Beware of Chronic Inflammation

If your knee is red, hot, and painful or your throat is sore and scratchy, you know you have inflammation. Typically, you can expect the swelling due to any injury or infection to go away in a few days. Such is the nature of acute inflammation, a natural process of the body’s immune system to remove harmful stimuli and repair tissues. However, inflammation can also be slow, low-grade and long-term. Such inflammation has no apparent symptoms, and they can last for months and years. Such chronic inflammation can severely affect health if not adequately resolved [1].

Acute inflammation due to injury is easy to tell, but this is not the case with chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation – causes and consequences

Chronic inflammation can be a result of microbial overgrown. Harmful pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, or other parasites can cause infections, become resistant to immune defence, and remain in the body for a long time. Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract is one such example. The colonisation of Candida in the digestive tract may lead to many inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders. Among them are  Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative colitis, and Gastric ulcers [2].

E coli at 10000x, original
Overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the body can cause chronic inflammation.

Long-term exposure to pollutants such as cigarette smoke, industrial chemicals, household irritants can also a cause of chronic inflammation. For example, the inhaling of silica dust generated from construction works can become harmful in the long term. It is associated with autoimmune disorders such as the systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis [3]. Naturally, people with such autoimmune diseases have highly sensitive immune system leading to chronic inflammation.  

Constant exposure to pollutants like cigarette smoke can trigger the immune response leads to chronic inflammation.

Oxidative stress also plays a role in chronic inflammation. Oxidative stress is the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. The cells in the body produce free radicals during normal metabolic processes. These radicals are neutralized by antioxidants also provided by the cells. However, excess production of free radicals can occur due to poor diet, unhealthy lifestyle, diseases, and environmental factors. Oxidative stress leads to the inflammatory process and can also accelerate the ageing process [4].

Coronary heart diseases are also associated with chronic inflammation.

Many chronic conditions are linked to chronic inflammation. They include diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis and joint disorders, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer. These are chronic non-infectious diseases that plague the world today. Hence, it is crucial to recognise chronic inflammation and take steps to prevent and reverse the inflammatory process. 

Signs of chronic inflammation

There are many tell-tale signs of chronic inflammation. Frequently experiencing body pain is one clear indication [1]. The pain can be localised, such as knee pain, or widespread in the body. Many people mistakenly think that having ache and pain is just a natural part of ageing [5]. On the contrary, it is the work of the underlying chronic inflammation.

Always feeling tired and lack of energy can be a telltale sign of chronic inflammation.

Even if you have no pain but continuously feel tired and lack of energy. The tiredness and fatigue do not go away with rest. Worse still, some may also have insomnia. These symptoms could also be an indication of chronic inflammation. The body is exhausted by the inflammation within [1].

Chronic inflammation can also cause neurochemical imbalance and thus disturbed the brain function. Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are not only psychological conditions but consequences of chronic inflammation affecting the central nervous system [6].

Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are also consequences of chronic inflammation affecting the central nervous system.

Always having digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, or acid reflux can indicate chronic inflammation. It can be potentially due to the disturbance in the balance of the gut microbiota, such as overgrown of candida as mentioned earlier [7].

Weight gain is also associated with the increase of inflammation in the body [8]. Fat cells or adipose tissue in the body is always in a heightened state of inflammation. Fat cells are involved in the production of many types of pro-inflammatory signalling proteins called cytokines. These cytokines are responsible for the stimulation and regulation of the inflammatory process [9].

Having a cold, flu, or cough frequently can be a warning sign of chronic inflammation as well.

Chronic inflammation also weakens the immune system over time. The result is frequent infections, which further aggravate the inflammatory process. So, having a cold, flu, or cough frequently can be just the tip of an iceberg of inflammation beneath.

Blood tests for inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a complex biochemical process in the body. There is no single blood test that can confirm the existence of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is often diagnosed only in combination with other conditions. The following blood tests are commonly used to assist in the diagnosis [1]:

  1. Serum protein electrophoresis (SPE) test which measures specific proteins in the blood. Low level of Albumin, together with a high level of Gamma globulin, can indicate infection and inflammation.
  2. C-reactive protein (hsCRP) and fibrinogen are the two most inexpensive and widely used biomarkers for inflammation.
  3. Test of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which may include Tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), IL-6, and IL-8. These are expensive tests not typically used in clinical practices.
Get your blood tested to check for signs of inflammation!

Natural approach to reduce chronic inflammation

Like all chronic condition, there is no magic pill for reducing chronic inflammation. Painkiller and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs only help to alleviate the symptoms but not the underlying cause. Hence, it is crucial to adopt a multi-pronged approach that incorporates changes in diet, lifestyle and environment factors.

A healthy, whole-food plant-based diet is what you need to fight chronic inflammation.

Unhealthy diet plays an essential role in promoting the inflammatory process. Careful selection of foods can help to reduce inflammation and improve health. An ideal anti-inflammatory diet is a whole-food plant-based diet that naturally does not spike your blood glucose (low glycaemic). Include whole-grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as high in healthy fat of omega-3 in your diet. Eat more turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, and leeks, which are vegetables and species that possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. Replace your coffee with sugar with tea. One should also avoid heavy alcohol drinking [10].

Engaging in physical exercise is also needed to improve health and reduce inflammation. Evidence from many observational studies and clinical trials shows that increasing physical activity can help to lower inflammation [11]. Hence, incorporating an exercise routine into your daily life is an essential step towards reducing and preventing chronic inflammation.

Exercise regularly to reduce chronic inflammation.

Maintaining a clean and pollution-free environment is needed. As pointed out, pollution and chemical irritants can be a cause of chronic inflammation. Ways to reduce exposure include quit smoking, maintain environmental hygiene, and reduce the use of harmful chemicals.

Conclusion

Chronic inflammation is low-level inflammation that can last for months or years. It can severely affect health and lead to many diseases if not adequately resolved. Tell-tale signs of chronic inflammation include pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, digestive problems, weight gain, and frequent infections. There is no magic pill for reducing chronic inflammation. One should adopt a multi-pronged approach that incorporates changes in diet, lifestyle and environment factors to fight chronic inflammation.

References

[1]        R. Pahwa, I. Jialal, Chronic Inflammation, 2019. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29630225 (accessed August 28, 2019).

[2]        C.A. Kumamoto, Inflammation and gastrointestinal Candida colonization, Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 14 (2011) 386–391. doi:10.1016/j.mib.2011.07.015.

[3]        K.M. Pollard, Silica, Silicosis, and Autoimmunity, Front. Immunol. 7 (2016) 97. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2016.00097.

[4]        Lugrin Jérôme, Rosenblatt-Velin Nathalie, Parapanov Roumen, Liaudet Lucas, The role of oxidative stress during inflammatory processes , Biol. Chem. . 395 (2014) 203. doi:10.1515/hsz-2013-0241 .

[5]        S. Thielke, J. Sale, M.C. Reid, Aging: are these 4 pain myths complicating care?, J. Fam. Pract. 61 (2012) 666–670. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23256096.

[6]        D.I. Lurie, An Integrative Approach to Neuroinflammation in Psychiatric disorders and Neuropathic Pain, J. Exp. Neurosci. 12 (2018) 1179069518793639–1179069518793639. doi:10.1177/1179069518793639.

[7]        J.H. Koh, W.-U. Kim, Dysregulation of gut microbiota and chronic inflammatory disease: from epithelial defense to host immunity, Exp. Mol. Med. 49 (2017) e337–e337. doi:10.1038/emm.2017.55.

[8]        S. Vasunilashorn, Retrospective reports of weight change and inflammation in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, J. Obes. 2013 (2013) 601534. doi:10.1155/2013/601534.

[9]        S.W. Coppack, Pro-inflammatory cytokines and adipose tissue, Proc. Nutr. Soc. 60 (2001) 349–356. doi:DOI: 10.1079/PNS2001110.

[10]      M.A. Ricker, W.C. Haas, Anti‐Inflammatory Diet in Clinical Practice: A Review, Nutr. Clin. Pract. 32 (2017) 318–325. doi:10.1177/0884533617700353.

[11]      B.J. Nicklas, T.E. Brinkley, Exercise training as a treatment for chronic inflammation in the elderly, Exerc. Sport Sci. Rev. 37 (2009) 165–170. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181b7b3d9.

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