Invisible inflammation is strongly linked to cancer, heart disease, and other serious conditions. Learn how to prevent and lessen inflammation in your body.
When an international group of scientists from prestigious research and medical centers — including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Stanford, Harvard, Emory, Columbia, UCLA, and University College of London — join together to warn the public about a serious health problem, it’s time to take notice. These health experts are warning that invisible inflammation shortens lives.
Although chronic inflammation inside the body may not cause any obvious symptoms, it carries significant dangers. In fact, in their statement, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the scientists point to inflammation-related diseases as the cause of 50 percent of all deaths worldwide.
Why chronic inflammation is dangerous
Inflammation is a normal, healthy physiological response that helps fight infection and triggers your body to heal an injury. The inflammatory process begins when damaged tissues release chemicals and, in response, your immune system quickly reacts with white blood cells that make substances encouraging cells to divide, grow, and repair the injured area. After the wound is healed, the inflammatory process ends — at least, it’s supposed to end.
However, in chronic inflammation, the inflammatory process may start inside your body, even if there is no injury, and keep going, the National Cancer Institute explains. Chronic inflammation causes may include persistent infections that linger inside cells, abnormal immune reactions to normal tissues, or even lifestyle-related conditions such as obesity.
Why this inflammation process doesn’t end isn’t fully understood. However, it is known that, over time, chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage and lead to illness.
For example, persistent, severe inflammation in the body plays a significant role in the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.
“It’s also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm, and suicide,” said George Slavich, PhD, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research and Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA.
Bottom line: Diagnosing and treating chronic inflammation could save lives
Because invisible inflammation shortens lives and is believed to be wide-spread, Slavich calls the problem “a substantial public health crisis.”
Chronic and even severe inflammation, however, is often not obvious, and neither people with the condition nor their doctors may be aware of the potential danger inside the body.
So, Slavich and his colleagues are urging researchers to focus on better ways to diagnose and treat severe chronic inflammation to reduce serious disease worldwide, improve health, and extend life.
For now, only a few biomarkers — notably C-reactive protein found in blood plasma — are known to indicate inflammation. Identifying other biomarkers or substances in the body that are linked to chronic, invisible inflammation will allow doctors to better screen for, diagnose, and treat chronic inflammation. And that may not only extend life but also help reduce chronic disease worldwide and improve health, according to the researchers speaking out on the issue.
Take steps to reduce chronic inflammation
It may seem hopeless to do anything about chronic inflammation inside your body. After all, you can’t see it, and you likely may have no obvious signs of the problem. However, risk factors for invisible, chronic inflammation are known and include obesity, being physically inactive, poor or inadequate sleep, and chronic stress.
“Chronic inflammation is influenced by many social, environmental, and lifestyle factors,” said Slavich “If we make people aware of these risk factors, our hope is that individuals will reduce the factors that apply to them.”
Researchers are studying whether anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may reduce chronic inflammation and prevent cancer.
So far, regular use of low-dose aspirin is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends low-dose aspirin use for the prevention of colorectal cancer in adults ages 50 to 59 years, if they are not at increased risk for bleeding. What other cancers, if any, this century-old anti-inflammation drug may help prevent isn’t known yet, according to the NCI.
Of course, always talk to your doctor about whether anti-inflammation aspirin therapy is right for you. It’s also a good idea to be proactive and work with your healthcare provider on weight loss, if needed, starting an exercise plan, and other ways to lower your risk for chronic inflammation — and potentially help you live the longest, healthiest life possible.
July 07, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN