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sickness, disease, and the relationship to inflammation

“EVERYTHING IS INFLAMMATION” I was recently at a Standard Process WHOLE FOODS nutritional seminar where the instructor made an interesting statement.  In referring to various disease processes in the body, he said, “Everything is Inflammation“.  What did he mean by this?  Think about it this way.  Practically every single health problem you can name has its foundations in Inflammation.  The funny thing is, I find that very few people have any real idea what Inflammation is, what sorts of things can drive it, or for that matter, how to quench it.

Inflammation comes in two distinct forms, chronic (Systemic) and acute (Localized).  Acute Inflammation is characterized by the Latin terms Rubor (Redness), Dolar (Pain), Tumor (Swelling), Calor (Heat), and Functio Laesa (Loss of Function).  These are the things that happen when you sprain and ankle, burn your leg, put your low back out of place, or hit your thumb with a hammer.   A certain amount of acute inflammation is a good thing, as it is actually necessary for healing.  The problem, however, is not so much the Acute Inflammation that occurs in our bodies, but the CHRONIC SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION that most of us are carrying around with us 27 / 7 / 365. 

Chronic Inflammation is the collective name given to a group of Immune System chemicals that are released by your body in response to tissue damage.  When these chemicals are driven to abnormally high levels — usually due to damage from dietary and lifestyle factors (CRAPPY DIETS, poor exercise choices (too much or too little), SMOKING, heavy drinking, sedentary jobs, DRUGS & CERTAIN MEDICATIONS (ANTIBIOTICS are the worst), emotional or physical stress (HERE), etc, etc); bad things happen —- really bad things.  Before we cover some of the more common disease processes that are driven by Inflammation, it might prove helpful to see the names of some of these immune system chemicals.

  • Kinnins
  • C3 and C5a
  • Factor XII
  • Substance P
  • Histamine
  • Membrane Attack Complex
  • Thrombin
  • Plasmin
  • Cytokines   (As you’ll soon see, extremely common.  This family contains numerous immuno-modulaters made up of proteins.  These proteins carry messages between cells that regulate immune system responses.  The most common of these are interleikins (IL) and interferon (IFN). 
  • Chemokines such as MCP-1 and MIP-1β
  • Certain kinds of Immunoglobulins (IgA, IgE, IgF, IgG, etc, etc)  (These are what are seen in ALLERGIES, Sensitivities, and Intolerances — usually to food, although other things can be involved as well.)
  • Growth Factors of All Sorts, including what’s found on THIS LIST.
  • IFN-y (Interferon Gamma)
  • Various forms of TNF (Tumor Necrosis Factors)
  • A wide array of Interleukins (IL- 6 and IL- 1 are both common culprits)
  • Leukotrienes
  • Prostaglandins (PG)
  • Eicosanoids
  • Nitric Oxide (NO)
  • Too many others to list — this list grows every day

Unfortunately, here in America, Inflammation is, to a large degree, controlling most people’s lives.  Where does Systemic Inflammation start?   Usually in the Gut, and almost always via one or both of two different pathways (DYSBIOSIS or LEAKY GUT SYNDROME).  A leaky gut occurs when the small intestine barrier that normally keeps things like large undigested food particles, viruses, bacteria, yeast, MOLD, fungus, PARASITES, and other toxins, out of your blood stream, opens wide the door and lets them in.   Poor Gut Flora (aka Dysbiosis) is the imbalance when bad bacteria and things like H. PYLORI, SIBO, or CANDIDA take over your Gut.    It is highly unlikely you’ll hear any of this from your doctor, even though the peer-reviewed scientific literature is overflowing with studies on these topics. 

Your doctor will continue to treat the symptoms of your various inflammatory health problems (DIABETES, MIGRAINES, THYROID PROBLEMS, ADD / ADHD, OBESITY, etc) without ever touching on — or even mentioning the root causes.  The problem is that not dealing with the underlying cause(s) of Systemic Inflammation frequently leads to AUTOIMMUNITY —- the process whereby your Immune System begins making antibodies against, and attacking its own cells, glands, organs, nerves, joints, muscles, and other tissues. 

As Leaky Gut Syndrome repeatedly damages the intestinal lining and the “MICROBIOME” (one’s flora) becomes progressively dysbiotic, the Gut is increasingly unable to perform its two main functions. Number one, digestion suffers.  It is easy to understand that if you damage the lining of the Gut, you will not be able to break down and absorb nutrients in a proper manner (you might end up with CONSTIPATION or IBS symptoms as well).  But number two could be even bigger.  The second way that Leaky Gut Syndrome destroys health is by destroying your Immune System.  You see, 80% of your entire Immune System is found in your Gut (HERE).  This means that problems in the Gut are going to affect your overall health — usually in a big way! 

As your Immune System continues to attack the foreign invaders that are pouring through the sieve that has become your intestinal lining, your body becomes more and more reactive.  Before long, it starts attacking itself in almost every conceivable fashion.  This is why I have always said that Autoimmune Diseases are like Lay’s Potato Chips —- you can’t have just one.  They tend to swarm around like a pack of hungry wolves.  Once your system is “Autoimmune”, you are just as likely to have several Autoimmune Diseases as you are to have only one (HERE is a list, and HERE is a common mechanism).

Be aware that the underlying Inflammation has probably been smouldering for years — or even decades before a named disease process actually becomes visible to the point where doctors can actually put a name on it (one reason that MUPS is one of medicine’s biggest dirty little secrets).  I have created a list of some of the more common Disease Processes that are intimately related to Inflammatory Processes.  Many of these are also of the Autoimmune Family as well (see previous link).  Just remember that any time you see the word “itis“, it is the Greek word for Inflammation (Arthr–itis, Burs–itis, Gastr–itis, etc, etc, etc).


  • ACID REFLUX:  Otherwise known as GERD, the combination of food sensitivities (particularly GLUTEN), high pH (not enough strong stomach acid), and H. Pylori (HERE), are the known cause of gastritis and upper digestive tract ulcerations (Great information about your body’s ACID / ALKALI BALANCE).
  • ACNE:  Although I’ve written about Acne as it pertains to Gluten (HERE, there is ample evidence that it is a distinctly “Western” problem, caused largely by inflammation (HERE and HERE)
  • ALLERGIES & SENSITIVITIES:  These can cause both Chronic and Acute Inflammation (HERE), and are highly related to the “HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS“.
  • ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE:  Chronic Inflammation kills brain cells.  Sugar is one of the most inflammatory substances you can put in your body (HERE).  Alzheimer’s is essentially “Diabetes” of the brain (HERE is an interesting post on the subject). 
  • ANEMIA:  Inflammation (certain Cytokines) decrease red blood cells via diminished EPO production (EPO carries oxygen and is often used by cyclists as a PED or Performance Enhancing Drug).  HERE is some information on Anemia.
  • ANKYLOSING SPONDYLITIS:  Inflammation in the form of TNF α and IL-1 cause the body to create immune responses against its own joints.  Along with several others, it’s associated with the HLA-B27 antigen (HERE).
  • ASTHMA:  Now thought to be an Autoimmune Disease, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, the incidence has exploded to approximately 7% of our population.  HERE is more information on the subject.
  • AUTISM:  Autoimmune / Inflammatory cytokine responses are heavily related to GUT HEALTH and can cause abnormal development of the brain.  AUTISM information.
  • ARTHRITIS, INCLUDING RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS:  Autoimmune inflammatory cytokine responses attack and destroy both the joint surfaces and fluid that lubricates them (HERE and HERE).  Be aware that even though degenerative osteoarthritis was until recently, believed to be simply due to wear and tear (HERE), we now know that Inflammation plays a huge part in it’s pathogenesis (HERE).
  • CANCER:  Yes, it’s true.  CANCER is one of the “Inflammatory Diseases” as well.  It is critical you understand that sugar is cancer’s FOC (FOOD OF CHOICE).
  • CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME:   Chronic inflammatory responses cause scar tissue in the form of FASCIAL ADHESIONS & TENDINOSIS of the wrist.  This compromises the integrity of the nerves in the region.  More information HERE.  By the way, there are an increasing number of experts who believe that CTS is a form of Peripheral Neuropathy (more in a moment).
  • CELIAC DISEASE:  Chronic inflammatory immune responses to wheat protein as well as the enzymes that break it down and digest it, cause damage to the Gut (HERE).   And for those who still believe the old line that just because you don’t have CD you can’t have Gluten Sensitivity, HERE, HERE, and HERE are some posts to show you otherwise.
  • CROHN’S DISEASE:  Chronic inflammatory immune responses cause severe damage to the Gut (HERE), and is heavily associated with both Gluten Sensitivity and IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME.  Although issues with GUT HEALTH do not always cause “gut” problems, they are always related to Inflammation (HERE).
  • CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE / HEART ATTACK:  Inflammatory responses have been implicated in all forms of heart disease and cardiovascular events, including HIGH CHOLESTEROL and Myocardial Infarctions (MI).
  • DENTAL PROBLEMS / CAVITIES / GUM DISEASE:  Read a quote taken from Web MD.
    “In one recent study, people with serious gum disease were 40% more likely to have a chronic condition on top of itOver time, inflammation and the chemicals it releases eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold teeth in place. The result is severe gum disease, known as periodontitis. Inflammation can also cause problems in the rest of the body.”  For more about dental issues both as the result of inflammation as well as causing occult inflammation, HERE and HERE are the posts.
  • DEPRESSION:  DEPRESSION and all sorts of other mental problems, are known to be heavily influenced by Inflammatory mediators.  HERE is a post specifically on this topic.
  • ECZEMA:  Chronic inflammatory response drives the immune system to make antibodies against one of the enzymes that breaks down Gluten (HERE).
  • FIBROMYALGIA / ADRENAL FATIGUE:  Inflammatory reactions attack muscles, fascia, tendons, etc, causing inordinate amounts of pain.  Thought to be Autoimmune and aggravated by food sensitivities and nutritional deficiencies.  More information HERE and HERE.
  • FIBROSIS / SCAR TISSUE:  This one hits close to home.  Inflammatory cytokines irritate tissue (MUSCLES, LIGAMENTS, and FASCIA — and even with TENDONS) that has been compromised via traumatic (WHIPLASH, SPORTS, etc), or repetitive / postural injury (DEGENERATIVE ARTHRITIS, FHP, etc).  The result is that FIBROSIS (the fancy doctor’s word for SCAR TISSUE) has become America’s #1 cause of death (HERE).  All of this is due to the fact that inflammation always results in Fibrosis (HERE).
  • GALL BLADDER PROBLEMS:  Strongly related to Leaky Gut Syndrome, inflammation attacks the bile duct and causes excess cholesterol production (an inflammatory problem of its own). Many researchers throw Appendicitis in this category as well, as many believe it to be an Autoimmune Disease.  HERE is a cool post on liver function.
  • GUILLIAN-BARRE SYNDROME:  An Autoimmune attack on various parts of the nervous system — frequently triggered by chemical toxicity or VACCINES
  • HASHIMOTO’S THYROID DISEASE:  This is Autoimmune Hypothyroidism due to the body making antibodies against its own thyroid.  Much more information HERE.
  • INFERTILITY / SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION:  Although these problems are in no ways identical to each other, they can both have similar roots.  The number one cause of INFERTILITY in America is PCOS.  We now know that large numbers of cases of SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION — probably the majority — have their roots in Inflammation as well (HERE).
  • CERTAIN KIDNEY PROBLEMS: Kidneys can be damaged, or even destroyed by restricted circulation caused by Inflammatory Cytokines.
  • LUPUS:  Autoimmunity induced by Inflammatory Cytokines attacks the various Connective Tissues of the body.
  • MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS:  When exposed to Inflammatory Cytokines, some people develop an Autoimmunity to the nerve’s “Meylin Sheath”.  HERE is some interesting information on MS.
  • NEUROPATHY:  This covers a lot of ground, including things like RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome), Diabetes, and even CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME.  Inflammatory Compounds attack both Connective Tissues and the Neurovascular Bundle, irritating nerves.  More on NEUROPATHY.
  • OBESITY:  As crazy as it sounds, OBESITY is considered to be an inflammatory condition.  Obesity and BLOOD SUGAR DYSREGULATION are two sides of the same coin.  The abstract of a six year old study done at Harvard University’s medical school stated that, “A chronic state of inflammation often accompanies the accumulation of excess lipid [fat] in adipose tissue and liver [fatty liver], evidenced by changes in both inflammatory cells and biochemical markers of inflammation. These changes can be seen in the involved tissues and systemically, in terms of elevated circulating levels of inflammatory markers.
  • OSTEOPOROSIS:  Yep; believe it or not, OSTEOPOROSIS is now being specifically related to Systemic Inflammation.  HERE are the studies (there are a bunch).
  • PANCREATITIS:  Inflammatory Cytokines cause cellular injury and death in the Pancreas.  Again, anything that ends in “itis” is inflammatory.  Pancreatitis is a debilitating problem that frequently ends in Pancreatic Cancer.
  • PSORIASIS & PSORIATIC ARTHRITIS:  Chronic Inflammation of both the liver and gut leads the body to Autoimmune responses that effect the skin and joints.
  • POLYMYALGIA RHEUMATICA:  This is characterized by Autoimmune attacks against muscles and fascia —- caused by Inflammatory Cytokines (HERE).
  • SCLERODERMA:  Sclero (hardening), Derma (skin).  Inflammatory Cytokines cause Autoimmune responses to certain Connective Tissues resulting in scarring and hardening of botht the skin and in some cases, organs.
  • VASCULAR ACCIDENTS / STROKES:  This could be lumped into the Congestive Heart Failure / Heart Attack section above.  Although all sorts of things get the credit for this (i.e.  HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL — itself a reaction to inflammation) the truth is that this class of disease is caused by high levels of inflammatory markers coursing through the body.  HERE is the information on hypertension (High Blood Pressure), which is also thought to be Inflammatory.
  • OTHERS:  HERE is another list of Inflammatory Problems, as well as a list of autoimmune diseases that are also known to be inflammatory in nature (HERE).  The truth is, almost every single problem you can name is being tied to Inflammation.  The field of EPIGENETICS has made us realize that this is actually true for most of the diseases that we used to scapegoat off on our family.

ATTACKING INFLAMMATION AT ITS SOURCE We know that Inflammation is an Immune System response.  Other than giving patients various IMMUNO-SUPPRESSIVE DRUGS, NON-STEROIDAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATIONS (NSAIDS), or CORTICOSTEROIDS, there is little that modern medicine is effectively doing to help people with these above-mentioned problems.  It’s not that these drugs don’t work.  In fact, these drugs can sometimes provide nearly miraculous short-term results.  It’s just that said results are both short-lived and cause serious and even deadly side effects (can anyone say VIOXX?).  Covering Inflammation with drugs is similar to your mechanic covering your “check engine” light with duct tape — and then patting you on the back and telling you your problem is solved, while charging you big bucks to do it.  As you might imagine, this approach always leads to further problems. 

Several months ago, I wrote about the cause and cure of practically all kinds of sickness and disease. A small but growing body of mainstream physicians are starting to come around to the way that the “Alternative Practitioners” have been thinking for decades.  According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Blood Sugar Solution, Inflammation is the root of all kinds of disease process.  Just listen to his words from a 2010 blog about healing Autoimmune Diseases.

INFLAMMATION IS A “HOT” TOPIC IN MEDICINE. It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease — from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression.

And what, pray-tell, might be the best ways to deal with Inflammation-induced Autoimmunity?  To grasp the answer, you first need to see some of the things Dr. Hyman listed as triggers.  Hidden Infections such as H. PYLORI, YEASTS, MOLDS, SIBO, and other forms of DYSBIOSIS.  Food Sensitivities — particularly GLUTEN (he talked about using an ELIMINATION DIET if you would rather not get tested). Heavy metal toxicity — particularly lead and MERCURY (although not a “heavy” metal, ALUMINUM is equally damaging).  There are also ADVANCED GLYCALATION END-PRODUCTS, HEAD TRAUMAS, PARASITES, OVER-MEDICATION, along with many many others.  He went on to talk about FIXING THE GUT, PROBIOTICS, FISH OIL, and other nutritional helps.  This goes hand in hand with checklist created by FUNCTIONAL NEUROLOGIST, Dr. David M. Marquis, called, “How Inflammation Affects Every Aspect of Your Health“.

 Diet: Alcohol, Gluten, Casein, Processed Foods, Sugar, Fast Food Medications: Corticosteroids, Antibiotics, Antacids, Xenobiotics Infections: Such as H-Pylori, Yeast or Bacterial Overgrowth, Viral or Parasite Infection Stress: Increased Cortisol, Increased Catecholamines Hormonal: Thyroid, Progesterone, Estradiol, Testosterone Neurological: Brain Trauma, Stroke, Neuro-degeneration Metabolic: Glycosylated End Products (inflammatory end products of sugar metabolism), Intestinal Inflammation, Autoimmune 

Hopefully you are beginning to see how big a deal Inflammation is, as well as the terrible consequences of letting it spiral out of control.  Truthfully, it is not a stretch to say that Inflammation is at the root of the vast majority of all sickness and disease (and as I showed you, death) here in America.  If you can effectively manage your Inflammation, you have just put yourself on the path to getting well. 

Where is the best place to start?  How about looking at the importance of an ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET — my favorite being PALEO.  For some of you, getting out of pain and returning to health might take a bit more than just changing your diet.  For an incredible generic protocol for taking control of inflammation, take a look at THIS SHORT POST.


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