A wide array of health problems are rooted in chronic inflammation. It’s a systemic condition that’s largely undetectable, unless you can convince your doctor you need a special blood test to look for it.
Chronic inflammation is linked to problems ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s, diabetes to hair loss. It is widely recognised that inflammatory bowel disease is caused by an inflamed bowel, but researchers believe inflammation can underlie many other health problems too.
Mary Harrington, PhD, director of the neuroscience program at Smith College, Massachusetts. One of the goals of her research is to find out why so many people are suffering from chronic fatigue. “We think that inflammation is key,” says Harrington. Inflammation can affect the central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord.
Chronic inflammation is a major factor in many other conditions:-
- Addison’s disease
- Allergic reactions
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Antiphospholipid Antibody Syndrome
- Arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis)
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Chronic Fatigue
- Chronic pain
- Coeliac disease
- Colitis (ulcerative)
- Crohn’s disease
- Fatty liver disease
- Graves’ disease
- Gum disease
- Heart disease
- Hepatitis (active)
- Huntington’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Interstitial cystitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis
- Lupus Erythematosus (systemic)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Myalgic encephalomyelitis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Peptic ulcer (chronic)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Pernicious anemia
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Systemic lupus erythematous (SLE)
- Thyroid issues
- Vasculitis (autoimmune)
Inflammation and the brain
Chronic inflammation in the body can lead to inflammation in the brain. New research has led to important advances in our understanding of how inflammation can have important long-term implications for the brain, altering cognition, mood, and behaviour. The same processes that provoke the inflammatory response in the body also initiate the communication process to the central nervous system.
They accumulate in the bloodstream and thereby travel to the brain, where they cross into those regions in the brain where the barrier is weak. In addition, there are neural as well as blood-borne communication routes. For example, there are cytokine receptors on nerves, such as the vagus, that innervate peripheral immune organs, and these nerves, that communicate to the brain, are activated during infection.
In other words, peripheral inflammation induces neuroinflammation – i.e. inflammation in the brain. During a normal infection, neuroinflammation and the resulting adaptive sickness behaviours persist only for a few days. However, if these responses become exaggerated or prolonged, the outcomes may well become established, leading to cognitive impairment instead of brief memory disruption, depression instead of reduced mood, chronic fatigue instead of inactivity, and chronic pain instead of acute pain.
Neuroinflammation is now a well-characterised feature of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Immune dysfunction outside of the central nervous system is also increasingly recognised as part of these diseases. Peripheral inflammation has emerged as a modulator of disease progression and neuropathy in general.
So what causes the inflammation in the first place?
The majority of inflammatory diseases start in the gut with a disordered microbiome – which progresses to systemic chronic inflammation. (See ‘Disease Begins in the Gut‘ and the following pages.)