Inflammation is an important mechanism in how the body defends and repairs itself from injury and infection. However when this inflammatory response gets out of control it becomes more damaging than beneficial. To tackle the issue of inflammation the health industry has responded in a number of ways.
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. It is commonly observed in two ways. The first is acute inflammation, one of the first lines of defence in the immune system that takes effect when an injury or infection is suffered, starting rapidly (rapid onset) and quickly becoming severe. This process, in which white blood cells and other chemicals form a protective barrier from viruses and bacteria, can be very beneficial and without some form of inflammation injured or infected tissues simply would not heal through cellular regeneration processes.
In sports and fitness inflammation is most commonly experienced as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome). This is due to muscles suffering micro tears (hypertrophy) through the stress of exercise. Other tissue such as tendons can also become inflamed due to repetitive or blunt trauma causing pain and swelling. This responding feedback mechanism limits range of motion and the risk of further injury whilst the body heals. At this acute level however the inflammation experienced still does not present a significant long term health issue.
The effects of inflammation become more of a concern as it moves into an extended mid to long term period. Forms of eczema, psoriasis and acne can be associated with excessive inflammation in the skin. In some cases to tackle the root cause of inflammation can prove more effective in overcoming skin conditions than to attempt to manage with off the shelf creams and topical applications. Causes of inflammatory skin conditions such as dermatitis can vary widely although diet and lifestyle can play a major role, specifically consuming allergens and toxins, or exposure to them through other means such as contact (e.g synthetic fabrics). Vitamin-D deficiency, stress, smoking and air pollution have also been linked to inflammatory conditions.
Whilst acute inflammation is a relatively quick process of defend and repair before ‘standing down’, chronic inflammation is a long term series of processes. It leaves the body in a permanent defensive state to a point where it is no longer beneficial and begins to attack itself and damage tissue leading to serious health condition such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, asthma, high blood pressure, bowel disease, cancer, and many other fatal diseases. In fact the majority of fatal processes have their origins from a chronic inflammatory condition.
Chronic inflammation can progress in a number of ways. For example, inflammation of the gums can develop into gum or periodontal disease, which is currently the UKs biggest inflammatory disease. Over time this gum inflammation can go on to affect the bloodstream and is believed to slowly damage blood vessels in the heart and brain. A study by Harvard University conducted by Dr Bruce Yankner also observed an increase in inflammation in the brain due to free radical damage. As we age this free radical damage causes the brain to try and defend itself by reallocating resources. Genes in the brain responsible for learning and memory are shut down whilst the genes responsible for inflammation are switched on. Genes can themselves also be a cause. Scientists from Stanford University linked 25 new genetic regions to coronary artery disease. They found that people with coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death globally, are most likely predisposed to the disease because they have gene variants linked to inflammation.
Fighting inflammation is a complex battle and one which must be fought from a number of angles. But the first and most significant move is to recognise the problem in the first place. Signs of inflammation are all to often ignored to the detriment to our long term health. This is particularly the case with chronic inflammation where symptoms can be subtle and are often felt without necessarily been seen. Combined with the wide number of potential causes, inflammatory conditions can be difficult to diagnose.
Steroid and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used in medicine and are very effective, however they do carry with them a number of negative side effects, so natural preventive methods would always be the preferred course.
Acute inflammation is relatively straight forward to treat and can be tackled in a number of ways. Physically rest and cryotherapy (read more) are commonly used by athletes as part of the R.I.C.E (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) treatment method to reduce inflammation.
Eating a diet high in iron, antioxidants, anthacynins, omega-3 and magnesium has shown to offer benefits in combating inflammation. Ingredients found commonly in asian cuisine such a ginger and turmeric have all be shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Supplementation with concentrated montmorency cherry juice such as the UK brand CherryActive has been shown to reduce inflammation, as we learned at Be:Fit London (read more). One serving of CherryActive delivers the same anti-oxidant power of 23 portions of fruit and vegetables including anthocyanins which are responsible for the inflammatory effect.
Products are also being developed using curcumin. A recent study by Indena, a producer of ingredients from plant sources, found that its curcumin based Meriva ingredients may be beneficial to attenuate exercise-induced DOMS and larger studies could provide statistical significance also for parameters like the histological evaluation of muscle – that only showed a trend to improvement in this study (read more).
A new range of nutricosmetics that aim to maintain healthy skin by in part tackling inflammation is Skinergie by Daniele de Winter Monaco which contains the natural antioxidant astaxanthin, hyaluronic-acid-rich green lipped mussels, acerola and highly purified EPA & DHA Omega 3 fish oils. Taken together, these anti-inflammatory nutrients work to optimise the consistency of skin sebum, boost the skin’s immunity against pollution and heal skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema and acne (read more).
Global science company DSM also support that increasing the intake of antioxidants and PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) may reduce inflammation. At the 3rd International Conference on Nutrition & Food Science, the company highlighted that modern diets, characterized by an increasing intake of prepackaged foods, are low in beneficial nutrients, such as antioxidants and omega-3 PUFAs that protect against inflammation, leaving populations more susceptible to the damaging effects of pollutants, which can trigger chronic diseases (read more).
New data realeased by Euromonitor revealed that health and wellness industry health and wellness sales has grown by 6.75% in current value terms reaching US$774 billion in 2014 with gluten free bakery products are the third fastest growing health and wellness category with sales up by 16% in 2014. The free-from category has gone from a back-of-store niche to a huge driving force in the food market that is helping to bring more natural and organic products to the mainstream with a major benefit being the development of a market for products that can help to overcome inflammatory issues.