When a patient asks ‘Is inflammation good or bad?’ they have likely experienced chronic issues and are seeking to identify its cause
Inflammation is a response directed by the body’s innate immune system and is used to help it heal. When patients ask “Is inflammation good or bad?” doctors explain that the “good” comes in two forms:
- The first is by eliminating pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and other toxins that can contribute to infection.
- The second is to promote the repair and recovery of damaged tissue.
Both of these inflammatory actions are important for bolstering and restoring optimal cellular health. But not all inflammation is good as it can sometimes tip the scale to where it harms more than it helps. This is often referred to as chronic inflammation and can be caused by several different factors.
Autoimmune disease and chronic inflammation
In autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, the body mistakes healthy cells for damaged cells. Because of this, it attacks healthy cells in error and destroys them, fighting them off as if they are bad for the body.
The National Library of Medicine reports that many of the symptoms that are experienced with autoimmune diseases are also found in inflammation — some of which include redness, swelling, heat, and pain. Additionally, most treatments for these types of diseases also involve easing the effects of inflammation, such as by being prescribed anti-inflammatory medicines.
Research published in the Journal of Immunology Research adds that there appears to be a connection between autoimmune diseases and inflammatory dysregulation. This can lead to major damage to various organs and tissues.
Is inflammation good or bad? Factoring in genetics
Another factor that can affect whether inflammation becomes too much is a person’s genetic makeup.
According to a 2021 article published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, immune system efficiency and response vary between men and women. Some of these differences are a result of having different chromosomes (XX for women and XY for men), and others are impacted by the different hormones in each sex.
For example, women tend to have more efficient immune systems. This helps provide them better protection from the spread of inflammatory conditions such as the COVID-19 virus. Yet, women are also more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, potentially due to the way their sex hormones suppress and enhance different inflammatory cells.
Lifestyle factors impacting levels
Numerous lifestyle factors have also been implicated in increased levels of inflammation.
A 2019 article in Nature Medicine shares that low levels of physical activity, diets full of processed foods, and higher exposure to environmental pollutants have all been associated with elevated inflammation levels.
Other lifestyle factors impacting inflammation include the sleep-wake cycle, exposure to social stressors, and access to an environment that is sanitary and supports proper immune system function. This is due in part to the way each of these impacts gut health which, in turn, impacts how the body responds to inflammation.
Lifestyle changes and supplements
When a patient asks “Is inflammation good or bad?” they have likely experienced chronic inflammation and are seeking to identify its cause. Blood work can help determine if an autoimmune disease exists. Asking patients about their lifestyles can also make it easier to identify if their lifestyle may be contributing to higher inflammation levels. Once the root cause is established, a treatment plan can be put in place.
This treatment may involve taking medications, and it may require making lifestyle changes. Increasing physical activity and choosing more whole foods can help lower inflammation by reducing obesity risk, a chronic health condition associated with consistently high levels of inflammation. Supplements may be beneficial as well.
Some natural substances have been known to reduce inflammation. For instance, a 2018 meta-analysis and systematic review notes that taking a curcumin supplement provides anti-inflammatory effects by significantly decreasing interleukin 6 (IL-6), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), and malondialdehyde concentrations.
Another 2018 meta-analysis of 28 randomized controlled trials found that taking a vitamin D supplement might reduce chronic low-grade inflammation in people who have Type 2 diabetes. This was supported by the vitamin D intervention group having lower levels of CRP and tumor necrosis factor α.
Studies involving garlic, anthocyanin, and several other substances with anti-inflammatory properties have found similar effects. These can potentially help patients asking “Is inflammation good or bad?” to lower their inflammation levels while addressing the root causes and making positive lifestyle changes.