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
This 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.
Load up on spices and herbs
There’s no such thing as too much spice. Salt and sugar have taken over our taste buds, though, and fight our love for interesting flavors. In history, we loaded up on spices for many reasons, most of which have been resolved by modern knowledge. We no longer need spices to preserve food, for example, now that we have refrigeration. Nonetheless, there is very strong evidence that we need spices in order to best regulate our body, so don’t be shy with them!
When preparing a recipe, use the called-for amounts of spice as a baseline. Then, put as much in as needed for brilliant flavor, before salting the dish! With the exception of a few spices, which overpower all other flavors (such as cloves, allspice, and nutmeg), most spices can easily be doubled. Even better, the “spicier” the dish, the less salt necessary, increasing its health benefits further.
For the best spices, find an ethnic market or spice shop nearby. Most Americans don’t use spices frequently, and, as a result, they tend to sit and grow old on grocery store shelves, where they lose their potency and flavor. At ethnic markets and spice shops, the spices are bought frequently so there are more turnover and potency.
Eat the veggies
Regardless of what else you believe about food, there is no denying the power of vegetables. In addition to promoting health in nearly every other way, vegetables are high in phytonutrients, which will actively combat inflammation. In addition, vegetables fill you up and help you stay full longer, meaning you will be less likely to eat other pro-inflammatory foods.
Even “healthy” processed food needs to go…
Processed foods, even “healthy” ones from health stores, tend to be loaded with refined carbs and omega-6 fatty acids, and devoid of anti-inflammatory compounds. The more processed food you consume, the less fresh plant-based food you will consume. The more omega-6s you consume from processed food, the more omega-3s your body needs to effectively combat inflammation. If processed food is something you consume every day, cut it out and replace it with anti-inflammatory snacks such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Take a quality anti-inflammatory supplement (NOT an NSAID)
An anti-inflammatory supplement contains concentrated anti-inflammatory compounds, such as curcumin and quercetin. Ideally, you should eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices to effectively moderate your immune response with food, but everybody falls short, so a quality supplement to help with inflammation is a good idea.
Some supplements, like Zyflamend, have had impressive studies showing active suppression of cancerous cells. Others contain concentrated compounds which have been studied, but the supplement itself has not been.
It is not recommended to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, every day unless you are directed to do so by your doctor. All NSAIDs can have toxic side effects with prolonged use, such as liver damage, and are not meant to be taken for more than a short period of time. Herbal anti-inflammatory supplements can actually provide some of the same relief associated with NSAIDs, but without the risks of side effects.
Comment by Dov Michaeli: Here I beg to differ. Low-dose aspirin has been shown, convincingly, to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. As to “toxic side effects”, the incidence of gastritis and peptic ulcer, the two main toxicities, is very low. Furthermore, a recent paper uncovered a surprising fact: the incidence of side effects actually goes down with long-term use. For more on this issue see our post on March 21, 2012.
Eat plenty of oily fish, chia seeds, and flax seeds to reduce inflammation
You can also take a quality fish oil supplement. In all cases, the omega-3 fatty acids will relieve the arachidonic acid burden in your body. Pre-converted EPA and DHA, found most commonly in fish, are better integrated into cell membranes, replace arachidonic acid, and release less potent eicosanoids to reduce chronic inflammation.
The omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found in chia and flax seeds, takes up the metabolic pathway to form arachidonic acid, meaning your body will create less from the omega-6 fatty acids you consume. Both EPA/DHA and ALA should be a part of your daily diet to obtain maximal inflammatory relief.
Switch to green tea to reduce inflammation
Coffee is a wonderful drink, but research suggests people who drink 200mL or more coffee per day (a measly 6.75oz) have significantly higher circulating levels of TNFα, IL-6, and CRP. Green tea, on the other hand, reduces inflammation. If you are healthy and not fighting chronic inflammation, a cup or two of coffee per day is unlikely to lead to problems.
If you suffer already from chronic inflammation, however, your best move is to make the switch to green tea and reduce all external sources of inflammation.
Stress has been shown to promote an inflammatory response in the body, as well as create a number of other problems which can all lead to a worn-down body prone to inflammation. Stress, like inflammation, plays an important role in our body. But when it is chronic, it ceases to serve a useful purpose. Bottom line: Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation.
Find the best way to release your burden at day’s end and work to keep your stress low throughout the day. Take walks, exercise, and do pleasurable activities which keep your mind off your life. Most of all, remember to eat your fruits, vegetables, and spices. (This cannot be said enough and we know that PEERtrainer sounds like a broken record on this.) Many spices, in addition to anti-inflammatory compounds, contain compounds which help you regulate stress, and that will actively keep you happier and more likely to fight inflammation.
Conclusion: Remember that inflammation is a continuum
Inflammation is not a light switch which is either on or off, you can have many different levels. The more chronic inflammation your body has, the more at risk you are, but remember that your body did not fall into chronic inflammation in one day. It may have taken many years for inflammation to build up, but that doesn’t mean it has to take the same amount of time to reduce it.
If it seems like too much to do everything all at once, start with one BIG, easy thing. Quadruple your spice intake or start your day with a big bowl of vegetables—just make sure it’s something that counts. As your body begin to fight inflammation, you’ll start to feel well enough to make another change, and then another, and then another.
At the very least, everybody ought to be consuming more anti-inflammatory foods. Even if you don’t have chronic inflammation, anti-inflammatory foods support superior health and will help ensure you don’t get chronic inflammation. Vegetables, fruits, and spices should play a huge role in everyone’s diet, and if you’re unsure whether you’re eating enough, eat more. There is no consequence of having a highly nutrient-dense diet, only of having a nutrient-poor one.