It’s skincare’s latest buzzword: Chronic inflammation. Everyone from dermatologists and endocrinologists to physical trainers and nutritionists are reaching out for this term to explain (and treat) skin problems like chronic acne, eczema, wrinkles, fine lines, dullness and sagging. And that’s not all: ‘chronic inflammation’ is also a key reason behind deep rooted diseases such as diabetes, auto-immune disorders, heart trouble and even Alzheimer’s.
But what is chronic inflammation? And is it really as bad as we are led to believe by a slew of specialists and celebrity lifestyle pros?
At the most basic level, inflammation is our body’s response to any foreign organism or injury. For instance, suppose you are stung by a wasp. This punctures the skin and also releases a flood of foreign chemicals inside our body. When this happens, our body calls upon certain types of blood cells and natural chemicals to isolate and destroy the invaders. Consequently, the area around the bite gets swollen. Once the attack has been negated and skin is healed, the swelling subsides.
This swelling and the process which brings it about is inflammation – of the good kind.
Sometimes, this process is not visible to the naked eye. Like when our body is dealing with an internal problem such as food poisoning or a cold. That’s when we have internal inflammation, which works to isolate and heal the organs inside our body.
Again, this is good inflammation. In fact, it’s necessary inflammation, without which our body would not be able to get rid of bacteria or virus and heal itself.
When does inflammation become ‘bad’?
Sometimes, our body makes a mistake and starts treating its own organs as if they are foreign invaders. This kind of inflammation exists even when there is no wound or infection that needs healing. It starts creating a swelling under the skin or around our vital organs – such as the heart or liver – putting extra pressure on them (think of it as an extra layer of fat or mucus that’s squeezing the organs), while simultaneously blocking optimal supply of nutrients.
This is known as internal chronic inflammation and unlike external inflammation, it is trickier to spot and treat. In fact, you may live with chronic inflammation for several years and not realise it at all.
A lot! Skin-wise, chronic inflammation invariably starts piling on the acne, sallowness, puffiness, lack of radiance, loss of smoothness, fine lines, dark circles, wrinkles and sagging. If left untreated, it manifests in more chronic skin problems such as dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and rosacea.
And that’s not all: chronic inflammation is also a known factor in diabetes, heart disease, dementia, inflammatory bowel conditions, arthritis, cancer, stroke, asthma and a whole lot of other ailments.
Do I have chronic inflammation?
Internal inflammation is difficult to spot and tricky to treat. However, if you lead a busy lifestyle, live in a city or indulge in bouts of junk food, you’re at risk and prone to chronic inflammation. And as with anything, prevention is better than cure.
So, how do I tackle chronic inflammation?
Luckily, it is possible to keep inflammation in check with small lifestyle changes – whether for your looks or your health.
Slim down: When you are overweight, the body pumps out more of the chemicals that cause inflammation. Belly fat is particularly dangerous – it is estimated that up to 40% of the fat cells in our bellies are producing inflammatory chemicals. Lose the excess weight NOW!
Exercise regularly: Any physical exercise releases chemicals that decrease both pain and inflammation. So, get moving!
Eat better: When you eat refined sugars or starches, there is a rapid rise in blood sugar. This, in turn, causes insulin levels to rise. And when insulin levels are high, it kicks up an inflammatory response. If this happens often, the body enters a state of chronic inflammation. The solution? Switch to an anti-inflammatory diet. This would include lots of leafy greens, fruits and spices for the antioxidants; essential, monounsaturated fats, like those found in nuts and olive oil; and high alkaline content foods such as avocados, leafy greens, soya beans, radish and broccoli.
Get a health checkup: Untreated infections, like bronchitis or tooth decay, can create chronic inflammation.
Manage your stress: Stress increases cortisol levels, which regulate the body’s anti-inflammatory response. While stress is an inevitable part of urban living, we can still minimise its effects by getting adequate sleep, exercising, meditating and getting professional counselling.
Quit smoking: Smoking causes diseases such as bronchitis, which lead to long term inflammation. Another reason to quit!
Put on the SPF: When UV rays penetrate our skin cells, they sets off inflammatory reactions. In fact, sunburn itself is an inflammatory reaction. One of the best ways to prevent this kind of inflammation is to use sunscreen every day.
Are you suffering from signs of chronic inflammation? How do you deal with it?