What Do Health Experts Mean By ”Inflammation”?

We frequently use this technical term in daily conversations, but do we really understand it? Our guest author, J.J. Lim explains in a very easily understandable way. A million thanks to J.J.Lim.

JJ Lim, BSc (Hons)

Many of us might have heard of the word “inflammation” from doctors and other health professionals. I remembered when I was a child, I used to have a frequent sore throat. The doctor told me I had an inflammation due to an infection. I always hate to have a sore throat as it is so uncomfortable, I have difficulties in swallowing, a swollen throat, produce lots of mucus and I am constantly in need of water to soothe my sore throat. Similarly, when we have a small cut, or when we have mosquito bites, we have inflammation on our skin.

4 pillars of inflammation.

Source: Frontiers in Young Mind; Licence: CC BY 4.0

  1. The inflammatory response to diet

Inflammation is an immune response to injury, irrespective of the trigger, either pathogens or our diet.

Inflammation is an innate immune response to fight pathogens


A pathogen is a biological agent that can cause diseases, such as bacteria, virus, or parasites. Sometimes, inflammation occurs in response to allergens such as pollen or lactose, whereby our immune cells misidentify them as pathogens.

Initiation of inflammation

When pathogens enter our body, they are detected by our patrolling immune cells which are patrolling around our body tissues. Neutrophils are the most abundant immune cells that trigger our body’s innate immune response [1]. Once neutrophils encounter the pathogens, they secrete cytokines to attract more immune cells to the infected tissue.

Signs of inflammation

Now we know the red swollen tissue is an army of immune cells working around the infected tissue, whereas the burning sensation is caused by the increased blood flow around the infected tissue. The pain is caused by the release of various biochemicals that stimulate our nerve endings around the infected tissue [2].

Cost of inflammation

The infected tissue quickly becomes a battleground between immune cells and pathogens. Excessive and prolonged production of cytokines can damage our body cellsA battleground has little place for healing, not to say it irritates us [3]. Inflammation occurs to fight pathogens at a temporary cost of functio laesa, a medical term for loss of tissue function [4]. Once pathogens are neutralized, the inflammation is resolved, and healing ramps up dramatically.

Inflammation is a necessary pathway to fight infection and progress towards healing.

Image by www.creative-diagnostics.com from Potuks

Inflammation is a response to a poor diet?

Put the food allergens aside, how does food trigger inflammation? Health experts believe some food can trigger inflammation (pro-inflammatory), such as high-sugar and high-fat food.


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

battleground has little place for healing.

In fat tissues, inflammation is a response to overnutrition. Fat cells expand naturally to store excess calories as fat, but they cannot expand indefinitely. Once fat cells reach their expansion limit, some fat cells experience mechanical stress due to limited space between fat cells, unable to receive enough oxygen, and eventually die [8]. A group of immune cells known as the macrophages are recruited to the injured fat tissue to perform surveillance in response to the stress signal. When a fat cell dies, the body has no other way to dispose of the excess fat, macrophages resort to consuming the fat. The high concentration of macrophages around fat tissue in an obese individual causes inflammation due to the biochemical byproducts they release.

The inflammation persists until we change our dietary habit.

Do we need to classify food based on whether it is anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory?

Two scientists answered this question to the Scientific American journal [9].

Healthy minimally processed food.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Concluding remarks: Inflammation — The good and the bad

In summary, inflammation is an immune response to injury, irrespective of the trigger, either pathogens or our diet.

  • When inflammation is activated by a poor diet, such as insufficient dietary fibre, excessive alcohol and excessive calories. The inflammation persists until we change our dietary habit.
  • The persistent ingestion of pro-inflammatory food leads to unresolved inflammation and limits the healing process.


Photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

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