While inflammation is typically demonized, and blamed for all manner of suffering, in the proper amount, and for just a reasonable period it helps the body to repair its injured tissues, destroy pathogens, and eliminate toxins.
In other words, inflammation begins when injury occurs, or pathogens, or some chemicals get into the body. This triggers the immune system to react and protect the body from more serious harm. To do this, the immune system through certain white blood cells, initiates production of some proteins designed to protect the affected cells and tissues from more serious danger.
These proteins cause inflammation in the affected area of the body for as long as the threat remains. There are two types of inflammation; acute, and chronic. But what is inflammation, and how does it cause diseases?
What is inflammation?
Injury or infection cause the immune system to produce large numbers of white blood cells, which in turn, produce some proteins to offer protection to the affected tissues. These proteins interfere with normal functions within the affected areas, and may cause leakage of fluid.
This leads to the symptoms associated with inflammation such as swelling, redness, and pain. If the threat is successfully dealt with, and the injury or infection is healed, the immune system discontinues production of the reactive proteins, and inflammation disappears. However, if the cause of inflammation remains, inflammation will remain, and may become chronic.
Causes of Inflammation
As mentioned, inflammation occurs as a result of injury or infection. Additionally, inflammation can also be caused by exposure to some chemicals, some foods, especially those that are fatty or sugary, and chronic stress.
Symptoms of Inflammation
There are many symptoms of inflammation which include swelling, pain, redness, burning sensation, skin rash, stiff joints, stiff muscles, fatigue, chills, fever, and headaches. Additional symptoms like loss of appetite, diarrhea, and constipation may occur in case the inflammation occurs in the digestive system.
Causes of Chronic Inflammation
We already know that inflammation occurs in response to exposure to harm. This type of inflammation goes away once the body recovers from injury, exposure to a chemical irritant is discontinued, or stress is reduced significantly, in the case of inflammation caused by stress. If, however, the cause of inflammation remains for an extended period, the inflammation becomes chronic. This state causes irritation of an increasing number of cells and tissues, including those outside the site of harm.
A classic example of chronic inflammation occurs inside blood vessels when fatty plaque is deposited on the blood vessel walls. The immune system treats the plaque as a potential cause of harm, and it, therefore sends white blood vessels to the affected blood vessels to produce protective proteins. This leads to inflammation for as long as the plaque remains in the blood vessels.
Similarly, an injury that does not heal, continuous exposure to irritating chemicals, and chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation.
Diseases Caused by Inflammation
Chronic inflammation interferes with some body functions. This can lead to the development of other health problems. Indeed, many studies have shown that chronic inflammation plays a major part in the development of many diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, sinusitis, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic peptic ulcers, and cancers. Following are some of the conditions linked to inflammation:
High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
High blood pressure is one of the diseases that are associated with chronic inflammation. It develops when blood vessels do not provide enough space for blood to flow easily. This can occur when fatty plaque is deposited on blood vessel walls, causing the immune system to send white blood cells to fight against the invading plaque. This leads to chronic inflammation which makes it even more difficult for blood to flow, and leading to even higher blood pressure.
This causes the heart to work harder to push blood through the clogged blood vessels, and can lead to heart disease.1)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD, is a condition that affects the lower digestive system. It includes Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. There are billions of bacteria and other microorganisms within the digestive system, some of which are beneficial, and others which are harmful. These live side by side, and as long as they remain in good balance, the immune system does not interfere with their existence.
However, in some people, the immune system is triggered to fight the gut microorganisms for no apparent reason. This causes chronic inflammation in the digestive system, an autoimmune system condition called inflammatory bowel disease. The condition is associated with genetics, as well as intake of some foods which are high in certain types of fiber. Symptoms of IBD include cramps, diarrhea, constipation, and ulcers.2)3)
Rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes referred to as RA, is a condition that affects the joints. RA is an autoimmune disease that develops when the immune system goes rogue, and attacks tissues in the joints. This leads to chronic inflammation that causes damage to joint tissues, and may overtime make it difficult to use the affected joints because of the resultant pain, and stiffness. The condition may also affect other tissues in the body including the eyes.4)
Asthma and Other Respiratory Diseases
Chronic inflammation in the lungs as a result of infections, or exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, leads to accumulation of fluid, and narrowing of the air tubes. This can cause conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. These conditions are characterized by symptoms like breathing difficulties, chronic cough, and chest congestion.5)
Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition in which the immune system causes skin cells to grow too fast before old cells are due for replacement. This leads to layers of skin cells that form thick skin patches characteristic of psoriasis.6)
Research has linked inflammation to depression, and some of its symptoms including insomnia, loss of appetite, and low mood. According to some studies, the blood of people suffering from depression is high in inflammation markers. This suggests that inflammation affects the brain, and play a part in the occurrence of depression.7)
Obesity or excess body weight, is both a cause, and effect of chronic inflammation. The presence of excessive amounts of body fat causes chronic inflammation. Inflammation-causing proteins on the other hand, work together with hunger-signaling hormones while slowing metabolism. This causes an obese person to eat more while burning fewer calories which would make any attempt to lose weight difficult.8)
Diabetes Type 2
Studies suggest that chronic inflammation can increase insulin resistance in the body. This means that the available insulin is less effective at regulating blood sugar levels, a condition called prediabetes. When this status continues, it can lead to diabetes type 2.9)