Inflammation is something we hear about all the time, and how it can have a negative impact on our health if not managed correctly. In today’s post we talk about what it is and how to support your body in managing it and reducing it.
Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to foreign bodies or injury. Playing an important role in healing, it can be both visible and invisible. For example, when we get injured, bruising develops, getting darker after the initial impact, eventually fading when the tissues recover – this is what’s known as acute inflammation as this heals in a matter of days or weeks. However, inflammation can be chronic and has been linked to a number of health and skin conditions. Understanding what can cause chronic inflammation can allow us to make more informed choices about how we deal with and/or prevent it from happening.
There are 4 core stages of the inflammation process:
- When tissues are damaged, due to infection or injury, small blood vessels called arterioles dilate and become leakier which allows more blood flow to the affected area. Molecules called cytokines are released which attract white blood cells called neutrophils. The leaky arterioles make it easier for these neutrophils to move quickly out of the blood vessels and into the tissues to start fighting infection and repair the damage caused. This is where you will experience redness, swelling and pain. Cytokines called pyrogens are also released which raises the temperature of the affected area in order to make it more difficult for the bacteria to grow. This may have an effect on your entire body temperature.
- A process called phagocytosis then takes place where the cells capture and ingest foreign particles and kill/destroy the harmful bacteria. The cells then break it down so your body can excrete it. The time this takes can vary depending on how many foreign particles you had in your body.
- The skin is now in a position to start rebuilding. This is the proliferation stage where fibroblasts (the major cells responsible for the production of collagen) multiply and divide. Cellular regeneration and tissue formation takes place to start rebuilding the skin’s protective barrier. A new network of blood vessels is constructed so that the tissue can receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients to become healthy again.
- The final stage is remediation. This is where the body sends out chemical signals to say that the work of the inflammation process has been completed, everything has healed and it’s time to stop the process as the body has now been restored to its normal function. Sometimes, however, the body can begin to over-produce collagen which can cause build-ups in the skin.
CHRONIC INFLAMMATION IN SKIN
The skin is the body’s largest organ and acts as a protective barrier, however, when this becomes significantly damaged, the body’s natural response is to release substances called chemical mediators (molecular substances which recruit and direct the action of cells) that start the inflammation process. As the skin is unable to perform vital functions such as keeping water in (preventing trans-epidermal water loss) and free radicals out, we experience chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is where the body is unable to complete the four stages of the process or finds itself in an endless cycle of sustained responses. Causes of this can be grouped into three main areas – environmental, lifestyle, and diet – some examples of which have been listed below, although this list in not new or exhaustive:
- Environmental causes would include pollution, UV radiation from the sun, blue light from devices, or an allergy which has not yet been diagnosed, i.e. perfume or pet allergy or to a product or ingredient such as SLS, which can lead to a weakening of the skin barrier, allows allergens and irritants to breach and cause inflammation.
- Diet which includes too much refined sugar (this kicks off the glycation process thus decreasing collagen and increasing inflammation cells in the body), alcohol, saturated fats (trans fats), a food allergy which has not yet been diagnosed, all of which has an impact on both the skin’s microbiome and the gut’s microbiome, which in turn has an impact on so much more, including the delicate balance of hormones.
Chronic inflammation can present itself in a number of ways – dryness, rash, itchiness, irritated and sore skin, red, flat or raised skin, blistering, cracked/bleeding skin, skin thickening, burning or warmth in the affected area(s), patches of eczema, or an eczema flare-up, increased sensitivity to products, breakouts, dermatitis, an allergic reaction – and it can also exacerbate skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis. [Source]
Chronic inflammation can also be particularly bad if you suffer with acne. With acne, bacteria mixes with sebum, building up and causing a lot of pressure on the skin. The inflammation process comes into action but for a lot of people, it doesn’t stop when it has reached stage 4. Acne can stretch the cellular wall and create micro-tears which allows bacteria to get into the dermis, ultimately infecting other cells.
Chronic inflammation can lead to permanent damage to healthy cells too. The signals to stop the process aren’t sent and eventually the DNA damage, tissue death and internal scarring can all occur. [Source] This leaves us vulnerable to disease such as Scleroderma (a rheumatic and autoimmune disease which can be localised to the skin and/or also damage the tissues and organs beneath it) and skin cancer.
WAYS OF PREVENTING CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for everyone, and our Founder’s personal journey included consulting a functional nutritionist and tests to understand what her body was not benefiting from.
However, a common theme and advice given to everyone is to eat more anti-inflammatory foods, and unsurprisingly most of the items on there are plant-based and unprocessed. Antioxidant rich foods and skincare products will work hard to protect against environmental causes of inflammation.
There is also some research that shows that topical application of plant oils can help with strengthening the skin barrier and have an anti-inflammatory action. Look out for ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties which can help to strengthen the skin barrier and structure of skin.
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WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR PREVENTING INFLAMMATION?
We’d love for you to tell us in a comment below!
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Chronic Inflammation, 2018, StatPearls Publishing
Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging, Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2014
Foods that fight inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing, 2018