Inflammation 101: An Educational Primer

Posted on: December 8, 2022

What is inflammation?

Inflammation has become a catch-all buzzword that can make understanding the research and its implications difficult. 

To keep things simple, there are two types of inflammation most often mentioned in the scientific literature. Let’s dig right in. 

Acute Inflammation

The first is acute inflammation. This is short-term inflammation, such as redness from a stubbed toe or a superficial cut. 

We are all too familiar with the signs and symptoms; swelling, soreness, and heat. This is the body’s way of combating injury where pathogens may be present. In effect, the area swells due to increased white blood cells and other immune response fluids. The area heats up and becomes red due to increased blood flow. These are natural, healthy responses to injury that show that the body is healing.

Chronic Inflammation

When an acute, inflammatory response doesn’t go away soon, this is called chronic inflammation and can often become a much more serious issue. 

Normally, it can be hard to tell when one is chronically inflamed, as internal organs and tissues may be the victim. To make matters worse, there may be many triggers that can cause chronic inflammation and lead to its prolonged stay. 

The worst part about chronic inflammation is its ability to put the immune system into overdrive, allowing secondary diseases and infections to take root. Scientists are just beginning to uncover the multiple layers associated with inflammation in the body and different ways to prevent or combat it.

The common symptoms associated with chronic inflammation that I see in my practice are:

  • Pain
  • Weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue

How Can Inflammation Be Resolved?

Fortunately, there is now large and growing data to support potential solutions to the problem of inflammation. 

As with most things, the best defense is a good offense. To combat inflammation most effectively, a proactive approach that targets multiple areas should be used. This can often include focusing on:

  • a low-inflammation diet; 
  • exercising regularly; 
  • staying mindful and stress-free;
  • and incorporating select, natural and scientifically supported supplements into your daily routine.

While these things have been proven to help most people, I must say that we are each different. We each respond differently to certain therapeutic approaches,  just like we may have different inflammation triggers unique to our own body and mind.  

Said differently, what has helped one person may have little effect on another and vice versa. So if something below seems not to be working, don’t fret! There are plenty of other options available, and finding the right mix may be necessary. 


Let’s begin with diet. Diet is everything. As the saying goes, you are what you eat, and you are only as healthy as the foods that you put into your body. It makes sense that a plant with minimal water and poor soil quality would have little to no growth. Similarly, if we choose to consume low-nutrient foods more often than not, our bodies and minds won’t be in the best shape.

I have touched on this topic before here, but as a reminder, added sugars are bad. They are found in many foods, and it can be tricky to plan meals and snacks around them, but it is worth it! Not only does junk food feed inflammation, but it also lowers your immune system. That is a bad recipe for future illness and, yes, even more inflammation! 

Other foods to avoid eating too often include red meat,  dairy products, fast food, trans fatty acids such as those found in processed snack foods (think Twinkies), refined vegetable oils, and refined carbohydrates (these include bread, soda, white rice, pasta, and juice). 

Some things that can help reduce inflammation are polyphenols, which occur naturally in plants, dietary fiber, and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in cold water fish including salmon, cod, halibut, mackerel, and sardines. A “plant-strong” diet–one that is predominantly comprised of fresh veggies and fruit–has been shown to help reverse several chronic conditions, including underlying inflammation. 

I know it may not be feasible to cut out all of the don’ts and to eat all of the do’s, but moderation is key. When you find yourself shopping for groceries next, try to keep these tips in the front of your mind–and pay attention to the ingredients label!


Lifestyle habits are vitally important to overall health and well-being. Being physically active helps reduce stress, lower blood sugar, and increases your chances of getting restful sleep. All of these things can be beneficial in fighting inflammation. 

Taking time to reduce stress by being mindful shouldn’t be overlooked. Prolonged stress can release corticosteroids. These steroids, which include cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, can have lasting adverse effects on your health when they are released over a long period of time. Not only are they immunosuppressive, but they can also put your body and mind into overdrive, which will take a toll on you. Check out my guide to hormonal health here.

Finding ways to reduce stress, such as a gratitude journal and spending time in nature, can help reduce inflammation and bring peace of mind.

Supplementation–A Targeted Approach to Inflammation

Finally, supplementation can be a great way to target specific mechanisms of inflammation. A few great places to start include vitamin D, phytonutrients, SPMs, omega-3s, and flavonoids. 

Vitamin D

You are probably familiar with good old vitamin D. But did you know an average of 42% of Americans suffer from vitamin D deficiency? This can have a negative impact on immune health, bone health, mood, and, you guessed it, inflammation.

The recommended dosage can be anywhere from 2,000 IU – 8,000 IU. This product at Metagenics can be a good place to start. Whenever possible, getting a Hydroxy 25 vitamin D blood test can help determine how much to supplement with and how to adjust dosing over time.


Phytonutrients are wonderful compounds that occur naturally in plants. These miracle workers are what give certain fruits and vegetables their pigment and are similar to antioxidants. They are great for overall health. Check out this product here for more information.


Specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) are found in the body. When an inflammatory response is triggered, SPMs come to help cool down the situation. When inflammation occurs, it happens in two stages: initiation and resolution. The resolution stage is where inflammation typically begins to fade, and healing begins. This is where SPMs shine. They can help speed up the resolution phase and get you feeling better faster.


Omega-3s are also probably not new to most readers. However, their health benefit goes beyond the scope of just heart or brain health. Omega-3 deficiency is, unfortunately, also very common here in the U.S. As previously shared but worth repeating, these healthy essential fatty acids are found in cold water fish such as wild salmon, cod, halibut, mackerel, and sardines and have a whole host of health benefits associated with them.

The recommended dosage goes up to 5,000 mg, but less should suffice for most people. If you don’t have very much fish in your diet, this could be a great addition. 


Flavonoids, which fall under the category of phytonutrients, have many health benefits, such as stabilizing blood pressure, increasing heart health, and reducing inflammation. 

Inflavonoid Rapid is a scientifically-reviewed product that boasts fast-acting and powerful pain relief. Not only does it have a similar effect to 1,000 mg acetaminophen, but it also helps target the source of the pain and inflammation. 

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Not sure where to start?

I know all of this can be overwhelming at first, and you may be wondering where to begin. 

Biomarker assessments are individualized tests that can show what you may be deficient in and can also indicate if you may have inflammation. Certain inflammation biomarkers can be an omega-3 fatty acid panel, lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Lp-PLA2), myeloperoxidase (MPO), fibrinogen, and a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein. These labs are typically covered by insurance and can be a good place to start when assessing inflammation in the body.

Finding an experienced, certified functional medicine physician who regularly prescribes these types of labs is always a smart place to start. 

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