The purpose of inflammation

Inflammation is one of the responses your body experiences as it defends itself from infections, heals itself after an injury or contends with unknown substances. Although it’s an important component of maintaining your health, if it persists too long it can create a panoply of diseases. In fact, chronic inflammation is at the root of most of the symptoms we associate with aging.

Although acute inflammation that lasts only a short time is necessary for healing, if it persists longer than a few days, the body can begin to destroy healthy cells. Your system then has more difficulty removing them. This is why it’s important to control irritation that continues too long or occurs too frequently. There are many situations where simple pains can run amok.

Allergies are an example of the body overreacting to a foreign substance. Those itchy eyes during the pollen season can swell, constrict blood flow, block the sinuses and cause a bottleneck. Suddenly, you have an infection after your chronically active immune system has been under duress. The allergen, which normally isn’t a true problem requiring such an intense reaction, weakens your system and then allows truly detrimental pathogens to gain a footing.


Typically there are four signs that you are inflamed, and each stage was originally described by its Latin equivalent: redness (rubor), heat (calor), swelling (tumor) and pain (dolor).

The redness is caused by the expansion of capillaries, which allows a greater flow of blood to deliver nutrients, proteins and white blood cells to the site of infection or injury. It also allows for the removal of waste and damaged or dead cells.

The heat and swelling that emanate during inflammation come from this increased flow of blood. They can also accompany a pooling of fluids outside and around the damaged cells. This is called edema, and it causes the discomfort we associate with illness and injury by distorting surrounding tissues.


Disease and infection stimulate immune responses such as fever. When the body can contend quickly with the pathogens, your fever breaks, and the cooties are taken away. When these bacteria, fungi, viruses and other illnesses resist your immune system, all the symptoms pile up. This creates the negative feedback loop that becomes dangerous and requires treatment. It also happens when the body attacks its own tissues, as if they were foreign invaders. This results in autoimmune disorders. Those who suffer from these conditions should pay particular attention to avoiding anything that causes inflammation, especially problematic foods and alcohol.

Injuries trigger inflammation when damaged cells leak a chemical trail that white blood cells can follow to the site. Fluids, cells, proteins and other substances accumulate at the epicenter of the damage. This can also constrict movement, so another symptom of inflammation can be immobility.

Many foods trigger the immune system as well. Whether it be by way of allergic reactions, or because they contain substances that cannot be processed by the body, diet is one of the most significant sources of chronic inflammation. If these foods are eaten for a long time, they perpetuate the cycle of irritation. This in turns damages cells repeatedly, and this eventual breakdown creates aging.

Foreign substances that cannot be dissolved or carried away also cause ongoing complaints. The body cannot use proteins to break down substances like silica shards and hydrogenated oils. It cannot carry away heavy metals and chlorine. These materials accumulate and cause recurring and constant immune responses.


According to The National Institutes of Health, “An increasing body of evidence shows that chronic inflammation causes and advances many common diseases. This opens new possibilities for treatment and therapy by blocking the inflammatory processes…Inflammation has long been a well-known symptom of many infectious diseases, but molecular and epidemiological research increasingly suggests that it is also intimately linked with a broad range of non-infectious diseases, perhaps even all of them.”

Whether it be cancers, Lupus, recurring infections, Alzheimers or almost any other condition, inflammation plays a critical role. For this reason, it should be avoided as much as possible. Many sources of these irritants are self-inflicted. Smoking, drug use, excess sugar (including alcohol), processed foods, tanning and many other lifestyle choices contribute to aging and infirmity by creating a constant onslaught of immune triggers. Many people could potentially save themselves a great deal of money, trouble and grief by examining whether they are making healthful decisions or overindulging in detrimental practices.

info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at and