Inflammation is the new “buzz word” in the health care literature. When you hear the word, inflammation, you probably think of redness and burning around a cut or insect bite, or a swollen join, or tenderness around an injury, or even the pain of a broken bone. This reaction is acute inflammation, the good kind, which protects and heals the body after injury or infection. Known as the inflammatory cascade, a chain of biochemical events calls the immune system into action. Eventually white blood cells fight off and destroy the foreign bodies to restore the body’s equilibrium. This amazing process of acute inflammation is the body’s essential and normal response designed to maintain homeostasis.
It may happen that the inflammatory process continues even after the danger has subsided. The immune response that started as a health restoring mechanism gets stuck on “high alert.” The problem is, the body isn’t made to accommodate this unfocused immune activity, and those extra white blood cells start damaging your internal organs. This state of chronic inflammation, which can present a puzzling and long-lasting challenge to health, is the enemy inside you.
Among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Western societies are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and sepsis. Current medical research is beginning to implicate chronic inflammation in the development and progression of all these diseases. Further, early research suggests chronic inflammation may play a significant role in asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, as well as the bowel diseases of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Also, it is thought that the autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and polymyalgia are a result of the immune system initiating the inflammatory response when there is no inflammation to fight.
Triggers. Although the research is in its infancy, there are plausible reasons to suspect the following conditions may trigger chronic inflammation:
- Excess weight—As your fat cells bulge, the immune system receives an alert sending the white blood cells to fight.
- Emotional stress—Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal system when a threat is perceived. Over time, the result is inflammation.
- Poor diet—High sugar, fat, and processed food in the diet, as well as excessive alcohol use have strong evidence of inflammation association.
- Breathing bad air—Breathing polluted air, smog, wood smoke, and cigarette smoke result in an assault on the lungs which the immune system rushes into attack.
- Researchers also are studying the relationship of chronic inflammation to: oils containing linoleic acid, hormonal imbalances, food allergies, insulin resistance, cleaning products, cosmetics, and latex.
Treatment and Prevention. The best treatment is to develop an awareness that chronic inflammation is a threat to you; and when possible you should take steps toward prevention. Attention to diet, exercise, and stress are clear paths to treat chronic inflammation.
- An anti-inflammatory diet is known to be rich in omega 3s, fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, fatty fish, and olive oil. The chemical resveratrol found in red wine is found to discourage inflammation.
- Exercise shrinks fat cells, which fights inflammation by quieting your immune system.
- Dealing with psychological stress, by treating anxiety and depression, has been found to decrease chronic inflammation.
Some of the most promising early research suggests that Mindfulness Meditation can inhibit the production of proteins, made by some genes that cause inflammation. Mindfulness, rooted in ancient traditions, has become a contemporary strategy for personal meditation as well as medical intervention. In the short time researchers have studied the effects of mindfulness, there is clear evidence that it has a positive effect on quality of life in both people coping with chronic conditions and healthy people who wish to reduce stress in their lives. Mindfulness-based trainings have shown positive effects on chronic inflammation, and are endorsed by the American Heart Association as a preventative intervention.
The early indicators suggest eliminating the enemy inside you is beneficial to our health; and new strategies to prevent and treat chronic inflammation will continue to evolve.