Inflammation and Long-Term Impact of Chronic Inflammation
What Is Inflammation?
The defence mechanism of your body, also called the immune system, is an intricate network of cells, organs, and tissues that enable your body to fight against harmful substances. This system encompasses white blood cells, the thymus, lymph nodes, bone marrow, tonsils, lymph vessels, and spleen.
Inflammation is the signalling system that activates the defence mechanism of your body. It helps your immune system identify and remove foreign stimuli that can possibly harm your body, such as injuries, toxins, and infections. It also tells your body to begin the healing process.
The inflammatory process starts when something starts damaging your cells. The tissues under attack release chemicals to activate your immune system. As a part of the immune system, the white blood cells then release antibodies that kill all harmful microbes and cause the cells to divide and grow to rebuild the tissue. The process ends once the injury heals or the infectious organisms are killed. In this way, inflammation is good because it plays a vital role in protecting the body against harm.
However, your body's inflammatory response becomes a problem when it turns too high and stays activated for a long time, even if your body is no longer under attack.
What happens next? Read on to find out how your body reacts in such circumstances.
The Types of Inflammation
Acute inflammation is how your body reacts against infections, toxins, or injuries. Imagine getting a cut on your knee or catching a cold. In such cases, your body responds by rapidly releasing white blood cells and other chemicals to surround and protect the damaged area or the area under attack. This process usually lasts a few hours or days and involves redness, warmth, swelling, and pain around the affected tissue or joints.
Chronic inflammation is when something makes your body's inflammatory response turn too high and stick around long after an injury or infection. The immune system thinks your body is under consistent attack and continues to pump out white blood cells and other chemicals, even when there is no outside danger.
In the above circumstances, the white blood cells and chemicals may end up attacking healthy tissues and organs in their surroundings. The extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary from person to person, depending on the cause of injury or damage and the body's ability to repair and overcome the damage.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
This section mentions the most common factors that result in a chronic inflammatory response by your body. An important point to note here is that the following factors may not necessarily cause chronic inflammation in everyone. Plus, chronic inflammation cases may not always have a clear, underlying cause. That said, some possible causes include:
- Unattended or persistent causes of acute inflammation, such as an infection or injury
- Prolonged exposure to irritants or toxic substances, including industrial chemicals and polluted air
- Autoimmune disorders [like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)] that cause your immune system to mistakenly identify healthy tissues and organs as foreign antigens and attack them
- Recurring episodes of acute inflammation
Some other factors that cause your body to develop or worsen chronic inflammation include obesity, chronic stress, smoking, and alcohol.
The Impact of Chronic Inflammation on the Body
When your body's inflammatory response keeps the immune system constantly alert, it starts damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs. This causes problems like internal scarring, tissue death, and DNA damage over time. Such problems put you at risk of developing various conditions, like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Chronic inflammation is a slow, ongoing process. Some individuals may not even realize they have it until they develop and get diagnosed with other associated conditions. Hence, it is essential to know about and look out for classic symptoms of chronic inflammation.
The most common symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, joint and muscle pain, fever, gastrointestinal complications, and frequent infections. Although these symptoms don't necessarily mean you have chronic inflammation, you should still get checked by a doctor if you are experiencing any of them.
The doctor will review your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and suggest blood tests to check for signs of inflammation. A common blood test prescribed by doctors in such cases measures the C-reactive protein produced by the liver, which rises in response to inflammation in the general body. A CRP level in the range of 1 to 3 milligrams per litre of blood often indicates a low but chronic level of inflammation.
Managing Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is a part of your body's healing process. But when it turns chronic, you must try to get it under control to mitigate the risk of developing long-term health conditions. You can manage inflammation through steroidal or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories paired with appropriate lifestyle changes.
Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are medicines doctors prescribe to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system as a treatment for numerous conditions. Long-term use or high dose of steroids can cause multiple side effects, like high blood pressure, mood changes, increased appetite, osteoporosis, and vision issues.
Non-steroidal anti-Inflammatories encompass the medicines and supplements that help reduce inflammation without the use of steroids.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include over both counter and prescribed medicines that don't contain steroids, like ibuprofen and aspirin. They are known to effectively reduce inflammation and relieve conditions like headaches, colds, and flu.
However, these medicines may not work for everyone in the same way. They are also known to have side effects in the long run. Although the side effects of NSAIDs are fewer than and not as strong as the side effects of steroidal medicines, you can opt for anti-inflammatory supplements if you want to avoid them.
- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Supplements
An anti-inflammatory food supplement can help you reduce chronic inflammation without worrying about the strong side effects of medicines. Some common ingredients in anti-inflammatory supplements include fish oil, lipoic acid, and spices like ginger, garlic, and turmeric.
The Role of Turmeric in Managing Inflammation
Turmeric (also called haldi, Indian saffron, haridra, and jiang huang) is a spice grown in numerous Asian countries. It belongs to the family of ginger and is used as the main ingredient of curry powder. The scientific name for turmeric is Curcuma longa, and its main ingredient is curcumin or diferuloylmethane.
Curcumin is known to help with several anti-inflammatory conditions, especially cancer. Several laboratory studies have looked into the effects of curcumin on cancer cells.
One such study by an international laboratory in 2013 focused on the effects of combined treatment of chemotherapy and curcumin on bowel cancer cells. The results concluded that combined treatments might have more positive outcomes than chemotherapy alone.
Some clinical trials have also looked at the effects of curcumin on people with prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and other kinds of cancer. Although these trials have been small with many limitations, there is some evidence that curcumin has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
So far, the research shows few or no side effects of using curcumin. However, larger studies and more solid evidence are required to declare it an effective prevention or treatment for cancer and other conditions arising from chronic inflammation.
The Good Vitamin company has introduced an anti-inflammatory supplement containing all the benefits of the ancient golden spice power-packed into one easy-to-swallow capsule. This supplement helps manage inflammation and boost immunity, ultimately improving joint, heart, and cognitive health.