the form of increased growth or strength), there needs to be enough IL-6 to trigger the healing inflammatory response, but not too much IL-6, as muscle growth decreases if IL-6 levels stay too high for too long.
So while taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory the night of, or day after a tough workout to alleviate muscle soreness may sound like a good idea, it could actually be inhibiting the signaling process required for muscle growth. Oops.
About the Author:
Dr. Tom Deters is the former Editor in chief and publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine and publisher of both FLEX and Men’s Fitness magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and given hundreds of seminars on training, performance nutrition, diet strategy and body fat control.