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Chronic inflammation and its prevention-

Updated on June 21, 2013

Inflammation is a complex biological response of the tissues to harmful stimuli such as pathogens, injuries or irritants. Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and initiate the healing process. It is not synonym for infection even in cases where it is caused by infection. However, it is a stereotyped response and is considered as a mechanism of innate immunity.

Acute inflammation takes place within seconds to minutes following a harmful stimulus to the tissues. Acute inflammation may persist for seconds, minutes, hours or days but chronic inflammation lasts longer. Chronic inflammation can lead to a host of diseases and is closely regulated by the body. When the inflammation process fails to turn off, the immune system becomes compromised. Once it is compromised, all forms of chronic diseases can occur – not just inflammatory diseases. So, while inflammation may not be visible as the obvious cause of these diseases, it is the catalyst for chronic diseases.

Causes of chronic inflammation— Below are enumerated important causes of chronic inflammation:-

  • Stress
  • Bacteria, viruses
  • Parasites
  • Environmental poisons
  • Certain foods, including sugar, overcooked and foods cooked at high temperatures like blackened and barbecued foods
  • Smoking
  • High insulin levels
  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Over-eating
  • Poor sleep

Chronic inflammation and over-eating-- Over-eating promotes the inflammatory response and suppresses the immune system. It was found that when animals were fed 50% fewer calories per day, their immune response improved, the amount of inflammatory cytokines in the blood decreased. The size of the thymus gland was maintained and function of T-cells that fight inflammation improved. This observation was not based on types of calories consumed but only on the lower calorie consumption. Heavy red-meat based diets or lots of sugar laden foods have a negative impact on immune function and promote inflammation. Calories from fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds improve immunity. Irrespective of the food choices, moderation is the key in terms of total daily amounts consumed at one time.

Chronic inflammation and obesity—Adipose tissue (fat cells) triggers an auto-immune response, whereby immune cells mistake fatty deposits for intruders. The body attacks fat similar to bacteria and fungi. The expanded fat cells break open and macrophages mobilize to clean up the adipose tissue. The macrophages release inflammatory chemicals including TNF-alpha, IL-6. TNF’s regulate the immune cells and induce inflammation. White blood cells then assist by releasing more cytokines. The production of these inflammatory markers increases with increasing adiposity.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is generated at a higher level in obese people. It rises when there is inflammation throughout the body.

The association of systemic inflammation with insulin resistance and atherosclerosis is the subject of intense research.

Chronic inflammation and aging—Muscle loss that occurs with aging produces chronic inflammation in the body. Apart from muscle loss, multiple complex mechanisms contribute to age-related inflammation. Deregulation of immune system, endocrine-senescence, declining levels of sex hormones and mitochondrial damage contribute to elevated inflammation in old age.

Chronic inflammation and bad sleep—It has been found that skimping on sleep increases the amount of inflammation in the body. The researchers have found that even a modest loss of sleep for a single night triggers cellular and genetic processes involved in the immune system’s inflammatory response to disease or injury. An increase in inflammation is a key factor in the onset of cardiovascular disease and auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.

Epidemiological studies also link poor sleep with chronic diseases in some people. In a research study, it was found that white blood cells called monocytes produced significantly greater amounts of two disease fighting proteins after a night of sleep loss as compared with amounts found after a night of uninterrupted sleep.

Compared to normal sleep of 7 to 8 hours daily, short sleep of less than 6 hours daily is associated with a 30% increase of overall chronic disease, in particular stroke (twofold increase risk) and overall cancer (more than 40% increase risk). So, sleep duration of less than 6 hours daily is a risky behavior for the development of chronic diseases, particularly stroke and cancer.

Diseases caused by chronic inflammation— Below are enumerated common diseases caused by chronic inflammation:-

  • Most allergies, asthma
  • Arthritis, dermatitis
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Type-1 and type-2 diabetes
  • Depression
  • Neurological diseases
  • Cancers

How to reduce chronic inflammation—

Fortunately, we can lower inflammation levels through life-style changes. It all goes back to the fundamentals of taking care of ourselves through nutrition, exercise, good sleep and a positive attitude.

Reduce weight— If you put on weight on waist and belly, it indicates pro-inflammatory state. Stress hormone cortisol appears to bind to receptors on these fat cells setting off a process that promotes the storage of fat and increases the number of fat cells. These extra cells produce more chemicals that increase inflammation. A large waist measurement of above 35 inches for women and above 40 inches for men mean that such individuals are likely to have excess inflammation. So, the best way to reduce belly fat is to eat less and move more.

Go Mediterranean— Mediterranean style diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil and fish – will lower the level of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. The diet also protects against depression by increasing the levels of omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidants used by the body to make anti-inflammatory chemicals. Don’t overeat; limiting calories lowers the production of inflammatory markers and slows down the aging process.

Do regular exercises— Regular exercise protects against inflammation. The key is getting enough exercise but not too much. Researchers suggest that super long workouts can cause inflammation levels to go up for a day or two. Being active for 60 minutes daily will give all the health benefits without raising inflammation.

Reduce stress— Anything that stresses the body can cause the belly fat to accumulate and raise the level of chronic inflammation in the body. Avoid multi-tasking since it produces stress. Follow stress busting techniques to reduce daily stress.

Reach out— Loneliness can cause inflammation; it seems to pose a greater risk to elderly people, who are more prone to depression. Cultivate new friendships; join a group of like-minded health conscious persons.

Get adequate sleep—Too little sleep can cause stress and, therefore, raise chronic inflammation. So, aim for seven to eight hours of good sleep per night.

Floss and brush twice daily—The bacteria that appear to cause inflammation and swelling in the gums appear to be the source of inflammation in the body and thickening of arteries. So, it is very important to observe good oral hygiene.


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