The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Inflammation

“Inflammation is a big buzz word in the world of health now, and rightfully so. The word inflammation comes from the Latin word ‘inflammare’ meaning ‘to ignite’ and it’s your body’s response to danger signals.”

Dr. Stephanie Davis

Inflammation, often dubbed as the ‘secret killer,’ is a stealthy biological response that, over time,  can wreak havoc on our body. 

What is Inflammation?

When a threat is detected, our immune system activates a protective response, known as inflammation, to eliminate danger and restore balance. This response involves increased blood flow to the affected area, where white blood cells and nutrients aid in healing. So inflammation is critical to support our body from harmful threats.

However, when inflammation continues to linger, even after the initial threat has resolved, this now becomes chronic inflammation which can harm tissue, affect organ function, and eventually lead to a dysregulated immune system. It is a silent threat that sows the seeds for conditions like obesity, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart diseases, and various cancers.

So what triggers inflammation, what are the signs, and the harmful consequences?

Contributing Factors

When chronic inflammation occurs, the immune system remains active for an extended period, releasing harmful chemicals that disrupt natural bodily processes. The million-dollar question is… what causes this never-ending party in our bodies?

  • Lingering infections: When harmful microbes such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi invade the body, the immune system recognizes them as foreign invaders and mounts an aggressive inflammatory response against them.
  • Messed-up gut microbial balance: Your gut contains a wide variety of microorganisms that need to be balanced for optimal health. Unhealthy eating habits can disrupt this balance and lead to inflammation over time.
  • Exposure to toxins, like pollution or chemicals: These may directly trigger the process by damaging cells and tissues in the body. When damage is detected, our immune system mediates inflammation by releasing a cascade of pro-inflammatory molecules.
  • Stress: When a person experiences stress, hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are released in the body, and they can have inflammatory effects on the body.
  • Certain medications: Corticosteroids, used to reduce inflammation, can lead to organ inflammation if taken in high doses or for a long time.


When chronic inflammation occurs, even activities of daily living may become painful and challenging. This can affect our physical and emotional well-being and make it difficult to maintain meaningful relationships with loved ones. Signs and symptoms tied to inflammation include:

  • Elevated blood glucose levels
  • Digestive problems (may include flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating)
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Skin problems (skin may become red, itchy, patchy, scaly, thicker, and/or studded with swollen pimples or cysts)
  • Allergies
  • Facial and periorbital edema (swelling across the face and underneath the eyes)
  • Mood disorders (including depression and anxiety)
  • Impaired thinking capacities (including brain fog and difficulty remembering things)
  • Arthritis
  • Body pain (in the joint, back, and/or muscles)
  • Migraines  
  • Recurring bronchitis (involves swelling and irritation of the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs)

Now, you might be thinking, that with all these signs and symptoms that persist with inflammation, identifying when you have it should be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as linking a migraine or body pain to the condition. It’s often actively present and wreaking all sorts of havoc without making you aware – hence why it is dubbed the ‘secret killer.’ Chronic low-grade inflammation is tied to many health problems including obesity and autoimmune disease.

Link to Obesity  

In recent years, scientists have discovered a strong link between obesity and inflammation.

Normally, when you eat, your body’s metabolic pathways kick in to process the nutrients you consume. But when you overeat, your body becomes flooded with more nutrients than it can handle.

This overload can trigger your immune system to react as if these excess nutrients are invaders, even though the nutrients themselves are not inherently inflammatory. This exaggerated immune response is particularly notable in obese individuals and those with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Excess fatty tissue can lead to higher levels of a hormone called leptin. Leptin informs the brain about fat storage levels. High-fat stores raise leptin levels, signaling fullness and satisfaction. When too much leptin is released, in response to excessive fat, chronic low-grade inflammation is triggered.

The combination of obesity and inflammation also plays a significant role in T2D progression. When you eat a meal, blood glucose levels rise, and the hormone insulin is released to facilitate the uptake of excess glucose into cells. In T2D, insulin becomes less efficient in facilitating uptake, resulting in a buildup of excess glucose in the blood.

So, how do obesity and inflammation contribute to T2D? When the body gains weight, fat cells expand, and they may not get enough oxygen, causing them to die off. This triggers inflammation which makes the body more susceptible to insulin resistance and hence T2D.

Link to Autoimmune Diseases  

Chronic inflammation can also contribute to autoimmune disease. This happens when your body’s defense system mistakenly attacks its own organs and tissues. Symptoms of autoimmunity like joint pain, weight gain, brain fog, and fatigue can go unnoticed for years without a clear diagnosis. Unfortunately, by the time a diagnosis is made, significant damage to tissues has often already transpired.

For inflammation to progress to chronic autoimmunity, three main factors must be present: genetic risk, environmental agents, and increased intestinal permeability.

1. Genetic Risk: You may have what is called a ‘genetic predisposition’ for an autoimmune disease. This means that your genetic profile can cause the disease, but it is not guaranteed without other precipitating factors like environmental triggers and intestinal problems.

2. Environmental factors: Certain environmental agents such as foods, molds, pesticides, and heavy metals, can exacerbate inflammation.

3. Increased intestinal permeability: The gut lining usually acts as a barrier, letting only small molecules into the bloodstream. Sometimes, this barrier becomes too permeable, allowing larger molecules like food proteins and toxins to pass through. The immune system mistakes them for ‘invaders’ and memorizes their structures for future attacks. The issue arises when these food items (e.g., gluten, egg, dairy) resemble our body’s tissues. This triggers autoimmune reactions where the immune system attacks both the food items and similar body tissue, a condition known as molecular mimicry.

Fast-food chains and grocery items now label products as ‘gluten-free’ due to the rise in gluten allergies caused by molecular mimicry. When gluten leaks through the gut, the immune system may attack not only gluten but also tissues like the thyroid gland due to their similar structures. Continuous consumption of gluten fuels autoimmune reactions against both gluten and the thyroid gland, leading to various bodily damages.


Inflammation, a crucial defense mechanism, can turn against us when it becomes chronic, leading to serious health issues. It can be triggered by infections, gut imbalances, toxins, stress, and certain medications. Recognizing signs of chronic inflammation is vital for overall well-being. The connection between inflammation and obesity is well-known, with excess fat causing immune responses and exacerbating conditions like T2D. Prolonged inflammation can also lead to autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks its tissues mistakenly.

In Part 2 of our blog, we’ll share tips on managing chronic inflammation and how not to be a part of the statistic that’s living with this condition.

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