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What Is Systemic Inflammation?

Refined, sugary junk foods is often a cause of inflammation.
Wheat contains gluten, which may cause inflammation.
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  • Written By: Donn Saylor
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2014
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Systemic inflammation is the chronic biological response of blood vessel tissues to dangerous elements like pathogens or damaged cells. The presence of the detrimental stimuli spur the immune system into action, and, as a protective measure, an immune response is emitted that results in inflammation. The effected area will become warm to the touch, red in color, and will typically swell and become noticeably painful. Systemic inflammation is also known as chronic inflammation.

When a harmful agent first enters the system, pro-inflammatory cytokines — protein molecules secreted by the cells of the immune system — are released by immune cells. This alerts the entire immune system to the emergence of a potentially damaging agent present in the body. White blood cells are subsequently dispatched, followed by naturally occurring anti-inflammatories, which work together to stop the progression of the dangerous stimuli and commence healing. This entire process is normal in the human body, but when it occurs on a constant basis it is classified as systemic inflammation.

Chronic systemic inflammation can be caused by a variety of factors, but one fact underlies each of these possible causes. The human body is not set up to engage in daily battle with toxins, infectious agents, or other harmful elements. Exactly how the body responds to this nonstop bombardment is determined by factors like genetics, allergies, diet, mental health, and lifestyle. The incessant struggle and stress the body must endure to put up this fight results in chronic inflammatory diseases.

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Food is one of the main mitigating factors of systemic inflammation. Polyunsaturated vegetable oils, refined sugar, junk food, and gluten are among the chief culprits. A change in eating habits or a diagnosis of a food allergy can have a significant impact on controlling and preventing systemic inflammation. Certain diets may contribute to inflammation as well. A diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein has been shown to create the ideal conditions for inflammation to take hold.

Systemic inflammation can also be caused by environmental factors, stress, and depression. If one is regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals, stress- or panic-inducing situations, or possesses a predisposition to depression, inflammation can become a chronic problem. It can manifest in a variety of ways, from a sore throat to serious joint inflammation.

If gone unchecked, systemic inflammation can lead to a variety of degenerative diseases and autoimmune disorders. Atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, congestive heart failure, and rheumatoid arthritis are some of the most commonly reported. Early intervention and treatment are key to keeping systemic inflammation under control.

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