What is inflammation?: A beginners guide

Inflammation is a very common symptom of almost every chronic disease, meaning it affects a large proportion of the population. It occurs when the immune system attacks an irritant, and causes swelling inside or outside the body.1

Inflammation is an essential part of the healing process of any injury - even a paper cut on your finger! White blood cells rush to the site of the injury to protect the area. If this process didn’t happen, the wound would not heal and infections could be deadly.2

If we think of inflammation as a symptom of something else, we know that we need to fix the initial problem in order to get rid of the inflammation. If you fall and cut your knee, it will swell. As the cut heals and goes away, so does the inflammation. When the inflammation is inside of the body such as in the gut, you need to heal the issue causing the inflammation in order for it to reduce. 

What is Inflammation?

There are two different types of inflammation; acute and chronic:3

Acute inflammation is the type of inflammation everybody gets when they injure themselves. To heal the injury, the immune system sends white blood cells to surround the wound and begin the healing process, which involves redness, bruising and inflammation. Once the wound is healed, the inflammation stops.

Chronic inflammation occurs when your body continues to send these inflammatory cells even when there is no danger. These cells then have nowhere to go except for healthy parts of the body, as there is no wound for them to heal. An example of this would be in rheumatoid arthritis, cells attack joint tissues leading to inflammation in the joints.

If you have a gastrointestinal disease such as IBS or IBD, chronic inflammation in the gut is one of the symptoms that comes along with it.4 This chronic inflammation can cause damage to the gut, so taking steps to calm the inflammation is important to prevent long term harm.

If you have a stomach bug or illness that is affecting your gut, the inflammation can be described as acute. Essentially, temporary inflammation caused by something that is temporary is acute, whereas long-lasting inflammation is chronic.

There can be many reasons you experience inflammation, chronic or acute. Infections, injuries, and exposure to toxins or harmful pathogens are common causes of inflammation. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body, and conditions that end in “itis” are often linked to inflammation, such as dermatitis, bronchitis and cystitis.5

Diet and lifestyle can have a large impact on gut inflammation; the bacteria in our gut play a large part in our gut health, and poor gut health ties heavily in to an inflamed gut.

Certain foods can cause the bad bacteria to grow and thrive, causing inflammation of the guts lining. Other foods can boost the good bacteria in the gut, helping to reduce inflammation and balance the gut microbiome. More on this, later! 

Inflammation and Gut Health

70% of the cells that make up the immune system exist in the gastrointestinal tract, and these immune system cells are responsible for inflammation. If the immune system perceives the gut to be unhealthy, it will attack it to remove what it perceives as foreign invaders and cause gut inflammation.6

If you have a lot of bad bacteria in your gut, your immune system will try and get rid of it by attacking. If you have a balanced gut microbiome with enough good bacteria, the immune system will leave the gut alone. This means that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is crucial to preventing unnecessary gut inflammation.

The food and drink you consume can have an impact on the health of your gut microbiome. If you eat food you are intolerant to, your immune system will attack it and it will lead to inflammation which is often accompanied by bloating, excess gas and stomach pain.

If you eat a diet high in refined sugar or salt, you are fueling the bad bacteria in the gut and causing an imbalance of bacteria that can cause inflammation. If you consume foods high in fibre or filled with probiotics, you are fueling the good bacteria in the gut and avoiding inflammation. For a healthy person, it really is that simple!

Gut inflammation isn’t always caused by diet and lifestyle. It can also be caused by gastrointestinal diseases that are incurable, and managing symptoms is the only option. Managing the symptoms through healthy diet and lifestyle can help to stop inflammation, but ignoring the disease can cause further damage.

Chronic inflammation caused by gastrointestinal diseases in the gut may lead to further health issues such as leaky gut syndrome; a condition in which the mucosal lining of the gut is worn away and toxins and food particles leak into the bloodstream and cause issues around the body.7

Other factors that can lead to gut inflammation include stress levels, poor sleep, a lack of exercise and use of medications such as antibiotics. Check out these articles to learn more on each specific area and how they impact the gut! 


Taking care of your diet and lifestyle can help prevent inflammation, and it is important not to ignore inflammation when it arises, as this can lead to long term damage. A happy gut won’t be inflamed, and you’ll feel much better for it.

If you would like to brush up on your knowledge of foods that are good for the gut, check out our articles:

Best Foods for Gut Health: Top 5

18 Probiotic foods for Gut Health

7 Foods for Longevity

Top 10: Most Hydrating Food and Drink

20 Prebiotic Foods for Gut Health

If you’d like to know which foods to avoid, check out:

What foods should be avoided for gut health

Top 10: Most Dehydrating Food and Drink

References → 1

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