Ask The Expert: What Is Inflammation, Its Causes And How To Prevent It

What to know about this natural immune response to injury and illness.

By Sasha Gonzales        20 May 2022

Inflammation is widely talked about, but do you know how it starts, why it happens, and how chronic inflammation can affect you? A normal and natural process, inflammation is driven by our immune cells and is part of the body’s immune response. However, when it occurs over the long term, it may lead to the development of diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes.

We asked Dr Naras Lapsys, Consultant Dietician and Longevity Medicine Practitioner at The Integrative Medical Centre, to shed light on how inflammation can be both a good and bad thing. For SAFRA members, read on till the end for exclusive deals by health screening providers.

Q: Can inflammation be beneficial?

Dr Lapsys: Yes, inflammation is part of our body’s immune response to infection and injuries. When we have an infection or injury, an inflammatory response is triggered, kicking off a process that contains and eliminates injurious agents and damaged tissue components so that the body can begin to repair and heal. Without this vital inflammatory response, we would not recover from wounds, infections, injuries, or tissue damage.

Q: How does acute inflammation differ from chronic inflammation?

Dr Lapsys: Acute inflammation is what occurs when we, for instance, develop a sore throat, cut our finger or sprain our ankle. The inflammatory response is triggered quickly and the body goes to work to heal and repair the wound, injury, infection or damage. Some signs of inflammation include heat (due to increased blood flow to the site), swelling (as a result of the accumulation of blood and other fluids in the area), redness, pain and fever.

If your immune system is compromised or you’re exposed to toxins over a long period, your body may not heal as quickly.

Acute inflammation can progress to chronic inflammation if the healing process is interfered with. Chronic inflammation is a slower form of inflammation. Your body finds it hard to remove the harmful substances so it remains in a state of inflammation for months or even years. A main symptom is constantly feeling unwell. Rheumatoid arthritis is one example of chronic inflammation.

Q: What lifestyle habits or conditions are believed to cause chronic inflammation?

Dr Lapsys: Smoking and excess alcohol consumption are two big ones, because these habits expose your body to harmful substances, like tar, carbon monoxide and other toxins in the case of smoking, and ethanol in the case of alcohol consumption.

Obesity is another potential cause. Fat cells are where pro-inflammatory molecules are stored, so the more body fat you have, the more likely you are to suffer from chronic inflammation.

If you are constantly stressed and don’t address the issue appropriately, you may also experience chronic inflammation.

Q: What conditions or diseases are associated with chronic inflammation?

Dr Lapsys: Chronic inflammation is known to damage DNA, cells and tissues as well as cause internal scarring. In the long term, it may lead to the development of heart disease, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also closely linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

Learn more about how to keep your heart healthy.

Q: Can we test for inflammation?   

Dr Lapsys: There are no proper tests to diagnose the level of inflammation in the body, but we can measure if you have anti-inflammatory markers. If these are in abundance then it shows that your body is in a good position to defend itself from infection, injury and disease.

Q: What can we do to minimise chronic inflammation?

Dr Lapsys: Losing body fat steadily and healthily is one way to reduce your risk. Supplements containing anti-inflammatory ingredients like omega-3 and curcumin may also help.

I recommend including more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, like fruit and vegetables, green tea, extra virgin olive oil, omega-3-rich foods like walnuts, ground flax seeds and chia seeds, and fish. Colourful veggies and fruit are especially high in antioxidants and polyphenols – these naturally occurring compounds are found in the skins of fresh produce and are known to reduce inflammation.

Whole foods are the way to go. Cut down on processed and heavily refined foods like pasta, crackers, processed meats, fried food, and anything containing trans fats. These all have a potential chronic inflammatory impact.

Finally, it’s important to get a handle on your stress and enjoy sufficient quality sleep every night.

Read our tips on healthy eating and getting quality sleep.

Note: Please consult your GP or physician before embarking on any treatment plan.

For exclusive health screening packages and discounts for SAFRA members, go to www.safra.sg/promotions/healthcare-products-and-services

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