It is well-researched that stress can give rise to chronic inflammation. If you have an understanding of what goes on in your body when you have stress, you might make some changes to reduce stress in your life.
This is part of our series on stress. This post describes some of the anatomical and physiological effects of stress.
Western science gives us the excellent schemata of the living organism as a whole system working together. Atoms combine to become molecules, molecules become organelles, which become cells; groups of similar cells combine to become organs, and organ systems work together to form the organism. The goal of the entire system is to achieve a state of homeostasis, a dynamic steady state in which all the systems work together. So, from the cellular level to the whole, cooperation is the rule of the realm.
Cell injury is a de-stress disruptive to this equilibrium, mostly impacting the inflammatory and immune response systems.
Cell injury occurs in many different ways:
- Temperature extremes
- Ionizing: shrinking tumors
- Ultraviolet: sun exposure
- Non-ionizing: exposures to infrared light, ultrasounds, microwaves, and lasers
- Chemicals: drugs, alcohol, lead
- Biologic agents: bacteria and viruses
- Nutritional imbalances: too much or wrong kind of fats, insufficient vitamins and minerals
Redness, pain, heat and swelling are the four hallmark signs showing that the inflammatory response has jumped into action. This is visible subsequent to an external injury or trauma, but inflammation also occurs on the inside of the body, in the soft tissue, and more deeply, in the cells.
The inflammatory response both protects and defends as it goes through several stages:
- Blood vessels expand and areas of the cell wall open to allow specific immune players into the bloodstream and vessels.
- Heart rate increases, speeding up the metabolic rate, and increasing blood flow to the affected area, creating the four hallmark signs of redness, pain, heat, and swelling.
- Cleanup — specific types of white blood cells migrate to the injured area and clean up debris.
- Nutrients that support the defense cells enter the area.
- Fibrin, a protein, walls off the infected area to create a scab.
- Pus forms — pus contains white blood cells and dead tissue from the clean-up process but is not present not when the inflammation is very mild.
Lots of information, but how does this affect you? Increased heart rate, increased metabolic rate, environmental exposures, etc: they all add up and impact your body. Cancers, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases of the aging proces are associated with free radical damage are.
The damage may not show up for years, but you don’t want to wait for an official diagnosis before changing some of your eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits, do you?
What Are Free Radicals & Where Do They Come From?
Free radicals (FR) are produced during the breakdown process of digestion, exposure to environmental pollutants — such as tobacco smoke, car exhaust, and background radiation — the natural aging process, and other factors (see list, above).
Free radical injury is thought to be the final common pathway for tissue damage when a multiple of factors injure cells. Most atoms have a paired electron in their outer shell, spinning in opposite directions, and thereby creating stability. Free radicals do not have paired electrons, and “steal” the needed electron from the nearest molecule to restore balance. Highly unstable, these FR molecules are capable of setting up a chain reaction of thousands of separate molecular events that can then branch off into greater concentrations and ultimately result in damaged cells.
While FR formation is a normal process of catabolism (the breakdown of nutrient substances for either releasing or storing energy), the body’s chemical mechanisms are designed to protect cells from injury under normal conditions. However, it is thought that where blood flow is interrupted and then restored, the cell becomes overwhelmed with too many free radicals at once to respond normally.
What Can You Do To Prevent Free Radical Damage?
Okay, so what do you do to protect yourself from the ravages of free radicals? Eat anti-oxidants, lots of them- become an anti-oxidant hog, make sure to drink your recommended amount of clean, filtered water, and breath deeply and well. If you live in the city, get out to the country once in awhile, and get a couple of air purifiers in your house. Do something you enjoy (of course, that’s easier said than done).
A quality diet, regular exercise, healthy lifestyle habits, and taking a little “me-time” every day are the right steps towards longevity, and we routinely assess and advise you on all of these as part of your treatment plan.
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