Inflammation and chronic disease

By Chronic Disease, Diet, Exercise, Health, Inflammation
“There’s evidence that inflammation, promoted in part by such factors as obesity, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle, contributes to a variety of diseases.”
Harvard Health Publishing


Acute inflammation is a part of the body’s natural healing process in response to pathogens, infections, wounds and tissue damage.

Common causes of acute inflammation (injury, infections, tissue damage, foreign bodies, hypersensitivity, autoimmunity) provoke the release of white blood cells and inflammatory molecules that can result in fluid build-up, pressure, redness, heat and pain. Once the pathogen has been eliminated, tissue repair usually begins. Thus, homeostasis is restored [1].

Chronic inflammation, however, plays a role in a wide variety of diseases.  



Recent scientific inquiry suggests that many factors may contribute to chronic inflammation; an unbalanced diet of processed, sugary foods, genetics, exposure to toxic contaminants and poor lifestyle factors (including sedentary work and poor dental hygiene) [2].

Various medications are available to combat the symptoms of acute inflammation (e.g. pain and swelling), however in the case of chronic inflammation, treatment is not as straightforward. Chronic inflammation can affect various organs, and no single therapy is currently available to address these complex impacts.



Let’s take a closer look at some of the conditions and diseases in which inflammation plays a central role.



Fat tissue contains macrophages (the white blood cells instrumental in chronic inflammation) and produces cytokines (chemical messengers that are key to the development of inflammation). Reducing excess fat stores through diet and exercise can decrease inflammation in the body.


Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have significant potential health implications such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye damage, nerve damage and more. As the body attempts to remove the abnormal fat distribution caused by diabetes, it triggers the release of inflammatory substances that damage the arteries and can lead to cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.



Cardiovascular disease:

The build-up of fatty, cholesterol-laden plaque inside the arteries of the heart leads to the most common type of heart disease, coronary artery disease. Recent research has suggested a strong link between inflammation and atherosclerosis and has discounted the prevailing hypothesis that a diet high in fat can leave globs of cholesterol on the inner surface of the arteries, blocking them [3]. Almost 50% of heart attacks occur in people who have healthy cholesterol levels leading us to question the role of cholesterol in heart disease.

“Several studies have shown that, among people with normal cholesterol numbers, those with increased CRP (inflammation) levels have a several-fold higher risk for heart problems.” [4]

Inflammatory Bowel Disease:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is characterised by an abnormal response to intestinal bacteria that leads to chronic inflammation. Those with inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk of developing eye and skin conditions, chronic inflammation in the lungs and airways, blood clots and liver complications.

Other diseases associated with inflammation:

Rheumatoid arthritis

What exacerbates inflammation?

o Obesity
o Processed food
o Too much saturated fat
o Sleep deprivation and lack of quality sleep
o Smoking
o Chronic stress
o An inactive lifestyle
o Air pollution and environmental contaminants 



Treatment methods for inflammation:



Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
Fish oil supplements


Lifestyle modifications:


Healthy food choices – choose foods that reduce inflammation.


Consume fruits and brightly coloured vegetables:

They contain high levels of antioxidants and polyphenols (potentially protective compounds).

Nuts and seeds:

Research has shown that consuming nuts and seeds can lead to reduced markers of inflammation.


The polyphenols in coffee and green tea and the flavonoids in cocoa are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.


A review in the May 2016 British Journal of Nutrition supported the notion that dietary polyphenols may lower inflammation.  Foods high in polyphenols include dark leafy vegetables, red grapes, onions, turmeric, cherries, and plums.

Omega 3 fatty-acids:

Olive oil, flaxseed oil, fatty fish (sardines, wild-caught salmon and mackerel) reduce inflammation in the body.  They can also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease as they can cross the blood-brain barrier, reducing inflammation in the brain. 


Maintaining a healthy weight can have a significant, positive impact on inflammation by reducing the number of macrophages when reducing fat tissue. Because fatty tissue actively produces hormones and inflammatory chemicals, reducing excess weight is vital.



No smoking: 

Smoking is associated with a whole host of health implications. Recent research has shown a link between nicotine and inflammation [5].

Get quality sleep: 

An irregular sleep pattern can be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. Those who are sleep deprived can have higher blood levels of stress hormones that promote inflammation. Remember, it’s not the number of hours of sleep you’re getting – it’s the quality of sleep that matters. This has been shown in the largest sleep study ever conducted with over 1.1 million participants [6].



Reducing alcohol intake:

Moderate intake of beer and wine can help reduce inflammation.


[1] [2] [3]
Access the full report for more information.
Understanding Inflammation, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.