Many diseases, including osteoarthritis (“arthritis”), have their origins in the inflammatory process. But what is inflammation, and what exactly causes it?
The process of inflammation is an important one that helps keep us protected from trauma and pathogens (bacteria) that might seriously harm us.
Problems begin to occur when inflammation is not a temporary response to imminent danger, but an ongoing condition precipitated by some form of toxicity. These toxicities can come from lifestyle factors such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, or mismanaged stress, or they can be the result of something less manageable such as repetitive stress injury or cartilage breakdown (arthritis).
Let’s take a look at how and why inflammation takes place.
We’ll assume that you have cut your finger while cleaning a dirty countertop. This sets in motion a series of events called the inflammatory response. First, the blood flow to the injured area increases, bringing with it components of the immune system that fight invading bacteria. Due to this increased blood flow, and the release of histamines from the immune system’s mast cells and basophils, the tissues become warm and red and begin to swell. The swelling presses against nerve endings, causing the pain we associate with inflammation.
Once the invading pathogens have been eradicated, the immune response discontinues and all returns to normal.
When the inflammatory response is ongoing, as with arthritis and various other degenerative conditions, the status quo is never resumed. As part of the inflammatory cascade, free radicals are generated. These damage nearby tissues and, when inflammation is short-lived, the tissues have time to repair themselves. However, when inflammation is ongoing, the tissues are subjected to a continual onslaught of oxidative damage. Over time, this can cause further degeneration of the tissues and give rise to the diseases we associate with aging.