The word “inflammation” comes from the Latin word “inflammo”, to set alight – and anyone with chronic inflammation knows how accurate that description is.

Chronic inflammation differs from acute inflammation in that the latter is short-term – a cold is a typical example of an acute inflammatory response to a pathogen; once the pathogen is destroyed, everything reverts to normal. Chronic inflammation, however, becomes part of a feedback loop; it doesn’t resolve. So, in autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, the body sets off an inflammatory response and starts to attack itself – the pathogen can’t be removed because the body sees itself as the pathogen.

The acronym for symptoms of inflammation is PRISH: pain, redness, immobility, swelling, and heat. Any disease that has the suffix –itis is an inflammatory condition, e.g. periodontitis (inflammation in the mouth) and colitis (bowel). Other diseases characterised by chronic inflammation include acne, asthma, atherosclerosis, coeliac and Crohn’s diseases, diabetes, and hypersensitivities.

Causes of inflammation vary widely, including burns; radiation; chemical irritants like nicotine; excess alcohol; environmental toxins like nickel; gases, and physical injury or infection. Stress can also cause inflammation, but by a different process, neither an immune response or a pathogen: instead, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol depress natural cortisone in the body, suppressing immunity and causing inflammation.

While chronic inflammation doesn’t resolve, there are definitely ways to slow it down and get it under control. It is important to do so because the higher cell turnover means a cell could possibly mutate and turn cancerous, not so much in the joints, but certainly in the gut, liver and lungs.

Evidence suggests regular physical exercise decreases inflammation markers, including C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin 6. The key seems to be long-term, low-intensity training: walking, aqua aerobics or Tai Chi. Food is a factor, and we know the Mediterranean diet is highly anti-inflammatory with its fish and monounsaturated oils. Avoid processed oils, fatty meats, sugar, gluten, and white rice because they are pro-inflammatory. Caffeine definitely excites inflammation, while studies suggest unfermented soy can be a problem, along with citrus, peanuts, and the nightshade family: capsicums, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and goji berries.