When the body is confronted with damage, invasion of foreign material, or an unwanted virus it immediately sends out an alarm and recruits all of the body’s resources to fight off the potential damage. This is called the inflammatory response. It can be elicited by a myriad of different stimuli including a bug bite, a splinter, a virus infection, a bruise, or a broken bone. The inflammatory response dispatches cells and chemicals to the site to isolate and repair the damage. This is a key part of the body’s defense system, an indispensable protective response of self-defense.
To some extent the inflammatory response is an overreaction. The body triggers all of the resources and processes to defend itself until it can identify the precise problem and the targeted solution. This overreaction recruits mechanisms that are not needed and can actually be damaging. Paradoxically, the inflammatory response may produce tissue damage while it is engaged in healing and repair. But, the body’s logic is to get to the problem immediately with everything it has to insure survival first and deal with the consequences later. This is called acute inflammation and is short-lived, lasting only a few days.
If the inflammation continues for a longer period of time, it is termed as chronic inflammation and can last for weeks, months, or beyond. It is when inflammation is chronic that it becomes a major health problem. It can damage the tissues of the body producing or exacerbating disease. Inflammation may play a role in such diverse disorders as Alzheimer disease, meningitis, atherosclerosis, cystic fibrosis, asthma, cirrhosis of the liver, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), diabetes, osteoporosis, and even psoriasis.
Obviously, there is a need to have balance in the inflammatory response such that it deals with emergencies but stays restrained when no emergency is present. In today’s Research News article “Mind–body therapies and control of inflammatory biology: A descriptive review.”
Bower and Irwin review the literature on the effectiveness of mind-body therapies such as Tai Chi, yoga, and meditation on restraining chronic inflammation. They concluded that mind-body therapies worked to help balance the inflammatory response at the gene level. They decreased the expression of inflammation-related genes and reduced pro-inflammatory signaling.
Mind-body techniques are known to have beneficial effects on health (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/why-is-mindfulness-so-beneficial/). Bower and Irwin’s results suggest one of the mechanisms by which they produce these benefits, by helping to balance the inflammatory response, making it a useful defense against inflection while restraining its potentially damaging effects.
So, engage in mind-body practices, control damaging inflammation, and improve health.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies