How Chronic Inflammation Causes Chronic Diseases

Do you know someone who has widespread pain? How about someone who is depressed or has high blood pressure? These conditions can all be signs that a person has chronic inflammation. In fact, inflammation is an underlying cause of most chronic conditions such as chronic pain, osteoarthritis, heart disease, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

There is a difference between acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is a normal, healthy response to an infection or injury to the body. It lasts a few hours or days. When you have a cold virus, your body naturally responds by increasing your temperature. When you sprain your ankle, your ankle becomes red, swollen, and hot to the touch. Chronic inflammation is different. You won’t have those overt symptoms, but the cells in your body are still releasing the same chemicals as if there is an injury, but to a lesser degree. Over time, this low level of inflammation is unhealthy to your body and leads to disease

One way to identify inflammation is to measure your waist and hips. A waist to hip ratio of .9 or less in males and .85 or less in females is normal, whereas a larger ratio signals inflammation. Lab tests are the best way to identify chronic inflammation. High levels of triglycerides, glucose (fasting glucose should be below 100), A1C, and C-reactive protein (should be below 1 Mg/dL) signal inflammation. Low levels of HDL cholesterol or Vitamin D are also linked to inflammation.

There are many lifestyle factors that can lead to chronic inflammation including a poor diet, lack of adequate sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, and chronic stress.

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Anyone who is overweight is heading towards a state of chronic inflammation. Common foods that cause inflammation include sugar, flour, and refined oils/trans fats (partially dehydrogenated oil). Unfortunately, these 3 food categories comprise up to 60% of the calories from an American diet. These foods cause a majority of the problems. Eating these foods tend to spike blood sugar levels, increase immune cells (70% of your immune cells are located in the gut), and release inflammatory chemicals. Basically the body is reacting as if the body has a low- grade infection. In this way, sugar behaves like a pathogen to the body. Foods that decrease inflammation include: vegetables, fruits, nuts, and roots/tubers. These foods are also high in fiber which makes us feel more satisfied and we eat less.

There is a clear link between poor sleep and inflammation. The National Sleep Foundation defines a normal amount of sleep a night as 7-9 hours. Anything less than 7 hours a night increases the C-reactive protein marker for inflammation. Less than 6 hours of sleep a night – on a chronic basis – causes weight gain (by increasing the stress hormone cortisol).

People with a sedentary lifestyle have higher C-reactive protein (a marker that tests for inflammation), than people who are active. Researchers have found that sitting is linked to inflammation and 35 chronic diseases; sitting for more than an hour causes calories to be sent to fat storage instead of to muscles (the enzyme that burns fat- called Lipoprotein Lipase – decreases by 90%). See my previous article/blog for more information about sitting versus standing and moving around at work. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (so 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Can’t find the time to hit the gym? Consider taking the light rail to commute to work, use stairs instead of elevators, or park farther away to increase the amount of steps in a day. Every bit of activity can add up. Even shopping, cleaning, and gardening.

Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress is a normal occurrence in everyday life: your body releases epinephrine (adrenaline) which increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. We’re built to handle these short bursts of stress. With chronic stress, however, your body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response (by altering the effectiveness of the hormone cortisol) which promotes disease. Common causes of chronic stress include work anxiety, financial worries, and relationship difficulties. Yoga is one technique that has proven effective at decreasing stress (and in turn, decreasing cortisol levels)

Combat inflammation by eating properly, keeping a healthy weight, getting a proper night’s sleep, getting adequate exercise, and decreasing stress. People who are less chronically inflamed will have a better quality of life, respond more successfully to chiropractic care, and have less disease overall.