Inflammation is a highly complex process within the body. It is the body's response to harmful stimuli, including irritants, damaged cells and pathogens. Inflammation also plays a critical role in wound healing and elimination of infections. However, chronic inflammation can lead to a number of health challenges and diseases, including allergies, asthma, atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Current research is examining the link between chronic inflammation and various cancers and cardiovascular disease. There are some who theorize that chronic inflammation may be the top factor in the general aging of the body. Keeping inflammation balanced in the body is the key to managing it effectively. Below are some of the more common results of inflammation in the body and how they can be effectively managed:
Arthritis is a disease of joint inflammation. There are actually more than 100 different forms of arthritis, ranging from the wear and tear of the joint cartilage (osteoarthritis) to inflammation caused by an overactive immune system (rheumatoid arthritis). It is estimated that 40 million people in the US have some form of arthritis. There have been some interesting studies done of different nutritional supplements to help manage this inflammation, most notably the 2006 NIH "GAITS" study which found the combined use of glucosamine and chondroitin to be as effective as NSAIDs.1
Allergies and Asthma
Allergies and asthma are closely linked, in that allergies can be one of the triggers of an asthmatic "attack" and both maladies are the result of an immune response (or over-response) to an irritant. An asthmatic "attack" is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which transport air to and from the lungs. Asthma is a common disease in the US with some 17 million people being affected, 30% of whom are children. The good news is that when asthma is diagnosed in children and treated early, many of them will lead symptom-free lives 10 years later. Asthma and allergies can be managed under the care of a physician, using medications specifically designed to reduce inflammation in the airways. In some cases, allergies can also be managed through diet and supplementation.
Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease
Recent studies have indicated that inflammation within the bloodstream may be a cause of heart attacks. The theory is that this inflammation may cause plaque to rupture from the vessel walls, which could block the coronary arteries and cause a heart attack. C-reactive protein levels increase during systemic inflammation in the body. It has been suggested that a higher c-reactive protein level in the blood may be an indicator of potential cardiac events. Systemic inflammation which may cause atherosclerosis has been linked to cigarette smoking, hypertension, arterial plaques, and hyperglycemia.
While many diseases of inflammation are best treated by steroids, NSAIDs, or other prescriptions, there are nutritional supplements that may help manage milder forms of inflammation, including omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin, and antioxidants like Lycopene, Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
1. Clegg, D. O., D. J. Reda, et al. (2006). "Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis." N Engl J Med 354(8): 795-808.