Recognize & combat triggers
Sherry Torkos, BScPharm
Researchers have identified inflammation as a factor in the development and progression of many chronic diseases. So how do you reduce inflammation?
Inflammation is a process by which the body’s immune system reacts to infection, contact with foreign substances, or injury. It happens when you stub your toe, contract a virus, or are exposed to a harsh chemical.
Your immune system mounts a defence by releasing various chemicals which increase blood flow to the area, causing some or all of the following symptoms: redness, swelling, warmth, and pain. Inflammation may also be associated with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, and aching.
Although inflammation is a natural process designed to help the body fight infection and promote healing, in some cases the body’s immune system overreacts, or reacts inappropriately. Such is the case with autoimmune diseases where the body’s normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues.
Lifestyle factors such as stress, poor diet, and lack of sleep also contribute to inflammation. While there are often obvious signs of acute inflammation, such as redness and swelling, chronic inflammation, which occurs from lifestyle factors, can be more insidious. It can affect many body tissues including blood vessels, organs, and nerves with few or no obvious signs until a serious health problem develops.
Researchers have identified inflammation as a factor in the development and progression of many chronic diseases, so it is essential to be aware of the factors that trigger inflammation as well as approaches to keep this process in check.
Inflammation and Disease
There is no debate that many chronic diseases are associated with inflammation. Below are some of the most common and concerning of these.
This general term is used to describe various inflammatory conditions in the body. There are over 100 forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and Sj?n’s syndrome.
These diseases involve joint and musculoskeletal pain, and are often a result of inflammation of the joint lining. Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are caused by autoimmune responses, and others, such as osteoarthritis, are caused by wear and tear to the joint, which leads to inflammation.
Chronic inflammation resulting from infection or chemical exposure has been identified as a risk factor for various forms of cancer. For example, research has found strong associations for:
These studies demonstrate that inflammation promotes tumour development.
Cancer and inflammation share another connection. It has been found that chronic inflammation occurs due to tumour environment stress and that this generates a protective shield from the immune system. In other words, inflammation protects the tumour from attack by the immune system.
Researchers have found that the release of inflammatory compounds such as cytokines, leucocytes, lymphocytes, and macrophages contributes to progression and metastasis (spreading from the original tumour site). Furthermore, this inflammatory response can compromise the response to chemotherapy.
Mounting research links uncontrolled high levels of blood glucose to inflammation, which can lead to diabetic complication such as neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy.
Researchers have found that high levels of blood glucose lead to glycation and oxidation of proteins, lipids, and nucleotides, resulting in the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). It is thought that AGEs trigger various inflammatory processes which can lead to damage of the blood vessels throughout the body. Thus, controlling blood sugar is vital to the prevention of inflammation and diabetic complications.
Studies suggest that inflammation plays a role in the development of atherosclerosis, the process in which fatty deposits build up in the inner lining of arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Factors that promote atherosclerosis, including cigarette smoking, hypertension, atherogenic lipoproteins, and hyperglycemia, give rise to a variety of noxious stimuli that cause the release of chemicals and the activation of cells involved in the inflammatory process. These events contribute not only to the formation of plaque, but may also contribute to its disruption, resulting in the formation of a blood clot.
Research has found that those with high C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, a substance produced in the liver during inflammation, are at increased risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, macular degeneration, and type 2 diabetes.
In multiple sclerosis (MS) inflammation destroys the myelin, leaving multiple areas of scar tissue (sclerosis). Individuals with MS develop progressive neurological disability, and this is thought to be caused by degradation of the nerve cells. New research is looking at antioxidants that can protect nerve cells and reduce disease progression.
Lifestyle Factors that Promote Inflammation
Poor diet High glycemic (quick release) carbohydrates such as white bread and other refined foods raise blood glucose levels, which triggers the release of advanced glycation end products that promote inflammation. Consuming saturated fat (animal products), eating overcooked (burned) foods, and overeating also lead to inflammation.
Lack of sleep Adequate sleep is required by the body and immune system for regeneration and repair. Researchers have found that lack of sleep leads to the production of inflammatory compounds (cytokines). If you produce these inflammatory markers on a chronic basis it can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and a shorter life span.
Stress Under stress, the body releases various hormones such as cortisol which helps the body in the fight or flight situation by suppressing immune system function and reducing inflammation. If stress becomes chronic and the body can’t make adequate stress hormones to turn the immune system off, autoimmune diseases and inflammation can occur.
Obesity Fat cells secrete compounds, such as cytokines, that trigger inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Excess weight also puts strain on the joints, primarily the hips and knees. Over time this pressure can wear down cartilage and cause bone to grind against bone, triggering inflammation.
To control inflammation and its consequences, consider the following approaches:
Diet Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. Fish, nuts, seeds (hemp and flax), and olive oil contain essential fatty acids that help reduce inflammation.
Lifestyle Reduce your stress levels; try yoga, tai chi, meditation, and breathing exercises.
Exercise Aim for one hour of moderate-intensity activity each day, such as walking, cycling, swimming, or gardening.
Sleep Try for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.