Chronic Inflammation: Silent and Deadly
With all the never-ending news about the coronavirus, our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach suspect you may not have heard about an even more widespread—and potentially deadly—condition that is responsible for more illness than any other: chronic inflammation.
According to a report published last month in the journal Nature Medicine, diseases that have been linked to chronic inflammation are “the most significant cause of death in the world today,” with more than 50 percent of all deaths globally being attributable to inflammation-related diseases.
Among them are:
- heart disease
- chronic kidney disease
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions
Other studies have linked even more conditions to chronic inflammation. These include:
- Crohn’s disease
- cognitive decline
- multiple sclerosis
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- rheumatoid arthritis
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s way of healing itself as the result of various attacks on it by irritating or harmful stressors on the body, such as pathogens, injuries, or poor lifestyle habits. The body then tries to heal the resulting tissue damage by rushing white blood cells and their protective chemicals to the site.
Thus, inflammation is necessary to keep the body healthy. But when the body is repeatedly assaulted by various harmful stimuli, the inflammation never ends and can eventually cause long-term damage.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the healthy kind, in which the body mounts a defense against sudden injuries like a cut or burn, or an illness like the flu. Chronic inflammation is the dangerous kind, in which the body spends months or even years attempting to fight off constant, lower-level threats, such as pollution, poor nutrition, and the effects of ongoing stress.
Inflammation linked to heart disease
The deadliest condition that was recently confirmed to be linked to inflammation is cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A 2017 study included over 10,000 patients who had previously suffered a heart attack and were then were given a drug meant to reduce inflammation. The drug, which costs about $200,000 per year, is not only prohibitively expensive, but its fatal side effects offset any gains in cardiovascular mortality reduction.
So why were cardiologists so excited about this research? Because it proved that reducing inflammation in the body will result in fewer heart attacks—15 percent fewer in this study. (The drug also proved effective against certain forms of cancer, another illness that has been tied to chronic inflammation.)
The drug had no effect on cholesterol, which is what is reduced with the use of statins, thus proving that inflammation reduction was solely responsible for the mortality reduction seen in the study.
Prevention is the best cure
Of course, we can intervene medically with various drugs and treatments that can address all these illnesses and diseases once they occur, but the best treatment is to reduce inflammation before it causes a problem.
Most people don’t know they have chronic inflammation until it manifests as one or more diseases. There are no tests to reliably pinpoint its location, although two—one for C-reactive protein (CRP) and one for myeloperoxidase (MPO)—can indicate its presence in the bloodstream.
Some causes of chronic inflammation are beyond our control. These include environmental pollutants and certain genetic factors.
But many other causes are within our control. Here are some steps you can take to reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body.
- Quality sleep
Sleep is when the body lowers cortisol and repairs the damage to cells encountered during the day. Seven to eight hours nightly is optimal.
When you engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two hours and thirty minutes every week, the cells release a protein called Interleukin 6, which has an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body. A recent study on exercise and chronic inflammation in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared a group of 75-year-old men who had exercised vigorously throughout their lives against another group the same age who didn’t. The researchers found the exercisers showed a blood inflammation profile equal to those of 25-year-olds.
- Healthy diet
Poor-quality foods—sugar, salt, fats, processed foods—all trigger inflammation throughout the body. Opt instead for fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, high-quality/low-fat protein, whole grains, beans and legumes, and water.
- Stress reduction
Chronic stress causes the body to react with chronic inflammation as it tries to fight off what it perceives as an invader. Relaxation exercises, deep breathing, meditation, yoga . . . anything that helps reduce stress will also reduce inflammation.
- Stop smoking
Every puff of a cigarette triggers inflammation throughout the cardiovascular system, so regular smoking day after day keeps the body in a constant state of low-level inflammation.
If you’d like more information on inflammation’s effect on the body and how to lower it, please talk to us.