Inflammation & Auto Immune DiseaseFit Kitchen
Inflammation: A Companion to Both Immunity and Disease
Our immune systems’ cells recruit the most essential molecules to trigger a process called inflammation which helps our bodies identify and remove pathogens. Inflammation is good when it works; if a bee stings me, I expect my immune system to heal the wound. But sometimes inflammation happens unnoticeably and unexpectedly, and all our energy is used by our cells owing to an erratic inflammatory response.
Debilitating diseases like Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diabetes, and neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Autism, are all paradoxically precipitated by inflammation — a process naturally evolved to help us fight infection — because DNA damage and problems with hormones and other cellular chemical messengers can potentially cause irreversible cellular dysfunction (1)(2).
Unfortunately, identifying the triggers of runaway inflammation is difficult because they are potentially many, with some triggers either being unidentified in our environments, or lacking sufficient correlative ties to inflammation. Even then, the processes involved in inflammation are complicated, and they might not be solely responsible for an illness.
But chances are if we have an autoimmune disease, we have inflammation. Luckily, decisions and measures can be taken to curb or reduce inflammation, like eating better, exercising and quitting smoking. With that said, we should keep trying to identify the causes of chronic inflammation so we can avoid debilitating, uncurable diseases that disrupts our quality of life. Even if inflammation is unavoidable as we age, it is certainly manageable.
The Science Behind Inflammation
Unfortunately, inflammation can occur anywhere, and our bodies don’t always recognize it. White blood cells called macrophages instigate the inflammatory response by recruiting a host of other cells to help create antibodies that neutralize threats from pathogens (3). Dilated blood vessels help specialized cells and molecules gain access to damaged tissues, which produces physical symptoms of inflammation like swelling and redness. Inflammation run amok is called chronic inflammation, which is a leading cause of death for people (3).
Chronic pain has several potential causes, including autoimmune diseases, genetics, and continuous exposure to toxins in our environment. Ultimately, unrelenting inflammation tells us that cells in our bodies aren’t working correctly. If left untreated, chronic inflammation might permanently destroy the replenishing mechanisms of the body, damage our DNA, and negatively impact the adaptive replication of our cells (4).
Inflammation and Chronic Illness
Chronic disease has a domino-like, negative overall effect on human health, even if inflammation is both a necessary function of the immune system and a leading precursor to serious diseases. Inflammation that lasts too long might indicate a chronic condition, which isn’t always easy to diagnose. Ultimately, inflammation can cause many symptoms, some of which might be mistakenly attributed to other illnesses or disregarded as anomalous. For example, the human immune system and mental health affect one another (5).
Recent research shows an indisputable connection between depression and autoimmune disease. But we don’t traditionally associate inflammation with depression, because inflammation is an immune response and depression is a mood disorder. However, depression and inflammation are outcomes of the same fundamental physiological processes — chemical dysregulation and cell dysfunction — that contribute to many physical ailments.
Moreover, telling indicators of chronic inflammation are usually fatigue, and a variety of mood and gastrointestinal problems, because the runaway immune response depletes our bodies’ energy and resources, therefore limiting our capacity to mediate other essential physiological functions (3). So, we can see how inflammation gradually contributes to the impairment of critical bodily functions, leading to a variety of chronic ailments.
Interactions Between the Immune and Digestive Systems
The human gut is the most varied symbiotic bacterial environment in the body with over seventy percent of our immune cells (5). This is no surprise considering the number of potential pathogens our gut is exposed to when we eat. Our digestive system breaks down usable molecules in food for both immune cells and bacteria, and ideally discards dead bacteria in our stool. But an unhealthy diet provides our cells with insufficient nutrition and energy to effectively combat pathogens, leading to potential increases in bad bacteria in our guts that makes us vulnerable to inflammation (6). For example, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is characterized by inflammation in the intestines.
While many IBD patients are genetically predisposed to the illness, they can take health measures to avoid aggravating the disease like drinking lots of water, eating fruits and vegetables and not smoking (7).
Relatively recent research about the human gut suggests that most people have certain central gut microbes in common. Thankfully, many studies suggest that the differences in peoples’ microbiomes can be attributed to dietary choices more than genetics, which means we have some agency over our gut health. Furthermore, one such study asserts that 20 per cent of microbiome differences in a genetically variable test group living in the same environment are attributable to agency-oriented factors like diet and drugs (8).
Furthermore, Vitamins C and D, and Zinc, along with the Mediterranean Diet, are repeatedly touted as immunity promoters in our bodies. In any case, the story about the relationship between our immune and digestive systems is incomplete, but the sheer preponderance of cellular and bacterial activity in our guts supports the hunch that our immune system is maximally affected by our digestive system and, ultimately, the nutrients derived from the foods we eat.
Thankfully, inflammation can be treated. But inflammation has many prospective, and even unpredictable, causes and side-effects that makes identifying remedies for inflammation difficult. We should be mindful that inflammation is influenced by an array of factors, including diet, drugs and environmental stimuli that can start a chain reaction in our bodies. For example, stress makes our bodies release extra hormones that can potentially frustrate our body equilibrium, therefore causing inflammation, which can be accompanied by a host of maladaptive behavioural symptoms like fatigue and excessive hunger.
Chronic and autoimmune diseases can be treated with specific medicines, but be weary of side-effects in drugs. Ultimately though, establishing healthy diets and exercising regularly helps our bodies achieve homeostasis, meaning we nourish our cells so they can communicate effectively to keep us healthy. Arming ourselves against harmful microbes by eating foods like nuts, greens and fish is easier than avoiding bacteria, especially since most bacteria on earth has not been discovered.
Realistically, we exist because of microbes, meaning we have evolved to live with it. Even then, some bacteria can adapt to harm us, or overtake our immune system. Considering that, we can safely assume bacteria plays a substantial role in the prevalence of inflammation and autoimmune diseases. But our bodies are well-adjusted to squelch parasitic invaders, and even more so when we have the knowledge and resources to help our immune system do its job.