Understanding chronic inflammation: the key to preventing lifestyle diseases

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Chronic inflammation: the big problem we don’t see

Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, even cancer; They all may have one thing in common: chronic inflammation. We still don’t know the exact reason these diseases arise, but science believes that chronic inflammation may be a major factor in their onset. Chronic inflammation occurs when there is a buildup of inflammatory cells that continue to do their job, even after an infection has passed or been treated. We explain it to you.

First, let’s start with our inflammatory response. When you cut yourself, have a sore throat, or sprain an ankle, the area around the injury swells, fills with blood, and feels hot when touched. This is our inflammatory response. Our body is sending a combination of white blood cells, fluid, and protein to a point in our body that needs repair.

If you hit the car, a mechanic fixes it. If we harm our bodies, our immune systems come to our aid and contain any potential infection. Low-level inflammation may also be referred to as “suboptimal health.” When your body is using energy to fight an infection, you are not 100 percent.

What is chronic inflammation?

Once the damage is contained and the risk of infection has passed, the white blood cells die or resume their function, ready to act if another injury occurs. Chronic inflammation begins when the infection does not pass, or the set of cells that came to treat the problem becomes “confused” and does not disperse, causing an accumulation.

When white blood cells arrive at an injury, they are programmed to treat the inflammation. They begin to attack any damaged or infected cells, acting as our immune system should. However, once the infection resolves, if there are still large numbers of inflammatory white blood cells, they will begin to attack healthy cells. The continued buildup makes our immune system think there’s still a problem to deal with, so white blood cells become overactive.

When this scenario occurs, we are at the beginning of chronic inflammation. Without any corrective action, the cells can get even more out of control and can contribute to the development of certain types of cancer or other diseases mentioned above.

Cytokines: the double-edged sword

You may be wondering, what causes a cell to become confused or attack healthy cells? The answer is cytokines.

Cytokines are small proteins responsible for sending messages to a number of cells, including white blood cells. They take place in almost all biological processes, but they play a critical role in our immune system. Cytokines can be divided into two camps, pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory. We need the right balance of both to make sure our immune systems are working properly. Remember, if there was no inflammatory response, we would not be able to fight an infection or a virus.

Cytokines, depending on the type they belong to, will deliver a message that tells the white blood cells how to act. If there is an overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines, you end up in a scenario where the white blood cells go extremist and attack healthy cells. The cells get confused and may continue to think there is an infection to fight when there isn’t.

With too many anti-inflammatory cytokines present, our body will not be able to defend itself effectively when we have a virus or infection. Healthy humans need a balance of cytokines, which tell the immune system to act when needed, then back off when no longer needed.

The info graphic below breaks down what can happen if you have too many pro-inflammatory cytokines, a proper balance, or a buildup of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

chronic inflammation infographic

Chronic inflammation: a lucky misfortune

The topic of chronic inflammation can seem very daunting, especially since it has the potential to trigger chronic disease. The World Health Organization classifies chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. They anticipate that the association between chronic disease and chronic inflammation will increase over the next 30 years, affecting millions of people.

But don’t be scared!

If we know that chronic inflammation can lead to diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and allergies, that means that by treating chronic inflammation early on, we may be able to prevent these conditions from occurring. Once diabetes or heart disease has been diagnosed, it can be incredibly difficult to treat. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is much easier to control.

Our diet has a huge impact on the production of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines which in turn tell our cells what to do. By improving our health by eating the right foods, we can maintain its balance and fight the risk of chronic inflammation.

foods to avoid

Trying to avoid these types of foods altogether will give the best results; although limiting their consumption is also beneficial. Each encourages an inflammatory response:

• Fried foods: such as french fries, chicken, or onion rings
• Refined carbohydrates: white bread, certain types of pasta, cakes
• Soft drinks: including any other sugary drink
• Red meats: chops or steaks are included in this category, but also processed meats, such as hot dogs and canned goods
• Margarine or pork fats

Foods to include in your diet

The following foods are beneficial for our health, helping our body to detoxify effectively. They should be included as part of an anti-inflammatory diet whenever possible. A simple rule of thumb for maintaining a healthy balance of cells is to do what our prehistoric ancestors would do. Known as the paleo diet, it means eating natural foods that cavemen would have had to hunt or gather. All of them stimulate anti-inflammatory effects:

• Tomatoes
• Nuts: like walnuts and almonds
• Fatty fish: those that are rich in omega-3s, such as mackerel, tuna, and salmon
• Fruits: oranges, cherries, strawberries or blueberries
• Olive oil
• Hemp seed oil

Image of hemp seeds and hemp seed oil.

Hemp Nutrients: The New Light

The last suggestion, hemp seed oil, is important. Hemp has been recognized for centuries as a traditional medicine that can reduce inflammation. However, despite its widespread use, modern medicine has not been able to verify the results. Coincidentally, many of the herbal medicines used around the world are made because they seem to treat inflammation; therefore, all of them have the potential to reduce chronic inflammation.

As of today, modern medicine has not confirmed the potential of hemp in the treatment of inflammation, however, this could be about to change. There are currently many research projects underway to establish how cannabinoids (chemical compounds in hemp) interact with our endocannabinoid system. This system is a regulatory mechanism that is linked to areas of our brain, central nervous system and vital organs. The interaction between the two could be the key to confirm the anti-inflammatory action of hemp.

More and more research is focused on the medicinal benefits of hemp, and its potential as an anti-inflammatory treatment continues to grow. Hopefully, modern medicine will demonstrate what traditional remedies have been trying to say for countless years.

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