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What Is Healthy Inflammation?

Breast Cancer And Inflammation

We’ve all heard that reducing inflammation is key to preventing cancer, and this is true. But, if inflammation is “bad”, why does our body make it in the first place?  And what the heck is inflammation anyway? Let’s dig in so you can understand what’s important about keeping our inflammation balanced for long term health and breast cancer recovery.


Inflammation Basics

The best way to explain the basics of inflammation is to go back to what we learn in the first days of medical school.  We recognize inflammation by four cardinal signs (and we want to be doctor-y, so we say them in latin, plus it rhymes so it’s easy to remember):

  • Rubor: redness

  • Calor: heat

  • Tumor: swelling

  • Dolor: pain


When we see these four things together, we know we’re looking at inflammation.  


So, now that we understand the basics, let’s talk about why we have inflammation, why too much inflammation is a problem, and how we can walk the tightrope between too much and not enough.



Inflammation Ache


Inflammation: Your Body's First Responder

Inflammation is your body’s first responder to any injury or invader (like a bacteria or virus). It’s a fundamental process that helps you fight infection, heal from injury, and make sure that your body is working well. 


Without it, we wouldn’t be able to recover from simple cuts or fend off common colds. So inflammation isn’t just not all bad, it’s absolutely essential for our survival! 


On a molecular level, when our body detects that there has been injury or infection, it sends out pro-inflammatory chemicals that tells the system to start mobilizing the necessary components to heal.  This is the action that causes redness, swelling, heat, and pain.


For instance, after lumpectomy or mastectomy surgery, there will be redness, swelling, drainage etc, which is totally appropriate and crucial to get the tissues to start knitting so you can heal.  This is why we don’t use any anti-inflammatory herbs after surgery–we want the inflammation!  However, after about two weeks, it is time for the inflammation to start moving out so we don’t get a lot of scarring or long-term swelling or pain. This is the time to start supporting a more anti-inflammatory regimen.


Unhealthy Inflammation 

When does inflammation cross over from lifesaving to health harming? Well, when it no longer serves the purpose of either fighting off infection or repairing from injury. When this happens we will see the following issues start to occur: 


Chronic Health Issues: 

Prolonged inflammation causes damage to the tissues of the body, and can even damage our DNA, which is the fundamental code that tells our cells how to replicate.  This can impact the formation of cancer cells, which is why my programs for survivors will include anti-inflammatory diet and supplement choices.  Inflammation can also lead to other  chronic diseases like: heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis 


Impaired Healing: 

If inflammation hangs around after the primary stages of healing take place, it  actually hinders the body’s healing process, causing more damage to the injured tissue by interfering with cellular signaling, nutrient absorption, and waste removal.  This is why it is so crucial to move the muscles and lymph and stay hydrated after surgery–this is what helps clean up the inflammation so healing can resolve.


Increased Pain: 

Over-active inflammation often exacerbates pain and discomfort for breast cancer survivors. An over-active inflammatory process often results in swelling, which increases the pressure on surrounding tissues and structures. For breast cancer survivors, this can cause scarring which can be painful and decrease mobility in the arm, shoulder, and chest. Swelling can also lead to lymphedema, particularly in women who have had their lymph nodes removed. 


Increased Risk of Recurrence

Inflammation isn’t only a result of injury or infection: it also can develop slowly over time. Stress, diet, smoking and other chemical exposures can work together to create a pro-inflammatory environment in the body. As I mentioned above, that can lead to cellular and DNA damage which can contribute to many chronic diseases, including cancer.  


Inflammation

Where Is The Healthy Inflammation Sweet Spot?

So, how do we strike the perfect balance? By nurturing our bodies with proper attendance to gut and immune health, we can maintain inflammation at a beneficial level. This 'sweet spot' of inflammation allows our bodies to heal effectively without tipping the scales into damaging overdrive during breast cancer recovery.


To maintain this balance, it's essential to adopt a holistic approach. For starters, a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods goes a long way. Regular physical activity that caters to your stage in the breast cancer recovery journey is an excellent next step. And of course, sleep and stress management must be integrated into your recovery practice at the foundational level. I’ve talked about many of these concepts in depth in my other blogs, so we’ll only glance over those ideas for now. However, for a deeper dive into those topics, take a look at my other articles: :


Staying in the Sweet Spot

The key to fostering healthy inflammation while maintaining the delicate balance of not too much, not too little, lies in supporting two crucial aspects of our health: the immune system and the gut.


Healthy Immune System

A well maintained immune system knows when to initiate the inflammatory response and when to dial it down. While there are tons of supplements out there that will help cultivate a robust immune system, my experience is that by simply focusing your attention on nutrient-rich foods, minimizing refined sugar and white flour, drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of  sleep, you can make tremendous strides towards regulating your immune system. 


The Glories Of Gut Health

Did you know that about 70-80% of the tissue responsible for creating immune cells resides in our large intestine? What that means is that our gut health is of paramount importance when it comes to regulating inflammation. A balanced microbiome and optimal levels of secretory IgA, an antibody that plays a critical role in mucosal immunity, help ensure that our inflammatory response is appropriate and proportional to the needs of our cell and tissue repair. 


Testing for Inflammation: A Functional Approach

In my practice, we don't just guess; we test.


The wonders of functional medical testing equip us with scientific insights into how your body is managing inflammation. With many of my patients, we will test the microbiome to make sure you have all the healthy flora you need and aren’t growing anything that is causing you to be out of balance. We can also test your secretory IgA levels as well as other markers of inflammation to make sure the gut is staying healthy. In addition to GI testing, we can test to see if anything in your environment such as foods, molds, or environmental chemicals  are causing your body to make inflammation.


This helps us to  deepen our understanding of your body's inflammatory landscape and tailor strategies to keep it in balance. Feel free to book a call with me if you would like to find out more!


Embracing a Full-Circle Approach And Fostering Healthy Inflammation

Inflammation is like a double edged sword - a powerful tool when wielded properly, but dangerous if handled haphazardly. By nurturing our bodies with the right foods, habits, and data driven insights, we can harness inflammation's healing power while safeguarding against its potential harms.


Remember, inflammation is not the enemy; it's a vital part of our body's defense and repair system. By fostering a balanced inflammatory response, we can thrive, not just survive, on our journey to full-circle breast cancer recovery.


If you're curious to delve deeper into managing your body's inflammatory response or want to learn more about our approach at Thriving Survivors, feel free to reach out or explore our online courses and Breast Cancer Support Group


Here's to your health, resilience, and recovery.

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