Thus far, research has been unsuccessful in determining why this supposed “self-regulating” system will sometimes fail to stop or will engage when it’s not needed. The built-in braking system doesn’t apply and chronic inflammation is the result. While there is no clinically-proven reason, some studies have suggested a variety of causes and concerns that may be behind this problem.
Dr. McDonald has suggested that it could very well just be biological; a subpar inflammatory response to infection leaves some bacteria behind and when they grow the body over-responds to this left-behind-invader.
In a recent study, researchers at Georgia State University’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences found that a protein called CYLD actually acts like a brake-pedal to turn off this biological response. An uncontrolled inflammatory response could be the result of a problem with the body’s production or use of this particular protein.
Catherine Duggan, Ph.D., a principal staff scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has stated, “Excess adipose, or fatty, tissue generates inflammatory cytokines. So being overweight can mean your body is in a state of long-term, low-grade inflammation.”
A recent study, published in the medical journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, proposed that being less conscientious may increase your risk of high CRP levels by as much as 50%. Angelina Sutin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee said, “Those less conscientious are more likely to smoke, exercise less, and eat less healthy foods. The trait is also associated with greater stress-related activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, along with excess body weight – both of which contribute to inflammation.” Another study suggested a link between being open to new experiences and lower levels of inflammation, confirming that personality traits may indeed have an effect.
Stress has been a known culprit in the battle with inflammation, as it’s been known to increase cortisol levels and create other hormonal imbalances; however, more and more research is connecting stress to the body’s immune response and chronic inflammation. A recent study revealed a surprisingly strong link between stress, higher inflammation levels and depression, showing that patients struggling with depression had 50% higher levels of CRP and IL-6. Victoria Maizes, M.D., the executive director of the university of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine believes, “Chronic stress changes gene activity of immune cells before they enter the bloodstream.” Basically, they think they’re going in to fight an infection and even if there isn’t one to fight they will spur inflammation.
Probably most surprising was the link found between loneliness and increased inflammation. Steve Cole, Ph.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA lead a study that revealed the body interprets loneliness as a threat and responds with norepinephrine (a fight-or-flight hormone), increasing the inflammatory genes. The study found that loneliness predicated inflammation even a year later and inflammation also predicated loneliness, indicating that they may propagate one another in a vicious cycle.
Finally, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that the gut may play a major role in inflammation and its responses. About 70% of the immune system operates out of the gut, so an imbalance in gut bacteria may have an impact. If gut microbiome is off, the resulting inflammation may fuel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer as well as conditions outside the realm of digestion. “Problems with the microbiome can contribute to inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, depression, and neurological disease,” says Eamonn Quigley, M.D., the section chief of gastroenterology at Houston Methodist Hospital. For more information surrounding gut health and other associated conditions, check out our dietary health article “All About Grains”