TeleWellnessMD Blog

Inflammation causes and effects

Posted by Molly Hunsinger on Feb 23, 2015 10:08:49 PM


Chronic inflammation leads to damage, dysfunction, and disease.  Understanding inflammation causes and effects can help you make healthier lifestyle choices to help prevent or repair the damage.

Chronic inflammation

What do heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, stroke, cancer and aging have in common? Chronic systemic inflammation is an underlying cause of many seemingly unrelated diseases and premature aging. Even depression has been linked to the inflammatory response. As humans grow older, systemic inflammation can inflict devastating degenerative effects throughout the body. Inflammation is a part of the body’s natural defense system against injury and disease, while chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a disease in itself. When inflammation becomes chronic, instead of protecting us, it will become the leading threat to damage, dysfunction, and disease.

One reason people suffer from early advanced aging is due to the inflammatory process. This is why some people appear much older than their age and others appear much younger.

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What causes inflammation?

  • Aging

Younger individuals’ levels of inflammatory cytokines typically increase only in response to infection or injury, while older adults can have consistently elevated levels of several inflammatory molecules. When these levels are continuously elevated disease and accelerated aging occurs.

  • Sleep Irregularities

Sleep is an extremely important component of health and wellness. Without adequate sleep you can count on a higher risk of obesity, increased stress, and lower mental acuity. Poor sleep causes these issues because of hormone imbalance, tissue inflammation, decreased immune function, and sluggish metabolism. Hormone changes can initiate a cascade of hormone imbalances that can cause a host of other issues.

  • Hormone Imbalances

Hormones modulate the inflammatory response. Because of child bearing, women are set up for hormone imbalance. This fine line between hormone harmony and dysfunction makes balancing women’s hormones a bit more difficult than men’s. Growth hormone levels start to drop after the age of 30 and can have major involvement in slowing of metabolism.

  • Diet and Nutrition

Diets high in saturated fat is associated with higher pro-inflammatory markers, particularly in diabetic or overweight individuals. Diets deficient in the important micronutrients will eventually create deficiencies in these vital nutrients. Micronutrients are involved in important chemical reactions that are essential for immune function and antioxidant function.

  • Stress

Constant emotional, physical or mental stress, and a poor diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can increase levels of Cortisol. This can create symptoms of high blood pressure, joint pain throughout the body, insomnia, restless legs, aging rapidly, loss of muscle tone, and weight gain through the middle of the body. Eventually, these symptoms can cause the body to spiral downward into a severe energy crisis, hormonal imbalance and systemic inflammation.

Physical and emotional stress can lead to inflammatory cytokine release which if prolonged, can lead to cellular damage. Through the release of the adrenal hormone Cortisol, stress is also associated with decreased sleep and increased body mass, both of which are independent causes of inflammation as well.

  • Obesity

Abdominal fat and unhealthy diets can lead to inflammation. Fat cells, particularly those in the visceral fat that settles in the belly and around internal organs, are major causes of inflammation. This type of fat pumps out molecules known as cytokines, which trigger the immune system and start the whole inflammatory cascade. This is why significant weight loss can reduce inflammation within a few months. More fat cells equate to more inflammation which causes a vicious cycle of inflammation and damage.

  • Smoking

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, many of them toxic to the body. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs. The relationship between smoking and cardiovascular disease is well documented, as is the association of smoking with increased levels of inflammatory markers and accelerated atherosclerosis. Cigarette smoke contains several inducers of inflammation, particularly chemicals that cause free radicals. Chronic smoking increases production of several pro-inflammatory cytokines, while simultaneously reducing production of anti-inflammatory molecules. This causes elevations in the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein.

  • Immune Dysfunction

Immune dysfunction can cause the body to use up its energy stores as it tries to keep the body healthy. When the immune system is not able to function effectively it can cause disruption of other body systems. Metabolism suffers as the body tries to fight infections and viral infections that were once dormant, but with a down immune system it will reactivate and produce symptoms. Viruses, bacteria and funguses can all cause the body to use up valuable energy to fight. When chronic stress starts to further involve the immune system, the energy crisis that this creates can cause some people to crash. This is a common factor associated with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and many other disorders.

  • Drug Abuse

The abuse of drugs results in altered states of biological function. Pain exacerbation, inflammation, and the increased risk of communicable diseases are a few of the medical consequences of drug abuse. Drugs directly affect several of the endocrine organs and can cause a domino effect of hormone imbalance. The longer drugs are abused the more severe the associated symptoms. Diagnostic testing shows drastic hormone and nutrient deficiencies in many cases. Treating this metabolic dysfunction is an important component in successfully treating drug addiction.

  • Lack of Exercise

Indulging in regular exercise is very essential for maintaining high body metabolism. One of the reasons for low metabolism is a lack of enough exercise or workout. Regular exercise keeps your body metabolism high, which helps you in reducing weight on a constant basis. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, multiple cancers, dementia and depression constitute a cluster of diseases, which all can be a partial result of physical inactivity.

Researchers have found that reduced activity and increased sitting time is associated with increased insulin, leptin/adiponectin ratio, CRP, IL-6, and leptin. Sedentary behaviors is also associated with other risky behaviors such as over eating, smoking, and drug use that also are associated with increased inflammation.

  • Dehydration

Water is a critical element of the body and keeping the body adequately hydrated is essential for optimal function. Even mild dehydration has affects at the cellular level by releasing histamine and Cortisol, which suppress your immune system and causes toxic build up, inflammation, and slow metabolism. Chronic dehydration can cause histamine to become excessively active. This may result in symptoms that may be mistaken for other disorders such as allergies, asthma, dyspepsia, colitis, constipation, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pains in various parts of the body such as migraine headaches.

  • Genetic Predisposition and Environmental Exposures

Although many of the risk factors for chronic inflammation are preventable, people are born with genetic variations that cause them to be more susceptible to inflammation. There are people who are lacking certain enzymes or chemicals that are essential for specific protective responses to stress and inflammation. Often this is caused by an error or omission of a part of the DNA strand. These people will have to reduce the preventable risk factors more strictly and yet still may find themselves suffering from the effects of chronic inflammation.

Theoretically, there are few “diseases” that our body could not defeat—if all things were working properly. Some people eat fatty foods all their lives, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and never exercise, but never have clogged heart arteries and live until age 90. Others never eat fatty foods, don’t drink alcohol, exercise all the time and still develop clogged heart arteries and die at age 50. There are situations when DNA plays a role in wellness, but most will still have an opportunity to reduce inflammation by greater attention to risk reduction.

There are genetic predispositions for certain diseases. It is believed that some individuals have inherent strengths or weaknesses in their repair mechanism and ability to protect themselves from environmental exposures such as food additives, fumes, second-hand smoke, pesticides and radiation.

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Molly Hunsinger

Written by Molly Hunsinger

Molly Hunsinger is a communications professional and certified group exercise instructor and fitness trainer. Her medical, health and fitness industry background spans nearly three decades. As a media professional, she has developed and launched award-winning allied marketing and advertising campaigns for high profile brands. Molly holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida with a concentration in journalism and digital media studies.

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