Inflammation plays significant role in major diseases including heart
disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer. Autistic disorder, cancers,
arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue are all due to inflammation.
Researchers call it the "unifying theory" behind the major killers of
our times --
cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes -- as well as scores of
It's inflammation, which most people know by the red, painful swelling
that follows an injury, bug bite or other surface wound. But it also
exists in tissue far below the skin, and scientists are now convinced
this below-the-eye inflammation is the culprit that worsens many chronic
And while inflammation is the immune system's response for beating back
invaders in the body, inflammation gone awry can lead to heart attacks
and strokes, aid cancers in turning deadly, cause Alzheimer's disease by
destroying brain cells, and usher in diabetes.
Out-of-kilter inflammation is also linked to clinical depression,
schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, asthma, osteoarthritis, liver
disease and hypertension, epilepsy among others disorders.
the best evidence to date of inflammation's crucial role in exacerbating
chronic diseases comes from studies on cancer rates in patients who were
counseled to lower their risk for a heart attack by regularly taking
anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin. That population has a
significantly lower rate of cancer, compared to a similar population not
taking anti-inflammatory medicines, Coussens pointed out.
example of the beneficial effect of controlling inflammation with
over-the-counter medicines, regular use of ibuprofen is associated with
lowered rates of Alzheimer's disease, noted Cynthia Lemere, a professor
of neurology at Harvard Medical School, who spoke at the San Francisco
The growing knowledge of chronic inflammation's
underlying role in so many diseases gives added urgency to the
well-known advice to maintain a healthful lifestyle, including getting
adequate exercise and sleep, maintaining a balanced diet and avoiding
Deficits in nutrition and sleep are linked to increased
inflammation, as is excess stress. Among other benefits, exercise wards
off weight gain, which can also triggers chronic inflammation.
once a disease reaches a serious stage, there's far less optimism among
scientists that controlling inflammation can undo the damage.
all talking about prevention, not reversal," said Lemere.
also excitement among researchers that if a disease is caught early
enough, then taming inflammation could provide an effective tool for
stopping the disease's advance.
Chronic inflammation is caused by the
persistent presence of pathogens and environmental pollutants, lifestyle
and genetics, among others factors.
When the immune system is
functioning normally, its front line fighters swiftly respond to any
injury, such as a splinter puncturing the skin, or an invasion of
microbes from a scrape or bug bite. These warriors, which go by names
like natural killer cells and macrophages, shoot out an arsenal of
chemicals, rip holes into cell walls of invaders, or even consume them
But sometimes these immune cells ineffectively resort to
chemical warfare against the plaque, which then destroy nearby brain
cells. It's this brain cell death that causes the symptoms of
Alzheimer's disease, including severe memory loss and mood swings.
Innate immune cells can cause cardiovascular disease by ingesting "bad
cholesterol" that's begun to literally go rancid. These immune cells can
then get trapped in arterial walls, and contribute to plaque build up.
They may also stay on the attack, causing chronic inflammation. The
plaque can then break off due to inflammation, and form a blood clot
that triggers a heart attack or stroke.
With Type 2 diabetes,
molecules released by both innate immune cells and fat cells are
implicated in interfering with the normal function of insulin, which
regulates blood sugar levels.
When immune cells drop their armor
after detecting danger has passed, they take on a healing role by
secreting substances that promote blood vessel and tissue growth.
But tumor cells can send signals that confuse these immune cells,
causing them to switch allegiance and aid and abet tumor growth instead
of normal tissue growth. Tumors, like any other tissue, need a supply of
oxygen and nutrients that's provided by blood.
Most cancers don't
become deadly until they spread, or metastasize. Researchers believe
it's these hijacked immune cells that foster the spread of cancer. And
if caught before the tumor has spread, anti-inflammatory treatment may
be able to contain the tumor, creating the prospect of cancer becoming a