Oftentimes when we discuss inflammation on Dr. Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog, we focus on the bad chronic inflammation that could result in long-term diseases. Flipping the conversation on its head: can inflammation ever be good for the body? Yes; it can.
Acute inflammation (short-term) is the body’s defense system protecting itself from an injury or infection. Think about a cut on your skin. You may put a bandage on it or maybe some antibacterial cream. No matter what, you will more than likely have short term inflammation signaled by redness and slight swelling. This is the body rushing blood, fluid and proteins to the cut, which generates swelling and heat to protect and repair damaged tissue. This reaction is called the “Triple Response of Lewis” that occurs from an injury to the skin, which produces an initial red area, followed by a flare around that area, and then a wheal. It is due to the release of histamine. The outcome is setting the stage for healing. If the cut does not heal or gets worse, you should consult a doctor for yourself or veterinarian for your companion pets.
If you or your companion pet twist a joint like an ankle, the body surrounds the area with inflammatory swelling to prevent further injury. It should eventually heal over a few days. You should definitely take it easy on the injured area to speed up the healing process and make the pain go away. The opposite of acute joint injury is chronic tissue inflammation, which predisposes to infection and eventually, if not addressed, can lead to obesity and even cancer. These injuries need prompt medical attention.
With pets, it would be best to go straight to your veterinarian since they could have bruised or broken a bone.
Fever is another inflammatory example of the body’s natural defense mechanism against any foreign invaders. In this instance, white blood cells spit out interleukins (a group of cytokine molecules that regulate the body’s cellular immune response to help fight bacteria. If a fever spikes to a dangerous level that may compromise the brain, we clearly need to consult a doctor or veterinarian. However, a short-term low-level fever is the body working to help set the stage for healing.
We have known that exercising is good for the body, brain and emotional state for centuries. The Greeks coveted muscular bodies. Colloquialisms we use these days include “ripped” or “cut” to describe a muscular body. Those words are definitely apropos – as we rip it apart to cause it to regenerate.
Think about it, a new workout routine or a particular exercise is first general soreness, which then signals progress. This soreness comes from natural muscle cell inflammation and damage. Inflammation rushes immune cells to the location to those sore areas to repair the muscle damage. In fact, lack of an adequate inflammatory response contributes to poor muscle regeneration.
We know that exercise helps combat obesity, which results from the chronic cellular oxidative stress of inflammation that results in disease. So, exercise – which produces good inflammation – then has an anti-inflammatory effect by helping to control weight.
Flipping the Inflammation Protocol
For years, the typical health care protocol was to suppress inflammation. The arsenal of treatment options that are available and still used include acetaminophen such as Tylenol to reduce fevers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) like ibuprofen/Advil, or steroids. The biggest conundrum has been the side effects with each of these therapies. Acetaminophen could damage the liver, ibuprofen could cause gastrointestinal bleeding, and steroids could create a number of issues like weight gain, and adrenal or kidney damage. Researchers are actively studying how to suppress inflammation without generating these deleterious problems.
Indeed, it has been known for a long time that excess anti-inflammatory medication actually slows the wound healing of acute tissue inflammation. So now the question becomes: how can we utilize the positive effects and control the negative effects of tissue inflammation?
Scientists are also thinking “outside of the box” of suppression: perhaps by inflaming another part of the body so that it can combat chronic or bad inflammation. This approach could be risky and so they are proceeding cautiously.
For instance, a group of researchers in 2011 noted that activating two proteins via inflammation helps to maintain normal blood sugar levels in obese and diabetic mice. Essentially, if we increase the levels of these inflammatory signals, they could actually be therapeutic in diabetes and obesity. Problem is though, inflaming them might worsen other inflammatory diseases like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Clearly, while inflammation can be good tissue response , we need to be able to harness, tame, and calm it down when it becomes overactive and bad.
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