According to WHO, chronic inflammation is the leading cause of death worldwide. Although it is not something that can be felt as such, chronic inflammation sets the stage for a host of different diseases. In a new review article that is published in StatPearls, the authors look closer at why chronic inflammation is so dangerous and how a healthier lifestyle with vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and fish oil can help fight the inflammation and prevent the many different diseases and early death that follow in its wake.
Inflammation is the immune system’s way of reacting to cellular damage. The irritants may be microbial attacks, toxins, allergic reactions, blows, trauma, burns, radioactive radiation, and other types of injuries. The classical signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, heat, and pain caused by increased blood supply to the affected area and the release of chemical compounds.
The acute inflammation begins swiftly and symptoms of an acute infection such as influenza normally lasts a week or so.
Sub-acute inflammation last between two and six weeks, for example in cases where a regular flu is accompanied by complications such as bronchitis.
Chronic inflammation can last anywhere from months to years. It is often in the form of chronic low-grade inflammation that you cannot feel. It may, however, be accompanied by local pain. Chronic inflammation is normally associated with a compromised immune system.
- Acute inflammation is the body’s way of reacting to different types of cell injuries
- In the case of infections, the body reacts to microbial attacks
Why is chronic inflammation so unhealthy?
Acute inflammation is primarily handled by neutrophilic granulocytes, a type of white blood cells with a short lifespan. If infections, poisoning, and cellular damage are not effectively dealt with, or if the immune system is derailed for other reasons, a state of chronic inflammation in varying degrees may occur and last for several months or even years.
If chronic inflammation occurs, white blood cells such as macrophages, lymphocytes, and plasma cells take over from the neutrophilic granulocytes. The body continues to produce different cytokines such as IL-1, IL-6, TNF-α, and other pro-inflammatory compounds in varying amounts, depending on the type of chronic inflammation.
As part of the inflammatory processes, the immune defense also generates a large quantity of free radicals that can destroy microbes. It is vital that this process is kept on a tight leash to prevent the free radicals from starting chain reactions that can attack healthy cells and tissues. Chronic inflammation is typically associated with oxidative stress, which is an imbalance between harmful free radicals and protective antioxidants. One of the most harmful reactions is when free radicals attack cholesterol, an essential compound, and cause it to become rancid. The oxidized cholesterol, which is useless to the body, is consumed by macrophages and embedded in foam cells in the endothelial layer of the vessel walls. This is how oxidized cholesterol starts the process of atherosclerosis.
Chronic inflammation is not something you feel or notice. Still, it is quite harmful because it causes free radical damage to healthy cells and tissues. Having chronic inflammation also drains the body’s energy levels because the immune defense is constantly in overdrive. The extent of chronic inflammation and the damage it causes varies depending on where in the body it is present and how effectively a person’s immune system can handle it.
Prevention and treatment
It is often possible to prevent and treat chronic inflammation with a healthy diet and lifestyle. One of the most effective ways to avoid the problem is through weight loss, which is because too much abdominal fat sets the stage for chronic inflammation. With regard to the diet, one should strive to eat healthy foods, maintain stable blood sugar levels, and limit one’s intake of refined sugar, white flour, omega-6 from plant oils, margarine, and juice. On the other hand, it is really good to eat more oily fish, whole grain, cabbage, avocado, bitter greens, ginger, and turmeric.
People who suffer from food intolerance should avoid these foods. Also make sure to get enough vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and omega-3.
A group of scientists from National Jewish Health in Denver, USA, has conducted an in-vitro study in which they supplied white blood cells with different doses of vitamin D. The study revealed that vitamin D at levels above 50 nmol/L has the best ability to inhibit inflammation. Other studies suggest that the optimal levels of vitamin D are in the range between 75-120 nmol/L.
Clinical placebo-controlled studies have shown that vitamin D supplements are beneficial when used in connection with diabetes, rheumatoid pain, depression, sclerosis, asthma, periodontal disease, cancer, and psoriasis.
Magnesium is involved in around 350 different enzyme processes. The mineral is also important for the activation of vitamin D, a nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. Magnesium also helps to ensure that cells in soft tissues like blood vessels, muscles, the brain etc. are practically devoid of calcium. If these cells are flooded by calcium ions, it stresses them and may result in inflammation.
According to a group of scientists from Mexico, Iran, and Australia, magnesium supplementation may result in a significant reduction of CRP (C-reactive protein), which is an inflammation marker. Magnesium deficiencies are rather common so it is important to get more magnesium from the diet or from supplements. Make sure to choose high-quality preparations that are easy for the body to absorb.
- Did you know that too much calcium and too little magnesium can set the stage for chronic inflammation?
Selenium-containing proteins block inflammation by inhibiting cytokine IL-6. This was shown in a study of Danish patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
A recent follow-up study of the Swedish KiSel-10 trial has shown that supplementation with selenium and Q10 lowers blood levels of CRP, fructosamine, and sP-selection, all of which are associated with inflammation and may pave the road for atherosclerosis and ageing.
Other studies show that supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium may have a positive effect on patients with autoimmune diseases in the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease). The signs of improvement are seen within a period of 3-6 months.
As mentioned, there can also be a link between cancer and inflammation, and scientists have observed a link between cancer and selenium deficiency in the blood that can be spotted years before the cancer is diagnosed. Studies suggest that selenium has a variety of different anti-cancer mechanisms. The now-deceased cancer scientist, Larry Clark, published the so-called NPC study (Nutritional Prevention of Cancer) where he demonstrated that daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium yeast can lower the risk of three of the most common cancer types by 48-63 percent. It is best to take selenium yeast with many different
selenium types just like you would get from eating a balanced diet with different selenium sources. Also, choose a preparation with documented bioavailability.
Zinc is involved in around 300 different enzyme processes and is part of the important antioxidant, SOD (superoxide dismutase). Zinc counteracts the signaling of lambda interferon, another type of proinflammatory cytokines. This was shown in an Australian study that was headed by scientists from Westmead Institute for Medical Research. If you lack zinc, it may cause your immune defense to overreact to virus infections among other things.
Most skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis are associated with zinc deficiency. It is essential to get plenty of zinc in order to prevent and even treat inflammation.
Omega-3 and fish oil
Inflammatory processes are generally controlled by the two essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6. We primarily get our omega-4 from oily fish, while we get omega-6 from plant oils. Most modern diets typically contain too much omega-6 at the expense of omega-3 and that tends to promote inflammation. Fish oils contains the two omega-3 types called EPA and DHA, both of which have anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that fish oil lowers levels of the pro-inflammatory markers CRP, TNF-alpha, and IL-6.
One daily serving of herring contains a gram of fish oil, which is an amount that can prevent most types of inflammation. In the case of aching joints and other signs of severe inflammation, you may need as much as 4-6 grams of fish oil daily, and that is an amount that normally requires the use of a fish oil supplement.
Roma Pahwa, Amandeep Goyal, Ishwarlal Jialal. Chronic Inflammation. NCBI June 2022
University of Australia. Down on Vitamin D? It could be the cause of chronic inflammation. ScienceDaily. August 7, 2022
National Jewish Health. How vitamin D inhibits inflammation. ScienceDaily 2012
Nicola Veronese et al. Effect of Magnesium Supplementation on Inflammatory Parameters: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients 2022.
Yves Rayssiguier et al. Magnesium deficiency and metabolic syndrome: stress and inflammation may reflect calcium activation. John Libbey Eurotext 2010
Jisun So et al. EPA and DHA differentially modulate monocyte inflammatory response in subjects with chronic inflammation in part via plasma specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators: A randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Atherosclerosis. January 01, 2021
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