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Healthy Basics 101: Acute Inflammation vs Chronic Inflammation

We’ve all heard about inflammation—in fact, we all experience different kinds of inflammation for various reasons at any given time. However, the signs can be easy to miss if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Afterall, what does inflammation even really mean? We want to help you understand why inflammation happens and how it can affect your daily and long-term health.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is known as the body’s attempt to protect itself by trying to remove foreign substances from the body, and start the healing process. Your body’s inflammatory response is triggered when tissues are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or any other cause.  An acute inflammatory response is meant to heal the body. Chronic or excess inflammation, though, harms the body and causes most chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver problems, cancer, dementia, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disease like thyroid disorder, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Acute versus Chronic Inflammation

There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation begins fast and lasts for a few days to possibly a few weeks. Though it sounds “acute,” this type of inflammation can become severe quickly. Acute inflammation is often easy to see or feel. A person may experience pain, immobility, or swelling. Some examples of acute inflammation are the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, headache, hives, or joint pain.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation lasts for several months to years. It occurs from chronic exposure to a low-intensity irritant or toxin.  It may also be an autoimmune response to an allergen. Basically, your body’s immune system is permanently turned on and fighting against the inflammation. However, if it doesn’t clear up, the chemicals that your body is sending to help repair the area of inflammation begin breaking down healthy cells and tissue.

Chronic inflammation can seem harmless on a day-to-day basis; you may not notice or think much of it unless it begins getting in the way of daily living. Some symptoms can include bloating, brain fog, achy joints, persistent fatigue, and pain. You may not even notice that you are experiencing a chronic problem, just a “flare up” here and there. You can wait for the feeling to pass, but it is often our daily lifestyle habits that cause this inflammation in the first place.

Inflammation is a normal bodily response meant to protect us from infection and further injury.  If the underlying culprit causing the inflammation is not adequately addressed and removed, long-standing excessive inflammation will lead to cell death and the breakdown of healthy tissue. Chronic disease will begin to set in and present with diseases like allergies, arthritis, heart disease, thyroid disorder, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

Common Signs of Inflammation

How do you know if you are experiencing inflammation? Well, inflammation can be as overt as a swollen knee or bronchitis, but it can also happen inside our bodies to a much less noticeable extent.

If you always seem to have watery eyes and a runny nose, don’t ignore it or chalk it up to “allergies.” It could be a sign that you are chronically inflamed. Allergies also tend to produce the most obvious symptoms of inflammation, including swelling, redness, itching, and pain.

If you regularly feel achy in your muscles or joints, it could be a sign of chronic inflammation. Feeling fatigued every day or general pain when you get out of bed in the morning are other signs of inflammation. Fatigue can be caused by many things, but it can be a sign of inflammation because your body’s immune system is working hard to produce chemicals and antibodies. Inflamed cells can’t produce the energy your body needs to normally function. Think about the fatigue you experience when you’re sick.

If you often have issues with gas, diarrhea, constipation, or bloating, this could be a sign that you have an inflamed gut. Chronic inflammation in the gut can allow toxins into your bloodstream and lead to inflammation in other areas of your body.

The best way to prevent or help resolve inflammation is to listen to your body and pay attention to what increases or reduces your body’s inflammatory response. Making changes to your lifestyle one step at a time will make a huge difference. Try the following tips on how to reduce inflammation and stay healthy:

Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Controlling inflammation anywhere in the body has a lot to do with diet. Even an old injury can suddenly become inflamed after a meal that is heavy in starches and sugars. Clues like this will tell you which foods to avoid. A distended, swollen, or bloated feeling is another clue that your body is having an inflammatory reaction. There are many ways you can change your diet to help prevent, reduce, or reverse inflammation in your body.

First, make green leafy vegetables the biggest staple of your diet. They are full of critical vitamins which protect your immune system and critical for every cell function. Snack on raw vegetables to satisfy your cravings.

Mix up your meals with a side of non-wheat or white rice whole grains like millet, quinoa, brown rice, beans, or fareo, along with a side of beans. They contain a high dose of magnesium, which directly protects your heart and keeps inflammation low. Another easy way to help boost your meals with anti-inflammatory properties is to cook with herbs such as turmeric, ginger, Boswellia (also called Indian frankincense), oregano, and garlic. These herbs directly decrease inflammation in the intestines.

Over the years, research has shown that adding fermented foods to your diet can be especially beneficial. Fermented foods contain good bacteria that not only detoxify the body, but have been shown to prevent inflammation in the gut. Consume homemade fermented foods whenever you can. Good examples include: kimchi, miso, pickles, sprouted moong beans, and sauerkraut.

Omega 3 has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Try to have a small handful of nuts and seeds in your daily diet, or try making your own nut butter. The B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium found in them are critical for converting omega-3 fatty acids into DHA. DHA is critical for protecting your eyes, brain, heart, and the blood circulating throughout your body. Omega 3 oils can be found in flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil, and flax oil. The suggested daily Omega 3 intake is 2 tablespoons of flaxseed powder or 2,000-3,000mg per day, a complex B vitamin, and a multivitamin.

Avoid Foods That Increase Inflammation

Trans-fatty acids are linked to an increase in inflammation. They are found in margarine, fried foods, packaged cookies, crackers, and many other processed, pre-packaged ready-made food. Avoid these foods as much as possible.

If you are big coffee or black tea drinker, you may want to try switching to decaffeinated green tea or matcha and see how it affects your inflammation. Coffee and black tea deplete the most important B vitamin, thiamine. Green tea, however, contains healthy antioxidants that reduce inflammation. A recent study found that green tea can block oxidative stress which directly causes inflammation.

If you have an allergic reaction towards certain foods, it’s good to cut it out completely. Try to avoid or minimize your consumption of wheat, bread, eggs, dairy, soy, seafood, red meat, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and food coloring since they are most common dietary irritants. To find out which foods you are allergic to, work with your doctor on how to do an elimination diet. Following an elimination diet can help you identify any sensitivities that could be causing your inflammation. Simply try avoiding a substance for two to three weeks, then reintroducing one food type every three days to see how it affects you.

Avoid alcohol and nicotine whenever you can since it will directly reduce inflammation.

Exercise to Reduce Inflammation

Boost your body’s natural anti-inflammatory capabilities with exercise. The average American spends most of the day sitting. Regular physical exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym or starting a regimented fitness routine. It can be as simple as getting up and walking around more. Physical activities keep the joints flexible and during exercise, your body produces more antioxidants which fight inflammation.

It is best to try to exercise for at least 30 to 45 minutes five times a week. Yoga, Pilates, and swimming are good options for fighting inflammation because they have a low-impact on your body. Anyone can exercise no matter what your fitness level is.

Reduce Inflammation with Sleep and Relaxation

Loss of sleep hinders your immune system and can trigger inflammatory responses. Our bodies need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night to properly rest. There are many things you can do to improve your sleep, including turning off electronic devices in the evening, getting enough exercise, and creating a healthy, de-stressing routine before bed. Enough quality sleep will decrease inflammation.

Research has found that mind-body practices, such as meditation or yoga, can also help the brain manage stress which is known to trigger and aggravate inflammation. Even 5-10 minutes a day can be beneficial. Chronic stress is not good for your body. By relaxing more and engaging in mindfulness, your stress hormones will decrease, helping decrease inflammation. Other relaxation techniques may be as simple as taking deep breathes for 1 minute every hour and taking proper breaks every few hours.

What To Do About Chronic Inflammation

By treating the underlying cause of the chronic inflammation, your condition can be remarkably lessened or reversed. By taking a natural approach to treating inflammation and creating a personalized treatment plan, positive results are felt quickly. If you suffer from chronic inflammation, or your inflammation persists even after changing your diet and lifestyle habits, go visit your doctor. Work with an integrative holistic physician such as Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D., to formulate the right treatment to effectively reduce your chronic inflammation. She can also give you advice on any supplements you need to take, if necessary.

Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is one of U.S.'s top leading integrative functional medical physicians and the founder of San Francisco' top ranked medical center, SF Advanced Health. Her well-experienced holistic healthcare team collaborates together to deliver whole-person personalized care and combines the best in Western and Eastern medicine. By being an expert of cell function, Dr. Bhandari defines the root cause of illness and is able to subside any disease within weeks to months. She specializes in cancer prevention and reversal, digestive & autoimmune disorders. Dr. Bhandari received her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1997 and Doctor of Medicine degree in 2001 from West Virginia University. She the completed her Family Medicine residency in 2004 from the University of Massachusetts and joined a family medicine practice in 2005 which was eventually nationally recognized as San Francisco’s 1st patient-centered medical home. To learn more, go to

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