HRV & Inflammation

Acute Inflammation

Simply put, inflammation is the body’s immune response to injured or damaged tissues. 

Most often we associate the term inflammation with the hallmark acute inflammatory symptoms:

Pain

Heat

Redness

Swelling

These symptoms are indicative of the body’s immediate reaction to damaged tissues; blood vessels dilate and swell with immune cells rushing to defend the compromised area from damaged or foreign matter. 

This acute inflammatory response is extremely effective at fighting off pathogens, minimizing damage, and initiating repair. 

It is important to stress that not all inflammation is bad, despite how we often try to minimize or eliminate it with pain meds, icing, compression, etc. 

In fact, acute inflammation is a critical part of the body’s immune response; it protects the body.

So if this acute response is so beneficial, how did inflammation get such a bad rap in the first place?

Chronic Inflammation

In a healthy individual, the parasympathetic nervous system will tamp down the acute inflammatory response after it has ceased to promote recovery.    

However, if the stimulus initiating the inflammatory response persists over time, the parasympathetic modulation of the process is exhausted and inflammation becomes chronic. 

Immune cells continue releasing chemical mediators such as TNF-α, IL-1, and prostaglandins, which signal the body to prolong the inflammatory response. 

This state of perpetual inflammation is not beneficial to the body and it’s no surprise why…

Chronic inflammation is associated with a wide range of diseases/disorders, including:

Chrohn’s disease

Tendonitis

Rheumatoid arthritis

Gingivitis

Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)

Diabetes

Obesity

Cancer

Allergies

Asthma

The list goes on.  

Inflammation & HRV

Your HRV score is sensitive to all of your body’s perceived stressors, from physical training to lack of sleep. 

One stressor that is often a symptom of other stress factors is…

You guessed it: inflammation. 

Chronic inflammation is a sympathetically-driven process, depressing your overall HRV.

Most commonly, we see the interaction between HRV and chronic inflammation associated with metabolic syndrome and related disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.   

In fact, the positive feedback loop between adiposity and inflammation turns weight gain into a vicious cycle:

Inflammation stimulates additional tissue growth by adipose cells, and adipose cells promote further inflammation by releasing pro-inflammatory chemical messengers, as shown in the diagram below:

So how do we use HRV to regulate chronic inflammation?

If chronic inflammation suppresses HRV, we should see a steady increase in HRV score as the causes of inflammation are addressed. 

Since inflammation is a common response to a diverse range of stressors, finding the cause is an individual process.

Changes that could reduce inflammation (and consequently raise HRV) may involve adjusting diet, training load, sleep quality/quantity, or—most likely—a combination of factors. 

Pay attention to how your HRV responds to the changes you make to figure out how to achieve your healthiest self. 

Remember, we use HRV to eliminate the “cookie cutter” approach to health and wellness in favor of a personal, live-feedback method.