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What is inflammation and how does it affect my health?

All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

What is inflammation?

When your body is physically injured or encounters a threat like bacteria, a virus, or toxic chemicals, your immune system is activated and inflammation occurs. During this response, your body tries to restrict the threat to one area, eliminate any harmful agents, and allow healing to begin. This can result in symptoms of pain, redness, itching, and warmth in the area. Almost everyone has experienced inflammation at one point, whether they burned their hand, were stung by a bee, or had a sore throat. However, this vital immune response can also affect our bodies in ways we cannot see, long after the threat of sickness or injury is gone. 

Chronic vs acute inflammation

There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the most common type of inflammation, and occurs in response to sickness or injury to the body. In response to this threat, the immune system sends out white blood cells to surround and protect the area. This type of inflammation is usually intense but not long lasting. It can cause the affected area to turn red or warm, and may be accompanied by a fever. A common example of acute inflammation is spraining your ankle. After this injury, your ankle may swell, turn red, and be unable to move without pain. However, after a few days the swelling and pain should subside as healing occurs. 

Chronic inflammation may start as an acute inflammation from injury or illness, but can become a persistent state if your body continues to produce an inflammatory response even when there is no danger present. Unlike acute inflammation, chronic inflammation may exist at lower levels for a longer duration of time. Chronic, mild inflammation often does not cause noticeable symptoms, and therefore can go unnoticed for long periods of time. Despite being less noticeable, chronic inflammation can still negatively impact our health. Although researchers are still studying its effects on our bodies, chronic inflammation is associated with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (Harvard Health, 2020).

What causes chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation can be caused by chronic diseases that involve inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, as well as untreated acute inflammation from a previous illness or injury. Exposure to certain toxins, such as certain chemical agents or pollution, and lifestyle factors like a lack of exercise, drinking alcohol, obesity, chronic stress, and smoking are also associated with inflammation (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). Detecting chronic inflammation and taking steps to reduce it can help limit the risk of inflammation-related diseases from occurring.

How can you test for inflammation?

Inflammation in the body can be measured by a simple blood test. These tests include:

C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Test

A CRP test measures the amount of CRP in a sample of your blood. CRP is a protein made by the liver in response to inflammation. Elevated CRP can be temporary due to sickness or injury (acute inflammation), or may persist for longer periods of time (chronic inflammation). CRP tests can show whether you have inflammation in your body and how much there is, but not where the inflammation is coming from or how long it has existed. Therefore, a single hs-CRP test is not enough to diagnose chronic inflammation. If your hs-CRP levels are elevated, the test should be repeated at least two weeks later to determine if your inflammation is persistently elevated.

CRP and heart health

Homed-IQ now offers a home Vitamin D and Inflammation Test that checks for highly-sensitive CRP (hs-CRP) and vitamin D. hs-CRP tests can detect lower levels of CRP more commonly seen during chronic inflammation, and is an indicator of future risk of heart disease. High hs-CRP in the blood is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks, and people with high levels of hs-CRP who have had a heart attack are more likely to have another one than those with a normal hs-CRP level (Musunuru et al., 2008).

Low vitamin D is associated with higher CRP levels due to its anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system. Testing vitamin D with CRP can indicate whether elevated CRP is partly due to a lack of vitamin D, and allow individuals to take steps to increase their vitamin D intake. To learn more about how to boost your vitamin D levels, read our blog “How to Increase Vitamin D”. 

Beyond its anti-inflammatory properties, Vitamin D is vital for bone health and immune system function. If you would like to test your levels, try Homed-IQ’s Vitamin D Test

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)

An ESR test measures how quickly erythrocytes (red blood cells) fall to the bottom of a test tube containing a blood sample. The faster they fall, the more likely there is inflammation in the body. ESR tests can be used to help diagnose diseases that cause inflammation, like arthritis or Crohn’s disease. They may also be used to check for infections or monitor inflammation over time (NHS, 2022).

What can an inflammation test tell you? 

Homed-IQ’s Vitamin D and Inflammation Test checks your Vitamin D and CRP levels. This provides an indication of whether there is inflammation in your body and whether you have low vitamin D levels, a condition that can elevate CRP. If your test results indicate you have inflammation in your body, speak to your doctor. They may recommend you repeat the test in a few weeks or months to see if the inflammation is still there. They may also recommend additional tests to check the source of inflammation, or certain lifestyle changes that can reduce inflammation.

How can I reduce inflammation?

Inflammation in response to sickness or injury is often temporary and will go away on its own. Chronic inflammation may be treated under the supervision of a doctor with the following:

  • Vitamins and supplements: certain vitamins and supplements can reduce inflammation and may be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac lower inflammation.
  • Steroid infections: if the inflammation is affecting only one joint or muscle (such as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis), corticosteroid infections may be prescribed.

Certain healthy habits can also help reduce inflammation. These habits include:

  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna), fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. Limit fried foods, refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies), and simple sugars (candy, soda).
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Quit or avoid smoking.
  • Manage stress by making time for relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation.
  • Limit alcohol intake.

In summary, inflammation is a powerful part of our immune systems but can negatively impact our health if it persists without the presence of any illness or injury. Homed-IQ’s Vitamin D and Inflammation Test is an easy way to get insight into your inflammation and vitamin D levels from home. Simply take a finger prick blood sample and mail your test to one of our certified laboratories. The test result will be available in a few days.

References

C-reactive protein test – Mayo Clinic. (2021, June 25). https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-reactive-protein-test/about/pac-20385228

Harvard Health. (2020, April 1). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation

Inflammation: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21660-inflammation

Musunuru, K., Kral, B. G., Blumenthal, R. S., Fuster, V., Campbell, C. Y., Gluckman, T. J., Lange, R. A., Topol, E. J., Willerson, J. T., Desai, M. Y., Davidson, M. H., & Mora, S. (2008). The use of high-sensitivity assays for C-reactive protein in clinical practice. Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine, 5(10), 621–635. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncpcardio1322

NHS website. (2022, October 3). Blood Tests. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-tests/types/

About the Author

Lauren Dobischok

Lauren is a health scientist and science communicator living in the Netherlands. She has completed a Research Master in Health Sciences at Erasmus University Rotterdam’s Netherlands Institute for Health Sciences (NIHES) with a specialization in epidemiology, and a B.Sc. in Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University. With a background in public health, her goal is to create accurate scientific content that is easy to understand and enables people to make informed decisions. Within Homed-IQ, Lauren serves as Product Developer and Content Lead, working closely with medical doctors and medical device scientists on Homed-IQ’s new products and written communications.