When Inflammation Runs Amok

Anyone who has ever had a sore throat, allergic response or a broken bone knows something about inflammation.  But, did you know that the inflammatory response often runs amok these days due to excessive stress?

What is inflammation

Inflammation is a natural protective process by which the body’s white blood cells and chemicals protect us from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. 

Inflammation develops as a normal protective response of the immune system when body tissue is irritated. When tissue is irritated, the immune system increases blood flow to the area, which causes localized swelling, warmth, and redness. The swelling may put pressure on nerve endings which may cause pain in the area. Inflammation may occur anywhere in the body, and may occur with overuse of a body area or with minor injuries.

Purpose of inflammation

The inflammatory response has one all-important goal:  respond immediately to detect and destroy infection or toxic material in damaged tissue before it can spread to other areas of the body.

When inflammation doesn’t help

Inflammation in itself isn’t bad -- it’s an ancient defense mechanism the body uses to battle foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses and parasites. Inflammation marshal's the bodies defenses and attacks and destroys the invader.

When inflammation becomes chronic -- it's because this defense mechanism doesn’t turn off.  Pro-inflammatory cells continue to arise even though there is nothing left to attack. These excess immune cells circulate through the body damaging healthy cells -- in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis) -- the pancreas (diabetes) -- the joints (arthritis), and others areas – the auto-immune response.  Symptoms of excess inflammation include:

  • body aches and pains
  • congestion
  • frequent infections
  • diarrhea
  • dry eyes
  • indigestion
  • shortness of breath
  • skin outbreaks
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • weight gain/obesity

This all stems from an imbalance between your two immune systems 1) innate 2) acquired. Innate - the one you are born with. Acquired develops with exposure to the microbes of the world. The greater the exposure, and the more times your body fights off 'bugs', the more powerful your immune system becomes.

Peter A. Ward (M.D. 1960, Residency 1963), the Michigan Medical School’s Godfrey D. Stobbe Professor of Pathology, has devoted his career to understanding the interactions among genes, cells and signaling molecules involved in this delicate balancing act.

“When immune systems go awry, virtually without exception the problem begins with the triggering of a strong inflammatory response,” Ward says. “All autoimmune diseases — such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus or multiple sclerosis — are diseases in which the inflammatory response is unregulated, excessive and out of control. So understanding the inflammatory system from A to Z will have huge applications in any number of diseases or clinical situations.”

How to reduce inflammation in the body

Inflammation has a positive and negative affect in your body. Inflammation has a positive side because it helps your body respond to stress.  But chronic low-grade inflammation is thought to be one of the leading causes of disease, premature aging and illness.  When you get a cold, your body responds with inflammation in the form of a fever that helps you heal. The inflammation does its job, gets rid of the virus, and disappears. But if your immunity is compromised and your body is constantly stressed, you might experience chronic low-grade inflammation that leaves you more susceptible to illness and disease.

You can help your body fight inflammation by reducing stress, eating properly, avoiding processed foods, drinking enough water, exercising regularly and getting enough sunshine.

Diet is a key part of your inflammation-fighting plan, and some foods have amazing anti-inflammatory properties.

The role of diet in inflammatio

It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses - including heart disease, many cancers, and Alzheimer's disease.

We all know inflammation on the surface of the body as local redness, heat, swelling and pain. It is the cornerstone of the body's healing response, bringing more nourishment and more immune activity to a site of injury or infection. But when inflammation persists or serves no purpose, it damages the body and causes illness.

Stress, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, and exposure to toxins (like secondhand tobacco smoke) can all contribute to such chronic inflammation, but dietary choices play a big role as well.  Learning how specific foods influence the inflammatory process is the best strategy for containing it and reducing long-term disease risks.

Developing a healthy eating plan can sometimes seem difficult but like anything that is new, it becomes second nature over time. And the payoff is well worth it: with a proper diet, you can take a proactive stance against inflammation and disease by incorporating superfoods into your life.

With diet and lifestyle choices that support your health, including regular sessions of stress-busting massage, you'll fight disease, illness and the signs of aging!


Here are a few excellent inflammation-fighting foods that should be incorporated into your lifestyle:

  1. Broccoli has tons of vitamin C and plenty of calcium. It also fights eye inflammation. Make sure you lightly steam your broccoli to digest it well.
  2. Hemp oil (and all other oils with omega-3 fatty acids) reduce inflammation. Most Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, so it's important to incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp oil also has gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) to further fight inflammation. Remember to look for unrefined organic oils.
  3. Wild-caught salmon is another way to get beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. You can also try other fatty fish like cod and sardines.
  4. Tart cherries can reduce inflammation ten times better than aspirin!  Tart cherries help reduce your risk for heart disease.
  5. Walnuts make a delicious and inflammation-fighting snack because of vitamin E and more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Soak your walnuts and other nuts before you eat them to remove the enzyme inhibitor. This makes them easier to digest.
  6. Onions and Garlic. Onions not only provide a sweet taste to your savory meals, but also they have lots of quercetin, a potent antioxidant that can help your body fight inflammation. Try onions with your grain dishes, or prepare with eggs and greens. Garlic has long been a folk remedy for colds and illness, and its anti-inflammatory properties are amazing! Garlic contains sulfur compounds that stimulate your immune system to fight disease.
  7. Pineapple has bromelain, an antioxidant that boosts your immunity naturally.
  8. Spinach has plenty of carotenoids, one kind of inflammation-reducing antioxidant and it also contains vitamin E.  Make sure to steam your spinach for ultimate digestion.
  9. Spices: Ginger & Turmeric
    • Turmeric is a spice used extensively in other cultures, and for good reason. It contains curcumin, a substance that actively reduces inflammation. Try sprinkling turmeric onto cooked squash or quinoa for a different flavor.
    • Ginger works in a way similar to turmeric to lower inflammation and in some studies has been shown to reduce pain associated with arthritis.



  • Dr. Weil on healthy aging
  • Cleveland Clinic: Diseases & Conditions
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Home  ·  About  ·  Contact Us
Copyright © Janet Lawlor, BCTMB