Inflammation


Inflammation is an important process that occurs when the body is repairing itself or fighting off 'foreign invaders'. However, the body's complex interplay of hormones can easily be disrupted, leading to chronic inflammation that can be an underlying factor in a multitude of different conditions.

There are 3 hormone groups in particular whose inflammatory properties have been well researched:

Prostaglandins are fatty acids that perform a variety of hormone-like functions such as blood pressure control, but when produced in excess they are associated with abnormal inflammatory processes and other pathological conditions. They are found within most tissues and their job is to signal pain via the nervous system. They initiate dilation of blood vessels at an injured site, opening space in the capillary walls for white blood cells to enter and begin a healing response. The blood and plasma rushing out of those enlarged vessels causes the swelling, tenderness, and redness. Prostaglandins can cause constriction as well as dilation of smooth muscle cells and are responsible for pain such as menstrual cramps.

Cytokines are proteins that mediate many standard processes in the body. They act as immune system modulators and are produced by white blood cells throughout the body. Cytokines communicate with the brain and set off an alarm when they detect an intruder. A subclass of cytokines called leukotrienes (or interleukins) ensures that the immune response is checked before it destroys outlying healthy cells and tissue. Crucially, they also act to call off the inflammatory response. Therefore, in a case of unbalanced leukotriene activity, white blood cells can begin to digest healthy tissue causing excessive damage and scarring, a common symptom in many autoimmune disorders.

Histamines are derived from the amino acid (protein building block) histidine. They act as neurotransmitters mediating arousal and pro-inflammatory signals released from mast cells (part of the immune system) in response to allergic reactions or tissue damage. They are found in mast cells and basophils (a type of white blood cell) and are the chemicals best known for causing the itchy nose, watery eyes or rash that often accompany an allergic reaction. However, some research suggests that they may also play a role in the development of internal symptoms such as inflammatory bowel problems. They act to help rid the body of toxins by sneezing, coughing, crying, and scratching. They bring more blood and lymphatic fluid to the site of the invasion and so carry white blood cells to the site and toxins away from it. 
 

Treatment

Diet and nutrition is a common issue that needs to be addressed, while approaches such as acupuncture and massage can help to regulate the release of pro inflammatory hormones. Psychological techniques may also be appropriate for those experiencing anxiety related to inflammatory responses.