Why You Should Pay Attention to Chronic Inflammation: The connection between inflammation and disease
The immune system acts as the defender of the body. It fights off pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, irritants such as chemicals and industrial byproducts, responds to trauma and injury, and protects the body by cleaning up and disposing of dead or damaged cells. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system. This response includes the release of antibodies and proteins, as well as increased blood flow to the damaged area. The whole process usually lasts for a few hours or days.
Inflammation occurs naturally in the body and is a key component of a healthy immune system. Inflammation is triggered immediately when the immune system detects damage to cells or tissue as a result of injury or the presence of pathogens or other toxins. Acute inflammation is the initial phase of the inflammation process. It is the first line of defense against disease. The area may be swollen, hot, red and painful. It’s the ‘emergency call’ to the immune system that danger is present and the system must be activated to neutralize the threat. Acute inflammation is short lived and is positive, protective, healing and renewing.
Chronic inflammation on the other hand is not beneficial. Chronic inflammation is not good for the body nor is it short lived. It’s a sign that things are getting out of control – instead of attacking the invaders or foreign substances, the body begins to attack itself. Chronic inflammation drains the immune system as it continually directs the body to send white blood cells to attack healthy tissue and organs, setting up a chronic inflammatory process. Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation, lasting for prolonged periods of several months to years.
Chronic inflammation may be caused by:
- Untreated causes of acute inflammation such as infection or injury
- Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity, severe or prolonged stress
- Exposure to a low level of a particular irritant or foreign material that cannot be eliminated
- Autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue
- Recurrent episodes of acute inflammation
Symptoms signs of chronic inflammation include:
- Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
- Brain fog, headaches
- Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea and acid reflux
- Weight gain
- Frequent infections
Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. By keeping the body in a constant state of alert, chronic inflammation has been shown to play a major role in such diseases as Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The prevalence of diseases associated with chronic inflammation is anticipated to increase persistently for the next 30 years in the United States. Worldwide, 3 of 5 people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
But there is hope. You can eliminate and reverse the damaging effects of chronic inflammation. By making lifestyles changes such as quitting smoking, starting and sticking with a regular exercise program, changing your diet to eliminate or reduce consumption of red meat, sugar and processed foods, losing weight and reducing stress with yoga or meditation, the body will stop attacking itself and begin the internal healing process. Adopting these anti-inflammatory practices can help pave the way towards ending chronic inflammation and improving overall health.