Inflammation is a natural and beneficial immune response that occurs in the body as a protective mechanism against injury, infection, or harmful stimuli. However, excessive or chronic inflammation, which lasts for months or years, is considered to be bad since it can have detrimental effects on the body. Unnecessary inflammation can cause tissue death and damage to healthy cell DNA. It may even contribute to the development and progression of various health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergies, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Many Factors can Contribute to Chronic or Excessive Inflammation in the Body
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Infections: Bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections can trigger an immune response and lead to inflammation. Examples include respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and viral infections like influenza or hepatitis.
- Autoimmune Disorders: Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body, leading to chronic inflammation. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease fall under this category.
- Poor Diet: Consuming a diet high in processed foods, refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and low in nutrients can contribute to chronic inflammation. These foods can promote oxidative stress and stimulate the release of pro-inflammatory substances in the body.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to chronic inflammation. Regular exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and helps regulate the immune system.
- Obesity: Excess body fat, particularly visceral fat (fat around internal organs), can release pro-inflammatory chemicals that promote systemic inflammation. This chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
- Environmental Factors: Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as air pollution, chemicals, pesticides, and toxins, can trigger inflammation in the body.
- Chronic Stress: Prolonged psychological or emotional stress can activate the release of stress hormones and inflammatory mediators, leading to chronic inflammation. Stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises and mindfulness, may help mitigate the effects of stress on inflammation.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can promote inflammation throughout the body. Smoking damages the lining of blood vessels, increases oxidative stress, and triggers an inflammatory response.
- Chronic Conditions: Chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and certain types of cancer can contribute to systemic inflammation.
- Poor Sleep: Chronic sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality can disrupt immune function and lead to increased inflammation in the body.
Research suggests that 60% of Americans have at least one chronic inflammatory condition, and 42% had more than one.(1)
Signals that You May be Suffering from Chronic Inflammation
Common signs and symptoms that develop during chronic inflammation are:
Body pain, arthralgia, myalgia
Chronic fatigue and insomnia
Depression, anxiety and mood disorders
Gastrointestinal complications such as constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
Weight gain or loss
It’s important to note that individual responses to these factors can vary, and some people may be more prone to inflammation based on genetic predisposition or other factors.
Left Unresolved, Chronic Inflammation May Contribute to Serious and Even Fatal Health Conditions
These can include:
- Tissue Damage: Chronic inflammation can lead to ongoing damage to tissues and organs. The continuous release of pro-inflammatory substances can disrupt normal cellular function, impair the healing process, and cause structural damage to affected tissues over time.
- Systemic Effects: Chronic inflammation can have systemic effects, meaning it affects the entire body. It can lead to increased oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, and alterations in various physiological processes. This systemic inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and autoimmune diseases.
- Autoimmune Disorders: Prolonged inflammation can contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases. In these conditions, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body, leading to chronic inflammation and damage to organs or systems.
- Impaired Healing and Recovery: Chronic inflammation can interfere with the normal healing process. It can delay tissue repair, impair the formation of new blood vessels, and hinder the regeneration of damaged tissues. This can lead to prolonged recovery times for injuries or surgeries.
- Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Chronic inflammation has been associated with an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain types of cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation can contribute to the progression of these conditions and worsen their outcomes.
- Pain and Discomfort: Chronic inflammation can be accompanied by persistent pain, discomfort, and reduced quality of life. Conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain syndromes often involve chronic inflammation and can cause ongoing discomfort and mobility issues.
- Accelerated Aging: Chronic inflammation has been linked to accelerated aging at the cellular level. It can promote the shortening of telomeres (the protective caps on chromosomes) and contribute to cellular damage, oxidative stress, and DNA mutations. This can potentially accelerate the aging process and increase the risk of age-related diseases.
It’s important to address and manage chronic inflammation through lifestyle modifications, including adopting a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, adequate sleep, and avoiding harmful substances. If you suspect chronic inflammation or have concerns about your health, contact Dr. Jeffrey Meyers, DC in Omaha, Nebraska. He can evaluate your condition and provide appropriate guidance and treatment options.
1) Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, Jialal I (28 September 2021). “Chronic Inflammation”. StatPearls. National Institutes of Health – National Library of Medicine. PMID 29630225.