Written by Brian Rigby. Edited by Jackie Wicks, PEERtrainer Founder. Reviewed by Dov Michaeli MD, Ph.D.

The link between chronic inflammation and chronic disease

Now that we’ve covered why chronic inflammation occurs, what we do to contribute to it, and how we can help relieve it, let’s look at the reasons for why it is so important to do everything you can to get rid of it.

Chronic inflammation does not sit in a slow-burn, low-grade state forever. For the majority of individuals with chronic inflammation, it serves as a precursor for chronic disease, most of which are far more preventable than curable at this point. For many chronic diseases, the pathogenesis, or onset of disease, takes a long time—at least twenty years—and is mediated at every step by inflammatory messengers and the DNA transcription protein NFkB.

Due to this, reducing inflammation can delay or even completely prevent the onset of many chronic diseases! Here are a few links which have demonstrated or are currently being researched:


The link between coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation

Researchers have found that circulating levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) are a moderate indicator of coronary heart disease. While the correlation is not as strong as total cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and whether the subject smokes, it is still correlative.

More interesting than the role CRP plays in predicting coronary heart disease is the role it may play in the onset of it and other vascular diseases. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation directly leads to a damaged endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, and has an important but not yet fully understood role in the formation of the plaques which clog them.

While other factors, such as high blood cholesterol, are critical to the development of heart diseases as well, it now seems that inflammation is the match that starts the blaze; without an elevated level of CRP to help the formation of blood vessel clogging plaques, they would never be formed, even if all other factors were present.


The link between diabetes and inflammation

Research has linked inflammation caused by increased fat tissue with insulin resistance. It suggests that as circulating pro-inflammatory messengers and macrophages increase, insulin resistance follows. While there are other factors which can also contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes, the link between chronic inflammation caused by obesity and diabetes is very strong.


Autoimmune disorders and inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, has been studied closely for links with chronic inflammation and its characteristic biomarkers. Both TNFα and IL-6 are elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and TNFa and IL-6 blockers are being researched and developed to provide relief.

People with systemic lupus erythematosus also show elevated levels of IL-6 and TNFα, depending on the manifestation of their disorder. While research has not yet answered whether lowering levels of these pro-inflammatory messengers would offer relief, it is clear that inflammation has a role.

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, are another example of autoimmune disorders where inflammation plays a key role. In fact, doctors are debating about whether IBDs are really autoimmune diseases or whether they should be put in another, relatively new category known as autoinflammatory diseases. In both cases, blocking TNFa or IL-6 can be an effective treatment for patients who do not respond to more conventional treatments.



Neurological disorders and inflammation

The path to Alzheimer’s disease has been strongly linked to discrete inflammation in the area of the brain Alzheimer’s affects. While inflammation begins with an immune response to a very specific threat (insoluble amyloid beta fibrils), new research suggests that the path to Alzheimer’s disease may be strongly mediated by the pro-inflammatory messengers, and that delay or prevention of Alzheimer’s may be possible with anti-inflammatory treatments.

Depression has also been linked with higher circulating levels of IL-6 and CRP. There is not a lot of information at this point as to whether inflammation leads to depression, or whether depression leads to inflammation. Expect more research to be done on this topic in the near future!


The link between cancer and inflammation

Cancer is much like Alzheimer’s in that it does not necessarily begin with inflammation, but inflammation can greatly accelerate the development of cancer once it has begun. NFkB aids cells which have gone through DNA transformation (cancerous cells, in this case) avoid death, thus allowing them to continue to proliferate.

In addition, NFkB plays a role in the angiogenesis of cancerous tumors, which is when they develop their own blood supply, and the metastasis of cancer. NFkB activity is turned up by the pro-inflammatory messengers, including TNFα and IL-6, so in people suffering from chronic inflammation, the risk of certain cancers can be much higher.


Easy ways to reduce inflammation in everyday life

Clearly, chronic inflammation is a state we ought to avoid. Yet despite reading this and other articles, it can seem like a challenge to achieve an inflammation-free body. The goal is not to cripple through knowledge, but rather to empower—to lead as healthy a life as possible, without feeling like you need to give up everything you currently enjoy. That being said, chronic inflammation is, for 99% of people, an affliction of lifestyle, and the only way to cure lifestyle diseases is to change your lifestyle.

With chronic inflammation, there are more and less important factors. While all of the most important factors were covered in earlier sections, consider this section a quick and easy review. It contains the most important information to relieve chronic inflammation and the steps which are the easiest to incorporate. Through incorporation of these steps into your lifestyle, chronic inflammation can be reduced or completely eliminated.


Reach an ideal weight

Weight scaleThis is the hardest part for most people, but it is also the most important. As long as you have excess fat tissue, your body is going to be creating excess inflammation, making it impossible to reach an inflammation free state.

Obesity is a low-grade state of chronic inflammation, which means that obesity and inflammation co-exist. If you fight one source, you fight both.


How exercise fights inflammation

Although exercise has not been demonstrated to reduce inflammation itself and is actually associated with increased levels of IL-6 for a few days, exercise does have numerous other benefits, all of which help your body better regulate its inflammatory response. Our bodies are designed to move, and optimal health cannot be achieved without moving.

Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD
Dov Michaeli, MD, PhD loves to write about the brain and human behavior as well as translate complicated basic science concepts into entertainment for the rest of us. He was a professor at the University of California San Francisco before leaving to enter the world of biotech. He served as the Chief Medical Officer of biotech companies, including Aphton Corporation. He also founded and served as the CEO of Madah Medica, an early stage biotech company developing products to improve post-surgical pain control. He is now retired and enjoys working out, following the stock market, travelling the world, and, of course, writing for TDWI.



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