What’s inflammation? It’s a tool used by our immune systems that helps our body heal when cells are damaged or when bacteria/viruses invade. Whether it's swelling caused by a broken a bone or a fever caused by the flu, there are a lot of similarities as it relates to inflammation throughout the body.
When inflammation is called on to facilitate some sort of healing and then shuts down again that's considered a good, healthy inflammatory response. Problems occur when inflammation gets going but never stops. That unhealthy inflammation, aka chronic inflammation, can lead to all sorts of health problems from arthritis to diabetes to Alzheimer’s and even cancer. This is why everybody dislikes inflammation.
The chronic inflammatory response can stay activated for a number of reasons. It could be the result of an infection, poor diet, or lack of sleep among many other reasons. Scientifically speaking, the cycle of chronic inflammation centers on high levels of inflammatory markers like IL-6 and TNF-alpha. These molecules alert the body to “threats,” and push immune cells to attack those threats. Unfortunately, our immune cells sometimes mistake our own cells for invaders and attack them. These friendly-fire attacks create dysfunction in our bodies, and cause our immune systems to think that because of all the damage being done, even more inflammation is needed to solve the problem (when, in fact, over-active inflammation was the issue in the first place). And so the cycle begins.
The key to addressing inflammation is creating the right conditions for healthy levels of inflammation. Our immune systems are most active in the evenings and least active early in the mornings. When we disrupt sleep, the balance of our various immune cells can be thrown off. (1) Because the effects of sleep deprivation are also cumulative, being a little behind on your sleep every night can have big consequences over time. (1) Some studies suggest that after one night of poor sleep we may experience heightened levels of inflammatory markers like IL-6 and TNF-alpha. After 6 days or restricted sleep (no more than 6 hours a night) levels of IL-6 and TNF-alpha are significantly increased. This increases levels of a key inflammatory molecule, C-Reactive protein which is associated with chronic inflammation. Because of its direct role in managing all of these inflammatory markers, good sleep is essential. It helps the immune system operate at its highest efficiency, and when the immune system is doing its job efficiently, it allows inflammation to turn off.
While exercise also helps boost the strength of our immune systems, it works in a different way. When we exercise we are purposely damaging our muscles and bodies. As a result, we kick-start an immune response to heal. That might sound like a bad thing, but the immune response instigated by exercise actually strengthens the immune system so that it can operate more efficiently when anything else activates it. The same way that lifting weights makes your muscles stronger, exercise strengthens your immune system. During a bout of exercise, levels of inflammatory markers (like C-reactive protein) can increase 1000x. This sort of response mirrors what happens when you get sick or injure yourself. During periods of rest, however, individuals who exercise regularly have been found to have significantly lower levels of inflammatory markers than individuals who exercise infrequently, or not at all. (1) The relationship between exercise and healthy inflammation is also thought to be dose dependent, i.e. those who exercise more experience more benefits than those who exercise less.
Diet is essential. Eating a plate full of fruits and vegetables helps deal with inflammation in a few different ways: feeding good bacteria in our microbiome, directly interacting with our immune cells, and triggering anti-inflammatory proteins. Studies suggest that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables & fiber helps diversify our microbiomes, helping protect us against chronic conditions like heart disease.(1) The good bacteria in our guts need a lot of the healthy micronutrients (i.e. polyphenols) in those fruits and vegetables, so when we don’t have these micronutrients in our diet then our microbiomes don’t have them in their diets either. Specific micronutrients like Turmacin® and p-Terostilbene have demonstrated incredible effects, helping reduce levels of compounds like TNF-alpha that activate pro-inflammatory proteins such as NF-kB (a protein complex that plays a key role in promoting & sustaining the inflammatory response).
Concentrating on sleep, exercise, and diet goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be complicated. All we need to do is start with the fundamentals: 8 hours of sleep, sweating daily, eating mostly plants, and boosting these efforts with targeted micronutrients like those found in happy being®. When we do these things we’re putting ourselves in a position to stay on top of our environments on a daily basis.