Chronic Inflammation, When A Good Thing Goes Bad

chronic-inflammationThere is a condition that is thought to be the driver of various chronic diseases yet is rarely talked about, much less treated by physicians. It’s chronic inflammation. We tend to think of inflammation as something that occurs after we get hurt. When we sprain our ankle or bump into something real hard localized swelling is the body’s way of starting the healing process. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune and self-healing response. It doesn’t just occur after an injury. It also happens when there is a foreign body or infection present. There is inflammation in the body that can’t be seen but is always present. This type of chronic inflammation is what is thought to be a major contributor to chronic vascular diseases, weight gain, diabetes, and so on. Chronic inflammation is when a good thing goes horribly wrong.

Inflammation Is A Healing and Protection Process

Inflammation is most associated with swelling, warmth and redness as the immune system rushes biochemicals to the site of injury or infection. When you hurt yourself a protein called cytokines acts as an emergency flare. Once cytokines are in the system the immune system sends fluid to the location of the injury. This fluid brings with it hormones, nutrients, and immune cells to start the healing process. White blood cells are sent to destroy germs, dead and/or damaged cells. Prostaglandins, hormones, then create clots to heal the damaged tissue. When someone is injured the inflammation that occurs is called acute. When inflammation stays over a period of time without going away this is called chronic.

Understanding Acute Versus Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation is localized and typically follows a specific injury such as stubbing your toe. If you did it hard enough you’ll notice the area swells and gets warm to the touch. The inflammation process in this case is a good thing because the body is fixing the immediate issue. Once the healing is complete the process will stop. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, continues without end. It’s long term and causes a great deal of “wear and tear” on the body. Conditions that fall in this category include osteoarthritis, lupus, allergies, asthma, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and many others.

It isn’t exactly known where chronic inflammation gets its start or which came first, the disease or the inflammation. Theories going as far back as the Ancient Egyptians credit poor gut health with inflammation through leaky gut syndrome. Essentially small holes are created in the intestinal wall allowing particles of food and bacteria to be released into the blood stream. There is evidence to suggest that leaky gut syndrome is driven primarily by gluten. Additionally, poor eating and exercise habits can contribute to this state due to undigested food remaining in the intestinal system, putrefying and giving off toxins which are absorbed into the body. Heavy alcohol use, smoking and stress can make the problem worse because by triggering an inflammatory response on their own as well as slow the digestive system.

Chronic Inflammation Drives Autoimmune and Other Chronic Diseases

Here’s the tricky part. When the body senses a perceived internal threat the immune response is triggered, regardless of its necessity. Inflammation will occur at the site the body believes is under attack. But what happens when there is no actual threat present? The white blood cells swarm, but having nothing to do they begin to attack internal organs and other vital tissues and cells. This is called an autoimmune response. Go back to the list of conditions considered to be autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune literally means immunity against oneself.

A single autoimmune event doesn’t constitute an autoimmune disease. The autoimmune event must occur over a long period of time before it begins to manifest itself in a disease state. Every person is different. Some people can go years without symptoms or any issues, while some it takes a shorter period of time. It all depends on the tolerance of our individual body. Chronic inflammation is also associated with heart disease, diabetes, lung disorders, bone health, mental health, and cancer.

Cholesterol acts as a threat when it’s deposited inside of blood vessels. Cytokines trigger an emergency response and white blood cells flood the area and the vessel becomes inflamed. The white blood cells build up in that spot causing a fatty plaque to grow that blocks the vessel.

Sugar has the same effect. Type II diabetes is like having shards of glass flow through your blood vessels. The excess sugar can actually damage blood vessel walls. When the system repairs the damage through inflammation, the same thing occurs. The fatty plaque acts in the same capacity as a scab. As blood flows past the scab fat in the blood sticks to the scab making it bigger. Eventually it will block the blood vessel.

Cytokines don’t just sound the signal when something is wrong, it is thought they can interfere with insulin signals as well. This can result in increased insulin resistance which can lead to type II diabetes.

Chronic inflammation may also be to blame for lung disorders such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). When the lungs become inflamed, the fluid can accumulate along with a narrowing of the airways making it difficult to breath. Its also thought that chronic inflammation is responsible for common allergies and asthma yet its not quite known how since both conditions tend to strike in perfectly healthy children as well.

Our bones can suffer due to the intestinal tract’s inability to absorb vital nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. The bowels can become inflamed through a poor diet, lack of sleep and exercise.

Also being considered is the impact of chronic inflammation on mental health and if it’s a driver of clinical depression. Inflammation causes the body to attack itself and signals become messed up. Chances are good this also impacts the brain and mood as well.

African Americans, especially women tend to suffer with these chronic ailments the most and, insult to injury, receive the least amount of preventative and restorative care. African Americans are more likely to suffer amputations, blindness, and death as it relates to chronic diseases.

Preventing and Reversing Chronic Inflammation

Alright, now that you know the potential causes and impacts of chronic diseases do you want to know the potential cures? The good news is chronic inflammation can be reversed, depending on the stage, with lifestyle. A diet rich in certain foods along with sleep and exercise can not only reverse inflammation in many cases but can bring the immune response back under control. You may have heard of anti-inflammatory diets. These are basically nutritional plans that can prevent and reverse inflammation to a certain degree. Once an autoimmune disease has presented itself a change in lifestyle becomes more about maintaining the disease and slowing its progression than reversing it. Of course consult a physician and nutritionist before embarking on this journey.

The diet most associated with being anti-inflammatory is the Mediterranean diet which includes eating fresh fish, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. It also calls for eating very little red meat and red wine in moderation. Basically you need to get more omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Spices that inhibit the inflammation process include ginger, rosemary, turmeric, and oregano. Onions and apples have a compound called quercetin which is thought to inhibit histamines associated with inflammation and allergic responses. In fact the use of onions in treating asthma and colds goes back centuries. You can get all of these chemicals and nutrients in the form of a supplement but it is better to get as much of these through food sources as possible.

Of course there are prescription and over-the-counter medications to treat inflammation. Drugs such as aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen are good for acute inflammation. Aspirin, under the strict supervision of a physician, is also used for chronic inflammation for heart disease patients. One of the side effects of long term aspirin use is liver damage, so it’s very important to consult a physician first. There is no drug yet, though, to treat chronic inflammation. The reality is chronic inflammation doesn’t have a single cause or cure. Lifestyle is the biggest driver of chronic inflammation and unless there is a pill to fix that, we have to fix it through proper nutrition, exercise and sleep. I keep bringing up sleep because lack of sleep also throws the immune system out of whack. And, of course, drink plenty of water to flush out toxins and keep the body humming.

Did you enjoy this post? Share it with someone you love and comment below. We love to hear from you.

Follow us on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest. We know you’re looking for more great content like this. Drop us your email and we’ll make sure you continue to receive original and informative content for health and wealth creation for divine black women.

Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
Nile Harris on EmailNile Harris on FacebookNile Harris on GoogleNile Harris on LinkedinNile Harris on Twitter


Leave a Reply