What is inflammation? Inflammation is the body’s reaction to injury. When tissue is injured, there are a series of chemical changes that occur–we call these changes inflammation. An injured and inflamed area of the body undergoes continuous change as the body heals and repairs itself.

When an injury occurs, the body responds with the four hallmarks of inflammation: pain (dolor), heat (calor), redness (rubor), and swelling (tumor). Think of a bee sting. First there is pain from the sting–the initial injury. The body’s response to the injury produces redness, heat and swelling, plus some additional pain. The blood vessels in the area of the injury dilate and white blood cells produce chemicals like prostaglandins, cytokines, interleukins and leukotreines, producing these inflammatory changes; this occurs within 30 minutes of the injury. White blood cells then migrate to the area. If the injury is not too severe, the blood vessels will return to normal in six to eight hours and repair can begin.

What causes inflammation?

Inflammation occurs because of certain chemicals produced by white blood cells in response to injury. Sometimes there is an overreaction to the injury and the inflammation can produce pain that is out of proportion to the injury. Drugs can inhibit inflammation by interfering with the production of inflammatory chemicals, but they also slow down the healing process. You can, however, reduce inflammation naturally–without slowing down the healing process.

You may have heard the names of some of the chemicals involved in inflammation in drug commercials. Three examples of these pro-inflammatory chemicals are prostaglandins, cytokines, interleukins and leukotreines. Drugs that treat allergies and reduce pain and inflammation work by affecting these chemicals. Similarly, diet and supplements can also affect the amount of these chemicals and the inflammation that they produce.