Inflammation is one of the most commonly misunderstood parts of our health.
For most of us, inflammation probably conjures up images of a swollen sore throat that keeps us in bed all weekend gargling salt water or a red infected lump that swells around a cut. In cases like these, our immune system jumps into appropriate action by sending in white blood cells, bombarding and invading bacteria, and then we’re back to normal in a few days.
When the Body Fights Itself, Your Body Loses
The immune system – our own personal 24/7 on-call emergency service – has an incredible ability to seek out intruders such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In fact, it’s the most complex system in the body. It not only defends us, but it remembers every battle it’s ever fought so it can recognize repeated threats and avoid wasting time on harmless ones. Its purpose is to restore balance to an unbalanced body, and once it’s done its job, it should settle down into its normal vigilant state to await the next crisis.
Unfortunately, that’s not always what happens. As medical science is beginning to discover, this benevolent protector has a darker side that can all too easily turn on its master, especially if we make the Habits of Disease our way of life.
When you eat donuts and coffee for breakfast, a fatty cheeseburger for lunch, and a bowl of ice cream before bed or when you carry extra fat around your middle, smoke cigarettes, and refuse to get off the couch, your immune system goes on alert. Instead of an all-out attack, it trickles inflammatory molecules into your blood in quantities so small they can only be detected through a special test. Unnoticed, these inflammatory biochemicals work their sinister effect against your blood vessels, joints, brain, and other critical systems. It may start with stiff, painful joints, or tired looking skin, or something more menacing like cancer, stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease.
Stone Age Immune Systems in Our Modern World
Your immune system is always on guard because danger can come at any moment. For our ancestors, this danger was not just constant but it was often extreme. If you’ve read my work before, you know that our bodies are built to thrive in a world very different from the one we know today, and that misalignment makes Habits of Disease more powerful.
If you sat on the couch all day tomorrow, nothing immediately bad would happen, but if you were living like our ancestors, losing an entire day of activity could be life-threatening because you should be up and about gathering precious food to survive. So, for your immune system, sedentary living is a red flag that puts your body into alert.
No system, let alone your body, can function at its best under high stress indefinitely, which is part of the reason why inflammation can be a silent killer.
Our hostile environment stimulates our immune system every day through thousands of little exposures, and the resulting damage to our health and longevity can be staggering. We’re only beginning to understand the magnitude of the effect that a chronically elevated immune system has on our body. What we do know is this: the continual production of inflammatory markers is aging our organs, and us, prematurely. In fact, it’s quite likely that human longevity could stretch to 150 years or more, if only we could get our immune system under control.
The Habits of Health Transformational System gives us a path for doing just that, so keep learning, keep building new habits. Just as thousands of little exposures can be damaging for your immune system, the opposite is also true: All of your small choices add up to big rewards.