Inflammation is an underlying cause of the most of the present day chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, psoriasis, eczema, allergies and asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.

To understand inflammation and the role it plays in chronic diseases it is important first to know how your immune system functions. 

Innate and Adaptive Immunity

Your immunity has two subtypes – innate immunity and adaptive immunity.

Innate or native immunity kicks in at the first sign of pathogens. Its foot soldiers- white blood cells called phagocytes (macrophages, dendritic cells, and neutrophils) engulf and destroy the pathogens. This type of immunity is non-specific in nature and works against any kind of threat. Once the defensive action is over, these cells display pieces of pathogens on their surface to signal other parts of the immune system to continue with the attack on pathogens.

Adaptive or acquired immunity is part of the immune response that develops over time.  It gets honed as your body acquires a memory of specific pathogens that it encounters. Type of white blood cells, known as T and B lymphocytes, are instrumental in keeping the database of familiar pathogens. They use this information to mount a more efficient defense the next time if the same pathogens attack the body. The entire rationale of vaccination rests on adaptive or acquired immune response.

How does inflammation work?

Inflammation is a vital function of your innate immune system that is triggered immediately when it detects invading pathogens or a damaged tissue. At the place of impact,  the walls of tiny blood vessels expand to bring more blood to the area. They also become more porous so that fluid, proteins, and white blood cells are allowed to move into the spaces between cells to stop the damage from spreading to adjoining areas. Also, the five signs of inflammation namely pain, redness, immobility, swelling and heat begin to manifest. 

The final stage of the inflammatory process is termination and repair. Once the offending pathogen has been eliminated, tissue repair begins. The surviving cells regenerate to replace damaged ones. Cells that are part of less complex structures such as the surface of the skin renew easily. Cells in more complicated organs such as liver or glands that do not normally renew may do so after the damage has occurred. If the renewal of normal tissues does not happen, scar tissue may form at the site to fill in the deficits. However, if after the abatement of threat, the immune responses remain active inflammation continues and cause harm to the body.

Inflammation is responsible for many chronic diseases and conditions 

Metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes

Most of the cases of metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes are due to insulin resistance. The apple-shaped belly fat in obesity is the hardest to lose and is an indicator of high insulin levels in the body. High insulin signals the fat cells to store more fat. The resultant fat storage, in turn, makes a person feel hungry and unleash a vicious cycle of high insulin levels, fat storage, and a big weight gain.

The fat cells have a preponderance of macrophages, the white blood cells instrumental in chronic inflammation. Fat cells also produce more of cytokines or chemical messengers required for the development of inflammation. No wonder obesity serves as the root cause of many chronic conditions.

In type  2 diabetes insulin resistance leads to overflowing of fat cells in your body. This causes excess fat cells to congregate in places where fat has no business to be such as the liver, muscles, and other organs. In response to excess fat cells, your innate immune system sends macrophage to clean these organs. The resultant increase in the concentration of macrophage not only causes chronic inflammation but also lowers the levels of a protective hormone called adiponectin that helps to increase cells’ sensitivity to insulin.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD)

Inflammation and not cholesterol is the primary cause of CVDs. Inflammation causes wear and tear of the wall of arteries where LDL particles settle in as a bandage. This causes the artery wall to thicken and stiffen, restricting the blood flow. If these deposits break open, the contents can spill into the bloodstream and trigger a heart attack.

Inflammation of the brain can block the small arteries and cause strokes and silent strokes that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Therefore the important test for detecting your likelihood of having CVDs is the C-reactive Protein (CRP) test that measures the level of inflammation in your body.  To get right readings kindly be sure to be off analgesic for a few days before the blood test. 


Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells multiply at a faster rate causing a build-up on the skin. Though a skin disease, psoriasis actually starts inside the body as a result of immune system abnormality that causes inflammation. This is the reason psoriasis occurs with other conditions such as stress, obesity, alcohol use, and viral infections.

Inflammatory bowel disease

Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease come under inflammatory bowel diseases that affect the digestive system.  Genes predisposition may be responsible for causing an abnormal response of the immune system to gut bacteria. People with inflammatory bowel diseases also have a heightened risk of inflammatory eye and skin conditions, as well as chronic inflammation in the lung and airways, blood clots, liver and bile disorders.

Inflammation link to  allergies, eczema, and asthma

Allergy is the result of a hypersensitive immunity. In allergy, certain white blood cells called T cells ( Type 2 or Th2) start responding to the harmless substance such as pollen and molds to trigger activation of mast cells ( responsible for increased production of histamine and other substances instrumental in an allergic reaction) and eosinophils. Cytokines or chemical messenger produced by Th2 cells start the allergic response. The activation of Th2 cells also leads to the production of IgE antibodies. These antibodies are capable of triggering allergic reaction whenever they encounter the same allergen again.

Eczema is an inflammatory skin disease that affects children more. It is seen that people with eczema have high blood levels of IgE antibodies and suffer from associated allergic conditions such as asthma, food allergies, and hay fever.

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways that restrict the flow of air. In many people, it is an allergic disease triggered because of the exposure to allergens. The inflammation and mucous released by the cells makes the muscles around the airways to contract and narrow the passage. Mast cells release histamine and eosinophils that in turn cause more inflammation.

Inflammation and joints – Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Gout

Inflammation is a key player in diseases of the joints. Rheumatoid Arthritis is an example of a progressive autoimmune disease in which prolonged inflammation damages the joints. The inflammation begins in the tissue lining and gradually damage the tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone. The cells of synovial tissue also begin to multiply and form rough, grainy tissue that grows into the joint cavity and erodes the cartilage. A full-blown case of  RA can severely restrict the mobility of a person.

Gout is a painful and debilitating form of inflammatory arthritis where uric acid get accumulated in the joints. The presence of uric acid triggers the release of cytokines. These messengers, in turn, get other white blood cells to the scene causing pain, heat, and swelling.

Knowing that inflammation is responsible for many chronic diseases and condition, you must embrace a healthy lifestyle. Make healthy food choices, exercise, restrict smoking and alcohol, maintain ideal body weight and give enough rest to your body and mind.

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