Chronic Inflammation: The root of all issues?

One of the biggest steps forward in our understanding of what causes non-infectious issues to develop in the body is that most are rooted in or linked to inflammation. In this article we will take a look at what it is, when it is bad for us (particularly when it comes to conceiving and growing a small person) and most importantly what we can do to avoid too much of the ‘bad’ sort.

What is inflammation and why is it bad?


When you think of ‘inflammation’, you probably think of what happens when you cut yourself or bang your knee - the red swelling and the feeling of heat. It is essentially a signal that something is going or has gone wrong. This reaction however is actually good - it is your body’s normal immune response to an infection, an injury or a foreign body. It is a reaction designed to protect the body and to promote healing, but, like all things, it’s good only as long as it is at the right time and in the right quantity.

Inflammation is great in the right setting, but when it is persistent (especially at low levels which you may not notice) or inappropriately reactive (like your immune system when it comes to allergies), you have a problem. Especially when you’re trying to conceive and grow a healthy baby.

So: a bit of inflammation at the right time = good, persistent low levels = bad.

So what causes the bad/chronic type that we don’t want?


It is being argued that some of the modern day non-infectious chronic diseases that are rapidly on the rise are actually a symptom of the fact that our bodies are chronically inflamed. And guess what - a large part of the cause of this is being blamed on our modern lifestyles and environment.

Think about it this way: inflammation is our body’s way of protecting itself: an immune response, and a reaction and protection against things that it is not designed to cope with. So, it makes sense….

There is a great research paper looking at the environmental causes of this low level of inflammation (also known as metaflammation) - see the link at the bottom of this article if you want to read it for yourself. However, this is what it says in a nutshell:

the ‘inducers of metaflammation...have largely arisen since the Industrial Revolution [and]...incite a low level, but persistent immune response to a not-immediately life-threatening situation, which can become dysmetabolic (imbalancing) when exposure is chronic. Because such a response is undifferentiated, the outcome is systemic rather than localized.’ (1)

Translation: exposure to too many negative environmental factors can cause the body to produce a low level immune response = inflammation throughout the body. When it is persistent and occurs throughout the entire body (systemic), all sorts of problems can arise.

How does inflammation affect our chances of having a healthy baby?

‘It appears that prenatal inflammation is the greatest determinant of subsequent adverse outcomes for the offspring.’ (2)

Translation: once again, this can be the root cause of many issues you don’t want, particularly in a developing child.

Let’s take a look at the various ways it can impact us along the journey:

Unfortunately it can impact at every stage: from conception - it is linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (particularly when it comes with insulin resistance), to trouble with implantation, to causing allergies/autoimmune conditions and at the extreme, being linked to preterm birth and neurological issues developing in babies.

It is also said to be responsible for which genes are expressed in us ie. epigenetics (which is when the environment effects which of our genes are switched on or off):

‘exposure to prenatal inflammation alters gene expression in the brain of the exposed offspring.’ (3)

So, clearly no matter which way we look at it, chronic inflammation is something we want to avoid: .

So, how to avoid and reduce it?

Obviously not all man-made environmental factors cause this, and some people are more susceptible than others. So, it comes down to knowing what is a likely to be a potential trigger and how to reduce it if we are already suffering from it.

Here are the known inflammatory avoids:

Most of these are probably not surprising. However, a couple are worth digging down into:

Stress
We know this is a big one (click here to learn how this is especially bad for conception and what you can do about it). At the same time we also know that not all stress is bad. Once again, it can actually be useful, as long as it is not chronic. The problem comes when you consistently raise your adrenocortical hormone levels and you experience persistent anxiety and even depression. There is no doubt here - experiencing this for an extended period of time is not good from an inflammatory standpoint. In fact there has been a ‘consistent finding...between stress, anxiety, and depression and increased inflammatory markers, which can be associated with or independent of body weight.’ (4) Read more about how to deal with this here.

Stress - isnt just mental - it is also physical and too much bad (processed) food full of pesticides/herbicides can also illicit a stress/inflammatory response in our bodies.

Exercise
We can debate the best types of exercise (click here for a gateway in to what to know on exercise), but what is clear when it comes to inflammation is that the extremes are bad on both sides. Too little and a very sedentary lifestyle is likely to cause systemic inflammation, and similarly too much at too intense a pace will have the same effect. Like Goldilocks: not too much, not too little - just right (and just right for you).

Sleep
One of the most underrated aspects of modern day life. I’m sure you’ve heard the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mantra. For whatever reason it has become almost a badge of honour to be too busy for sleep. However, there is a reason why evolution has not eradicated sleep - we need it, and it’s time it loses its veil of shame. Particularly as too little of it is linked to many things, chronic inflammation being just one: ‘Together with inactivity, inadequate sleep is one of the most underrated lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease. Poor sleep is associated with an increase in inflammatory markers, as well as more classic risk factors’. (5) Don’t be ashamed to prioritise it. It has also been increasingly linked to poor sperm quality in men when we don’t get enough. Click here for more.

What should we do more of?

Well the reverse of many of the factors mentioned above, but in a nutshell: it’s not rocket science. It’s about eating real, whole, unprocessed foods, prioritising sleep, taking moderate exercise and avoiding the usual nasties. However, you can take it a bit further…

A little extra help

Once again, focusing on your gut health is helpful. You want to especially preserve the tight junctions within the gut lining as that will prevent anything that shouldn’t get through getting in to your bloodstream. Things that shouldn’t be passing through doing just that are a sure-fire cause of inflammation. Click here to read much more on why this matters and what you can do about it.

There are also known anti-inflammatory foods - here are a few:

  • Berries

  • Dark chocolate

  • Cinnamon

  • Tomatoes

  • Olive oil

  • Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, bok choi

  • Nuts

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)

  • Red wine (in moderation!)

Interestingly there has been clinical research on the power of certain spices, most notably from an anti-inflammatory standpoint:

Turmeric
There have been over ten thousand studies and more than 120 clinical trials on turmeric: ‘Curcumin, an active component of turmeric, is the most widely studied nutraceutical. It is known to possess anti-antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activities. Thus, it is a potential agent against various chronic illnesses. It has been shown to modulate various inflammatory mediators.’ (6)

Other spices and compounds that are worth focusing on are:

  • Cineole: found in basil, cardamom and sage

  • Ginger

  • Rosemary

  • Garlic

  • Fenugreek

  • Cloves

  • Quercetin (found in onions)

  • Piperine (black pepper)

  • Capsicum (peppers)

So avoiding inflammation is pretty much common sense. As usual, once you’re mindful of it, half the battle is won!


References:

  1. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997940/

  2. ELOVITZ MA, BROWN AG, BURD I: Intrauterine inflammation, insufficient to induce parturition, still evokes fetal and neonatal brain injury. International Journal of Developmental neuroscience: the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. 2011 Oct: 29(6): 663-671

  3. ELOVITZ MA, BROWN AG, BURD I: Intrauterine inflammation, insufficient to induce parturition, still evokes fetal and neonatal brain injury. International Journal of Developmental neuroscience: the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. 2011 Oct: 29(6): 663-671

  4. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685

  5. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685

  6. KUNNMAKKARA AB, SAILO BL, AGGARWAL BB: Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked? Journal of Translational Medicine. 2018 (16) (14)

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.