Amy Shah, MD, founder of the website Amy MD Wellness (amymdwellness.com), an online program offering dietary counseling, education and support for lowering inflammation, compares the body’s inflammatory response to the antivirus software on our computers.
“We know it’s there, doing its job to keep us healthy, but we don’t really notice it until there’s a problem,” Shah says. “Then when there’s a problem, like if we stop exercising, don’t get enough sleep, stress too much, or consume too many processed foods and sugars, our immune system reacts by generating necessary inflammation, just like when your computer software detects an attack.”
The inflammation mystery
Although a Roman physician named Celsus first identified the signs (and purpose) of acute inflammation around 30 A.D., research on chronic inflammation didn’t see much progress until the second half of the 20th century, about 2,000 years later, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But physicians, scientists and researchers caution that, despite the current high profile of the issue, there are still a number of unknowns.
“Chronic inflammation is still a mystery,” says Michelle Petri, MD, a rheumatologist and a director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. “The actual triggers and how the inflammation occurs are still not well understood. It’s a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors. In any one patient, we can never give an exact answer about how it all started.”
So, while it’s widely accepted that chronic inflammation can either cause or advance many diseases and disorders, the main question that needs to be answered is how it does that, although there are a number of theories from recent studies.
On the subject of how chronic inflammation can cause digestive issues, a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that “inflammation, regardless of its location or extent, sends many local and systemic signals, which in turn may cause changes in the intestine.” Chronic heart failure, the study reported, is also “associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers.”