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Immune System: Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

We have covered a lot of ground in our exploration of the immune system! Now it is time to dive into some of the immune issues that you or your loved ones may be experiencing. We will begin by evaluating the difference between acute vs. chronic immune responses.

Our immune system uses inflammation to protect and repair the body from something damaging. When this occurs in a brief and intense fashion, it is called acute inflammation and manifests as scabbing, redness, pus, and swelling. However, when an inflammatory response is prolonged and becomes the body’s new norm, it is called chronic inflammation. This condition is often more subtle and sneaky at first. The body responds to damage internally, rather than externally. So we may not see the symptoms of chronic inflammation, which manifests as dilated blood vessels, unchecked white blood cells, and a hyped up immune system.

Autoimmune conditions are the primary form of chronic inflammation. Sadly, they have become more and more common to the point where one in five Americans now suffer with an autoimmune condition. [1] Here is a list from WebMed of some of the most common:

“• Rheumatoid arthritis. The immune system produces antibodies that attach to the lining of joints. Immune system cells then attack the joints, causing inflammation, swelling, and pain.

• Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). People with lupus develop autoimmune antibodies that can attach to their tissues throughout the body. The joints, lungs, blood cells, nerves, and kidneys are commonly affected in lupus.

• Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The immune system attacks the lining of the intestines, causing episodes of diarrhea, rectal bleeding, urgent bowel movements, abdominal pain, fever, and weight loss. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are the two major forms of IBD.

• Multiple sclerosis (MS). The immune system attacks nerve cells, causing symptoms that can include pain, blindness, weakness, poor coordination, and muscle spasms. Various medicines that suppress the immune system can be used to treat multiple sclerosis.

•Type 1 diabetes mellitus. Immune system antibodies attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. By young adulthood, people with type 1 diabetes require insulin injections to survive.

• Psoriasis. In psoriasis, overactive immune system blood cells called T-cells collect in the skin. The immune system activity stimulates skin cells to reproduce rapidly, producing silvery, scaly plaques on the skin.

•Graves disease. The immune system produces antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to release excess amounts of thyroid hormone into the blood (hyperthyroidism). Symptoms of Graves disease can include bulging eyes as well as weight loss, nervousness, irritability, rapid heart rate, weakness, and brittle hair.

• Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Antibodies produced by the immune system attack the thyroid gland, slowly destroying the cells that produce thyroid hormone. Low levels of thyroid hormone develop (hypothyroidism), usually over months to years. Symptoms include fatigue, constipation, weight gain, depression, dry skin, and sensitivity to cold. Taking a daily oral synthetic thyroid hormone pill restores normal body functions.” [2]

These conditions can be debilitating and devastating as the immune system fights against the body instead of for it. There are many medical treatments for these conditions which help to reduce the symptoms; however, the immune system continues to damage the body. The real question is, what caused the condition and how can we support the root issue? This will lead us to our next discussion of understanding the origin of chronic inflammation (particularly autoimmune diseases), and the numerous ways nutritional therapy can not only quiet, but oftentimes resolve these issues.



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