Inflammatory Markers: What They Are and How They Help Manage Inflammation
Inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself from bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances. The inflammatory process is complex and kicks in when you're exposed to infection, trauma, toxins, food allergens, or anything else that puts stress on the body. Your doctor can detect inflammation through certain indicator markers in the blood and body waste products.
What Are Inflammatory Markers?
Localized inflammation, such as an abrasion that becomes infected, is easy to detect because of the characteristic signs of swelling, redness, the tissue that's hot to the touch, the presence of exudate, etc. Body-wide inflammation can be harder to pinpoint but can be detected through the presence of inflammatory markers in the blood, bodily fluids, or wastes.
Inflammatory markers can also be used as a method for monitoring inflammation. The complexity of inflammation means it plays a role in a variety of medical problems, from short-term diseases to chronic inflammatory disorders. This has prompted scientists over the years to search diligently to identify inflammation biomarkers.
What Are Biomarkers?
Also known as biological markers, a biomarker is an objective measure of something that's happening inside a person's body. Healthcare providers use these biomarkers to diagnose their patient's medical conditions and formulate the proper treatment.
Common methods of assessing a patient's health, such as blood pressure checks and X-rays, are types of biomarkers. Analyzing components of a patient's urine, saliva, stool, or cerebrospinal fluid all yield biomarker information that can assess, diagnose, and monitor medical conditions.
Biomarkers that provide information about inflammation are considered inflammatory biomarkers. Medical professionals may use this term to describe markers that provide information about a person's immune system, even if the biomarker isn't a principal component in inflammation.
When inflammation is active within the body, certain proteins are released into the bloodstream. If the concentrations of these proteins fluctuate up or down by at least 25%, physicians often consider these protein levels as systemic inflammation markers.
The tests most used to detect inflammatory biomarkers include:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test. A blood sample captured in a test tube will separate into its various components. White blood cells, plasma, and other parts of the blood move to the top while the red blood cells settle to the bottom. The rate at which the red blood cells separate and settle is indicative of the presence of inflammation.
- C-reactive protein (CRP) test. This test detects the presence of C-reactive proteins, a specific type of protein molecule in the blood. The more CRP detected, the more active inflammation there is in the body.
- Procalcitonin. This biomarker is produced by the liver as a response to signals indicating inflammation. A variety of inflammatory conditions display elevated levels of procalcitonin, but it is especially common in the evaluation of sepsis, which is an overwhelming inflammatory response to infection.
- Calprotectin. Specific white blood cells called neutrophils harbor the biomarker calprotectin, where highly active inflammation is present in the body. An elevated level of calprotectin in someone's stool is diagnostic of possible inflammatory bowel disease. Physicians use the presence of this biomarker to distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease and non-inflammatory causes for the patient's symptoms.
- Ferritin. This blood protein contains iron which can be detected by a ferritin test. The test shows the amount of ferritin in the body. Low levels of ferritin may indicate an iron deficiency, while elevated levels signal the physician to check for liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or other inflammatory-based conditions.
- Fibrinogen. The liver produces this protein which helps the blood clot and assists wounds in healing. It can be a biomarker for tumors. Physicians check fibrinogen levels to assess the effectiveness of cancer treatments.
These are just a few of the inflammatory biomarkers physicians use to diagnose their patient's health issues. The presence of these biomarkers is seen as an indication of disease, some of them life-threatening. Doctors frequently use these biomarkers in the initial diagnostic process. They can also use these markers to monitor the progress of a patient's disease and the effectiveness of treatment.
Are there instances in which inflammation can be beneficial?
When Inflammation Is a Good Thing
Inflammation is your body's immune system responding to an injury or infection. When faced with an injury, inflammation is actually a good thing. The site of the injury will swell and become red because an army of good white blood cells rush into the area to fight any infection that develops and help you heal.
Inflammation is a vital part of your immune system. Consider this scenario: you scrape or twist your ankle. Your body's defensive systems automatically rev up to high gear. Chemicals are released throughout the body to get it ready to fight any invading contaminants. Swelling starts as your body floods the damaged area with blood, plasma fluid, and proteins. Heat is produced to repair damaged tissue and protect it. With your body's defenses activated, the stage is set for healing.
This is a temporary response to acute inflammation and will subside as you heal. There are steps you can take to lessen the inflammation and encourage healing.
Steps To Lessen Inflammation
You can help your body heal by reducing inflammation. It may sound complicated, but some simple lifestyle modifications are all that's needed to support your body's anti-inflammatory efforts.
- Antioxidants can help reduce inflammation by lowering levels of free radicals in your system. Free radicals are reactive molecules that your body naturally produces as a part of your metabolism. They can lead to inflammation when they aren't kept under control, however.
- Supplements such as fish oil and curcumin can be helpful in reducing inflammation.
- Regular exercise can decrease inflammatory biomarkers and lower your risk of chronic disease.
- Adequate sleep is helpful. Nights of poor sleep increase inflammation.
- Diet is important. Stick to anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, fatty fish, and nuts.
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