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5 Causes of Chronic Inflammation and How to Prevent Them

By on May 24, 2020
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Inflammation occurs when the immune system identifies and removes a foreign or harmful stimulus from the body (Pahwa et al., 2020). When inflammation occurs consistently over a long period of time, known as “chronic inflammation,” the immune system is overworked to the point that it cannot repair new damage. Chronic inflammation can lead to many diseases including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. In my case, chronic inflammation resulted in my diagnosis of stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

As a physician, my first thought after my diagnosis was to learn more about my condition. Over the years, I have become quite knowledgeable about chronic inflammation and its association with dangerous diseases such as cancer. Here, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about the causes of chronic inflammation and what you can do to prevent them before they lead to disease.

Chronic Inflammation Cause #1: Poor gut health

When “bad” bacteria overpower “good” bacteria in the gut microbiome, the gut is susceptible to many issues. For example, the delicate gut lining can be permeated due to this bacteria imbalance, causing leakage of proteins and foreign substances into the bloodstream. This causes the immune system to be overactive and if left unchecked, it can cause autoimmune conditions, allergies, or cancer…

Preventing poor gut health:
• Avoid processed foods, sugars, and artificial sweeteners
• Eat fiber and fermented foods such as yogurt
• Take a probiotic supplement.

Chronic Inflammation Cause #2: Stress

Stress causes your body to enter a state of “fight or flight.” It releases two stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline, which increase heart rate, blood sugar, and glucose production. Being in this constant state of fight or flight leads to chronic inflammation.

Preventing stress:
• Use yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness exercises
• Disconnect from negative relationships in your life
• Exercise frequently

Chronic Inflammation Cause #3: Loneliness

Loneliness is associated with higher inflammation and weaker immune response, according to recent research. It’s less clear what the exact relationship between loneliness and inflammation is, but researchers suspect that people who are socially isolated have poorer responses to stress, which in turn increases inflammation. Loneliness is a risk factor for mortality, that equals smoking a 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic, and is greater than leading a sedentary lifestyle or being obese (Holt-Lunstead) et al., 2015).

Preventing loneliness:
• Be of service to others
• Invest time in your relationships and connections.
• Meet new people through classes, volunteering, or other community events.

Chronic Inflammation Cause #4: Environmental exposures

Environmental exposures such as toxins, pesticides, and chemicals are found on the foods we eat and in the air we breathe. When you are exposed to these things, the body recognizes them as foreign. The body initiates an immune response to attack the foreign particles, which causes inflammation.

Preventing environmental exposures:
• Buy organic (especially foods in the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen”)
• Check air-quality forecasts before spending time outdoors
• Use natural cleaning products, when possible

Chronic Inflammation Cause #5: Improper diet

Many foods common in the North American diet trigger inflammatory responses. Further, the American diet lacks foods that counteract the negative effects of inflammation.

Preventing improper diet:
• Eat foods with more omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts)
• Try to eat fruits and vegetables of every color of the rainbow, as they contain different anti-inflammatory phytonutrients
• Follow a ketogenic diet (low carbohydrates, lean meats, healthy fats)

About the author:
Dr. Diva Nagula is a board-certified osteopathic physician. Most of his life, he neglected his own health while caring for his patients. But in 2014, he received the news: he had stage 4 cancer. After his diagnosis, Dr. Nagula transformed his health with positive lifestyle changes and was able to overcome cancer. Now, he is in the best shape and health of his life, which he credits entirely to the tenets of integrative and functional medicine. Recently, Dr. Nagula wrote a book about his journey “From Doctor to Patient,” where he details the lifestyle changes that saved his life.

Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2020 Mar 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

J. Holt-Lunstad, T. B. Smith, M. Baker, T. Harris, D. Stephenson. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2015; 10 (2): 227 DOI: