If you read the latest news about health and disease, you will invariably always find mention of inflammation as being a cornerstone of most chronic diseases. Indeed, out of control inflammation is now known to play a major role in diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer to Alzheimer's disease and most others. Inflammation has become a dirty word, suggesting an out-of-kilter metabolism and immune response. What is often overlooked about inflammation is that, under the right conditions, inflammation can be a very desirable body response. One example of this is the short-term inflammation that occurs in muscle after an exercise session. The damage imposed in muscle as a result of intense training causes an inflammatory state in the muscle that begins immediately at the end of the workout. This inflammatory state is not only not a bad thing but is actually required to kick start the process that leads to muscular hypertrophy or growth. The inflammation that occurs in muscle after training helps to clear out debris, a process called autophagy, which allows the process of repairing and rebuilding the damaged muscle fibers. Inflammation also promotes the entry of immune cells called macrophages, which not only clear out the cellular debris left after training but also produce chemicals called cytokines that act as signaling factors to promote the activity of growth factors in the muscle. This short-term inflammatory state following training is so vital that if anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) are ingested right after training, the drug will inhibit the muscle repair process and may block full muscle recovery.
The keyword in this process, however, is short-term, since if the local inflammation in muscle continues too long, the process reverses, converting from an anabolic effect to a catabolic effect. Many older people have a chronic systemic inflammatory condition, and this has been shown to play a role in promoting the loss of muscle with age, which is called sarcopenia. It's no surprise then, that when older people with chronic systemic inflammation ingest an anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen, they paradoxically increase muscle gains after training with weights. Their systemic inflammation had produced a catabolic effect in the muscle that was reversed when they ingested the drugs.
Athletes and bodybuilders are familiar with inflammatory conditions linked to training. This could involve an inflammation in a tendon or tendinitis, caused by too much training or not enough rest. Or it could involve late-onset muscle soreness, caused by injury to muscle fibers that show up 24 to 48 hours after a workout. But most forms of chronic inflammation, particularly the systemic type, are more subtle. Often, the only awareness you have of it is a vague sensation of not feeling at 100% of your best. But what most people don't understand is that any type . . .