Hidden, generalised inflammation is a key cause of most chronic diseases, and of ageing, but is not well recognised in conventional medicine. Localised inflammation, such as that associated with a sprained ankle, is however, a well-known phenomenon and a normal response to injury. A healthy inflammatory response is important for survival, as it is how we repair our bodies.
Conversely, generalised chronic inflammation is due to an out-of-control immune system. Common causes of this include anything that causes stress to our bodies, such as:
- emotional stress, e.g. grief
- sub-optimal temperatures
- too much or too little exercise
- eating poor quality food, which leads to nutritional deficiencies and damage from artificial additives
- eating food to which we are allergic or intolerant
- social isolation and its opposite of ‘too much socialising’
- sleep problems
- ‘toxic’ relationships
- noise pollution
- poor breathing patterns
- chronic or hidden infections (including sub-clinical asymptomatic dental infections)
- heavy metal (e.g. lead), chemical toxins (e.g. pesticides) or biotoxins (e.g. from mould)
- environmental allergens (e.g. pollens).
Well-known diseases that are a result of too much localised inflammation include asthma, seasonal allergic rhinitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Less well-known diseases from generalised chronic inflammation includes pretty much everything else, e.g. cancer, heart disease, obesity, dementia, and some thyroid diseases. Premature ageing is another fallout from too much generalised inflammation.
Most of my patients believe that if they are reasonably healthy and have no diagnosed diseases, they therefore have no generalised inflammation. However, their blood tests reveal the simmering fires of hidden inflammation in their bodies. There are numerous inflammatory markers, but unfortunately these are not standard blood tests in conventional medicine.
Some patients say to me, ‘I’ll just take anti-inflammatories’ when I tell them that their bodies are showing signs of generalised inflammation. However, the side effects from anti-inflammatories (think ibuprofen and steroids) can be serious and include death. They also upset our precious gut microbiome, a factor in many health conditions.
Anti-inflammatories may be appropriate for acute injuries, but they do not treat what started the ‘fire’ in the first place and their side effects must be taken into consideration.
So how do we treat hidden inflammation?
- Treat the underlying cause.
- Utilise as many natural anti-inflammatory tools as possible (and nature has many tools to help).
Dr Tracy Chandler BSc (Hons) MBChB FRNZCGP FNZSCM, PGDipSEM, Cert Dermoscopy, Cert Homeopathy, MACNEM member, gained her degree in England and worked as a GP in Timaru before doing postgraduate training in sports, skin and integrative medicine.
She specialised in integrative (wellness) medicine in line with her increasing interest in the impact of nutrition and environment on health and wellbeing.