Inflammation: What it is and what you can do about it By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com
The human body has a truly amazing ability to heal. When an injury occurs, our internal repair mechanisms spring into action to repair the damage. The body heals itself as part of normal, everyday living without any special effort on our part—it's completely automatic. A lot of healing takes place without us ever being aware of what's happening. But other times, we do know that healing is taking place because we see and feel the symptoms.
For example, pull a muscle or tear a ligament and you will know that healing is going on because you'll see and feel it—usually because of inflammation. When an infection or injury happens, the body produces a reaction called inflammation, which is characterized by swelling, heat, redness, and pain. Inflammation is the result of the body's immune system directing healing resources to the site of the injury or infection. The process includes increased blood flow with an influx of white blood cells and other substances that facilitate healing. Without inflammation wounds, injuries and infections would never heal.
There are three parts to inflammation:
1) increased blood supply to the affected area;
2) increased permeability of the small blood vessels permitting large molecules to leave the bloodstream and reach the infection; and
3) increased migration of phagocytes toward the site of infection. Phagocytes are white blood cells that protect us by ingesting harmful foreign particles, bacteria and even dead or dying cells. All this action going on causes the affected area to look red, swell up and feel hot and painful.
For most of us, inflammation is normally not a problem with it lasting just a short time. But sometimes, inflammation is prolonged and doesn't seem to go away. Prolonged inflammation can lead to chronic inflammation, a condition that can result in a progressive shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation. Chronic inflammation is characterized by the simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process.
Of particular concern to bodybuilders, weight lifters or men just trying to get fit, is the fact that chronic inflammation slows down and disrupts metabolic processes that are critical to building lean muscle mass and burning fat. In particular, chronic inflammation can disrupt the anabolic signals that initiate muscle growth. In addition, it can also lead to serious health problems, including a host of diseases such as hay fever, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), or rheumatoid arthritis. Some experts say that chronic inflammation can also increase your risk of contracting certain types of cancer.
In a small percentage of cases chronic inflammation is the result of a legitimate medical condition that must be treated by a medical professional. However, for the majority of men, the onset of chronic inflammation can be linked to one particular cause--an unhealthy lifestyle. By this I mean poor diet, lack of stress management skills, not getting enough sleep, smoking, excessive drinking or insufficient exercise. All of these can diminish our bodies' ability to manage inflammation.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your body's healing ability and reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation. First, if any of the lifestyle conditions above apply to you, then take steps to address the issue or issues right away. But even if you do lead a healthy lifestyle there are still things you can do to enhance your body's inflammation fighting capabilities. Here are five action steps you can take to improve your body's ability to manage inflammation:
Learn stress management techniques: An ability to manage the stresses of life can be debilitating and even deadly. Do yourself a favor and learn to relax and not take life's ups and downs so seriously;
Get enough sleep: This is one of the easiest and most all-around healthy things you can do to improve your physical and mental well-being. Sleep time is when the body gets most of its work done. While we're busy snoozing, it's hard at work recovering from the day's activities and doing other important stuff like building muscle;
Eat a healthy diet: A poor diet has been linked to an almost endless number of dangerous health conditions and diseases—including chronic inflammation. Eat a healthy diet with lots of lean proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats;
Exercise regularly and include both aerobic and strength conditioning: Our bodies and our mind thrive on exercise. Make sure you include a vigorous, well-round workout session at least three days a week; and
Increase your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s have been shown to improve our ability to heal and can be helpful in preventing the onset of chronic inflammation. Fish oils and flax seed oil are both good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Making sure that you are taking these five simple action steps will not only help you're your body in good working order, but it can also minimize your susceptibility to chronic inflammation. And by minimizing chronic inflammation, you improve your capacity to build muscle and burn fat.