I vividly remember my father bemoaning the state of his inflamed joints and arthritic knees. I too used to complain about my stiff, sore and achy joints, calling it inflammation, not really knowing what it was exactly or whether it was the same thing as inflammation. So is it?
This answer is yes — and no. Arthritis is defined as inflammation (itis) of the joints (from the Greek arthron). In many types of arthritis, the body’s inflammatory response is misdirected at the joints. While arthritis is one form of inflammation, you can have inflammation without having arthritis. Oxidative stress recurs frequently in our bodies. Think of it like the scratch on your car that rusts because the metal is exposed and unprotected —that’s oxygen at work. Many sources link heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, insulin resistance and cancer to inflammation.
But is inflammation in itself a bad thing? Not entirely, as we need the inflammatory process to heal. Let’s say that we suffer some insult to the body: we are punched, we get a sunburn or frostbite, an allergic reaction to something, or in my case, my annual holiday season face plant on my home’s icy walkway. Our bodies’ initial acute inflammatory response allows for increased blood flow to the injured tissue (swelling). The resulting sensations of swelling and pain are just part of a normal healing response – but they should be short-lived. So why does chronic inflammation feed a whole host of chronic diseases?
Inflammation becomes chronic when there is persistent stimulus — either internal or external. For example, eating too many foods laden with trans fats can cause a proliferation of free radicals (oxidative stress) which, when present in abundance, wreak constant havoc on our bodies through mutation and tissue destruction. This is chronic inflammation. Our lifestyle can also contribute to the perpetuation of inflammation. Specifically, when we consume too much processed food, alcohol and sugar, and we are prone to persistent infections that contribute to inflammation. We ingest too few omega-3 fats and too many omega-6 fats. When this ratio is off balance, it can trigger chronic inflammation throughout our bodies. Aggravating this situation are low quality sleep, poor gut health, high stress levels, and just sitting on our duffs too much. Soybean and cottonseed oils, refined vegetable oils, sunflower and safflower oils can all trigger inflammation, particularly if we are not consuming enough omega-3 fatty acids to counterbalance these highly inflammatory oils. Many nuts and other foods we buy are drenched in these oils — read the packaging carefully.
Poor dietary habits can cause internal inflammation, but very often it is silent. Most people are blissfully unaware of chronic inflammation cascading throughout their bodies, exposing them to chronic health risks. This is the result of the body being out of balance. In my case, I had both the observable kind of inflammation (which I could feel in my joints) and silent inflammation. I am certain that chronic inflammation was a factor in my developing cancer.
But how can you know if you have silent inflammation? Here are six tests you can do – numbers 1 and 6 you can arrange to have done yourself, and the rest you can ask your doctor to order for you:
- OmegaQuant HS-Omega-3 Index Report, which measures your level of omega-3 fatty acids as well as your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (please see my article on this test). You can order this test directly from OmegaQuant.com or Renegade Health.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (HS-CRP). CRP is a substance produced by the liver in the presence of inflammation in the body. An elevated level can be one identifier of possible inflammation in your body. HS-CRP is typically a measure of inflammation in your blood vessels.
- Anti-Nuclear Antibodies (ANA) can measure whether you have an autoimmune condition (which typically correlates with inflammation in the body), however ANA can also be present in a healthy individual so your doctor would determine if a positive result should involve next steps.
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR). This test indirectly measures how much inflammation there is in the body.
- Rheumatoid Factor (RF) is also a non-specific marker of inflammation in the body, and may or may not be related to rheumatoid arthritis.
- Live cell microscopy is an alternative methodology, but one that, in combination with the other tests above, can detect inflammation.