What Causes Chronic Inflammation?
There are a number of factors leading to chronic inflammation. Some of these factors can be controlled — such as diet — but others are as a result of unresolved acute inflammation, or as a symptom of an autoimmune disease.
There are many things that may lead to chronic inflammation, including these:
- Sensitivity and hypersensitivity. Sensitivity can be a contributor to chronic inflammation. This would be the case with people who have allergic reactions to things which other bodies wouldn’t identify as a threat, such as seafood or pollen.
- Exposure to irritants. These irritants might be chemicals, pesticides, or pollution that cause an inflammatory response.
- Acute inflammation. Acute inflammation can sometimes turn into chronic inflammation if the body doesn’t heal properly or is unable to dispel a bacteria or virus.
- Foreign material in the body. For example, an unremoved surgical suture or implanted biomedical device may cause some people to experience chronic inflammation.
- Autoimmune disorders. These disorders often lead to chronic inflammation as discussed earlier.
- Parasitic infections and harmful bacteria that the body does not fully remove. These conditions can also lead to chronic inflammation.
- Obesity. As a body gains weight, it produces additional body fat. One of the types of body fat is called white adipose tissue. White adipose tissue has many functions not limited to hormone control, growth, inflammation, and immune system. When a body becomes obese or excessively overweight, fat cells called adipocytes increase in size and number. These fat cells compromise the body’s blood supply, which causes a reduction in oxygen and an increase in cell death.
- The body then secretes cytokines (TNF alpha, IL-6) that stimulate the immune system and trigger an inflammatory reaction throughout the body.
- Prolonged stress. Carnegie Mellon University released a study in 2012 that discovered that chronic psychological stress aids in the body losing its ability to regulate its inflammatory response. Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology within CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, explains, “Inflammation is partly regulated by the hormone cortisol and when cortisol is not allowed to serve this function, inflammation can get out of control.”
- Alcohol. New studies suggest that alcohol can cause inflammation in the intestines and impairs the body’s ability to regulate this inflammation.
- Poor diet. An unhealthy diet can also cause chronic inflammation. Harvard Health Publishing quoted Dr. Fred Tabung, a visiting researcher with the Department of Nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, saying, “A lot of chronic pain is the result of chronic inflammation, and the evidence is quite strong that your diet can contribute to increased systemic inflammation.” A poor diet can cause your immune system to behave abnormally because your body reacts to unhealthy foods similar to the way it reacts to a bacterial infection, causing your body to release an inflammatory response indefinitely.
- Smoking. An article in a 2016 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology explains that nicotine activates white blood cells that release molecules that increase inflammation in the body.
- Lack of sleep. Sleep loss leads to the release of cytokines and acute-phase proteins. These proteins cause a low-grade ongoing level of inflammation.
- Long-term diseases and ailments (apart from autoimmune ones). Other long-term diseases can also play a role in chronic inflammation, such as:
- Bladder infection
- Stomach ulcers
- Type 2 diabetes (although new research suggests this may also be an autoimmune disease)
Sometimes the reason for chronic inflammation is unknown and difficult to diagnose. Such may be the case when someone is unknowingly exposed to an irritant like chemicals or pollution.
In some cases, a body may struggle to heal from an acute injury or sickness, and the process of inflammation becomes prolonged.