Monday, September 2, 2013

Inflammation: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly; The Cause of Most Chronic Diseases

Inflammation is very important to our bodies.  It is a protective part of our immune system to fight infection and other foreign invaders and to initiate the healing process.  Inflammatory cells aid the body's healing mechanism.  Inflammation is not the same as infection.  An infection is caused by a micro-organism. Inflammation is the body's response to fight the micro-organism.

Acute inflammation is the initial response of the body to harmful stimuli, causing and increased movement of plasma and leukocytes (especially granulocytes) from the blood to the injured tissues.  It usually appears within a few minutes or hours and ceases on the removal of the injurious stimuli.  The classic signs of acute infection are pain, heat, redness, swelling and loss of function.  Without inflammation the body would not be able to heal well.  For example, when inflammation causing heat is generalized, we experience it as a fever.  The fever is part of the body's immune response to fighting the infection.  It has been shown in studies that reducing a fever with medicine increases the length of time of an infection.  It has also been shown that taking anti-inflammatory medications continuously after an injury increases the time it takes to heal the injury.

However, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can cause damage to the body, either locally (such as in tendinitis, tendinitis, knee arthritis caused by injury, etc.) or systemically.  These can be caused by overuse (not allowing the injury to heal), using enough anti-inflammatory medication so that it cannot completely heal, genetics, chronic low grade infection, the SAD diet (Standard American Diet), dysbiosis (an alteration in intestinal bacteria), toxins such as heavy metals and environmental pollutants, improper healing from surgery, etc.  Common chronic inflammatory illnesses are:  acne, allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, celiac disease, chronic urinary tract infections, interstitial cystitis and prostatitis, chronic kidney disease, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, etc.  Inflammation of the brain and gut has been implicated in ADHD and autism, depression and other mood disorders.

In the last couple of decades, more evidence is being found through research that most of the chronic diseases leading to death are also caused by chronic inflammation, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.  For example, atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks and heart disease, was considered to be caused by high cholesterol.  More recent studies show that inflammation is implicated in every stage of this disease.  Most scientists studying the inflammatory cause of heart disease believe the moderate success of the statin drugs in lowering cardiovascular events is more from their anti-inflammatory effect than by lowering the LDL.

Studies are also showing that inflammation plays a large role in cancer.  It is felt that inflammation can cause cell mutation leading to cancer, and inflammation has been shown to promote tumor growth and metastasis.

Once chronic inflammation has set in a cascade of problems results, making it more difficult to heal.  For example, inflammation can cause an increase in insulin, which also causes inflammation.  Elevated insulin holds onto fat in the body and causes obesity.  Fat cells also secrete inflammatory chemicals and increase inflammation in the body.  This increases insulin further and leads to insulin resistance.  This can lead to Diabetes Type 2, which increases inflammation in the macro- and micro-circulation, causing damage to the arteries.  The arterial wall damage causes a release of inflammatory cells and chemicals to repair it, which can lead to platelet aggregation and plaque deposition.  This can lead to heart and vascular disease.

Most of us are dealing with one or more of these problems and have no idea of how to heal it.  Most doctors simply treat the symptoms rather than dealing with the root cause:  inflammation.  My next blog will look into medications generally used for the chronic inflammation that threatens our health and our lives, how well they work and if they are safe.

Until we meet again,
Dr. Judi

No comments: