Systemic Inflammation

SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION Part one of 4 part Blog series Let’s be honest: we all watch Dr. Oz on TV, right? And we’ve all heard of Dr. Andrew Weil, the jolly looking, hippie bearded, granola doctor with the popular health and wellness website, drweil.com.

These doctors have presented one of the newer trends in medical thinking: inflammation is at the heart of many leading diseases like multiple sclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and others. Let’s briefly examine inflammation to see what it is and why it can wreak havoc in places we never expected.

What exactly is inflammation? It is the body’s response to infection and injury, and we’ve all experienced it: infected cuts become red, swollen, warm and painful. Is inflammation good or bad? It is both. Inflammation is good when the body sends inflammatory cells and chemicals to an infected or injured part to destroy bacteria, clear debris, and promote healing of tissue. This “good” inflammation is specific to a localized area of the body and dissipates once the injury is healed.

Inflammation can also be bad if instead of being localized it is systemic: such body wide inflammation can be dangerous resulting in everything from tissue destruction (e.g. joints in rheumatoid arthritis) to death (e.g. sepsis or “blood poisoning”, now called “Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome” or “SIRS”). Sometimes the inflammation does not “heal” and manifest chronic diseases such as arthritis, coronary artery disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, etc. No contemporary health discussion would be complete without mentioning the gut. It turns out that a lot more goes on in the colon than we realize. We all know that billions of bacteria live in our gut, the good and the bad, hopefully all living in a happy steady state together. There are some bad “gram negative” bacteria (you’ve heard of E. coli) that produce toxic products, called endotoxins. Good bacteria limit the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, and lower levels of endotoxin do not enter the bloodstream. However, (and this is something for the Low Carb High Fat folks to consider) a high-fat diet floods the gut with microscopic globules called “chylomicrons” can carry endotoxin right into the body, producing a low grade “endotoxemia” which itself can create chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and, get this – probably contributes to obesity.

This is not the end of the chaos that inflammation brings. It is becoming very clear that inflammation could be the direct cause of many well-known diseases: coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and more. In future posts, we will explore the role inflammation plays in developing coronary heart disease and the hope that research holds in this regard.