If chronic inflammation is at the origin of most of the illnesses that take away our sleep (aging, tumors, Alzheimer’s …), the drugs that stop it are outlined, in theory, as a possible solution for almost everything. The practice, however, is much more complex. What is known to work? Move around, eat vegetables and live in peace.
It sounds bad, but it isn’t always. Inflammation is a very common physiological process . “The way our body has to detect damage and try to repair it. If we lacked it, we could suffer very serious problems by not being able to perceive that we have an infection or injury”, says Africa González, president of the Spanish Society of Immunology (SEI) . Blessed alarm signal.
But, sometimes, “the inflammation does not end, it becomes chronic, it is exaggerated and, finally, it deteriorates the organs, since when trying to repair them it does so abnormally (with fibrosis, tissue destruction, calcifications, etc.),” adds the immunologist. This chronic inflammation, unlike the acute one, is involved in the development of a multitude of diseases , from autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease …) to hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, obesity, diabetes or mental disorders.
Long-term stress and strains, such as caring for a family member, appear to increase blood levels of inflammatory markers, although more research is needed
The list of health problems that have inflammation in common is continually lengthening with the results of new research demonstrating that connection. However, inflammation is also a kind of tailor’s box that can fit many conditions., although each one triggers a different immune response. Let’s imagine inflammation like the fuse box we find in a new house. We can look for the switch that turns on the living room light or the one that turns off the alarm (just as we hope to pull the lever that disables cancer or plaque of atheroma), but the circuit is puzzling: some switches are marked in red (do not touch), others have no indicator and others are described in a foreign language, “sketches an article in The New York Times Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist at Columbia University (USA) and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for a novel biography of the cancer that he himself suffered.
The goal that makes the medical community sleepy is to unravel how that complex light box works, but also to find out what the chances are that a molecule of the immune response will act as a switch for different diseases. For example, those with intestinal inflammation have been found to be 23% more likely to have a heart attack . And those under 40 are the most at risk.
This is how the perfect cancer storm breeds
Other studies point to a link between obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer . Jorge Moscat, director of the Cancer Metabolism Program of the Sanford Burnham Prevys Institute, in La Jolla (California), explains: “Obesity is a form of chronic inflammation. This combines two major clear mechanisms of tumor promotion: hypernutrition ( that feeds tumors) and type 2 diabetes, which promotes tumorigenesis due to insulin resistance in the liver, fat, and so on. ” The combination of all these factors gives rise, according to Moscat, “to a perfect storm for tumor progression.”
Alzheimer’s and depression are other candidates to swell the list of diseases in which chronic inflammation is involved. Keenan Walker of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, USA, has found that people in their 40s and 50s with elevated blood levels of five markers related to widespread inflammation have brain volume. reduced decades later (a loss of these cells is related to Alzheimer’s), and less memory.
Another work, led by the gerontologist Bertrand Fougère, from the University Hospital of Toulouse (France), highlights that biological aging is characterized by a low-grade level of chronic inflammation. “The phenomenon is called ‘inflammatory aging’ and is a highly significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in older people,” he observes. According to his research, it is due to causes such as oxidative stress in the body, imbalances in the immune system, hormonal changes, and wear of the telomeres (arms of the chromosomes). ” The result is that inflammatory aging plays a role in the onset and progression of age- related diseases , such as increased frailty, osteoporosis, and cancer.”
Can an anti-inflammatory have preventive powers?
The question is: could these common diseases be avoided with anti-inflammatory drugs? Ángel Gil, professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the Rey Juan Carlos University (Madrid), replies: “Since the appearance of immunomodulatory drugs, which act directly on the phenomena of inflammation, the situation has changed”, so much so that Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease, which until a few years ago lacked effective treatment, “could eventually be anecdotal.” Other anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or corticosteroids, which have a recognized efficacy for a multitude of health problems, ” are not recommended as primary prevention of chronic diseases,, due to the adverse effects they cause “, warns Gil.
All in all, the idea that taking a simple anti-inflammatory could prevent some types of cancer is seductive, a hypothesis that Jorge Moscat admits from the outset: “In fact, although it is still controversial, aspirin is emerging as a way to prevent colon cancer. However, this would lead to unwanted adverse effects. Furthermore, although it is clear that chronic inflammation is essential in tumor initiation and development, we still do not know the exact mechanisms and, therefore, it is difficult to establish the appropriate therapeutic targets. “In his opinion, the door to use should not be closed aspirin to prevent colorectal cancer, including melanoma, ovarian or pancreatic cancer, but there are many loose ends that need to be defined due to its consequences, warns the National Cancer Institute of the United States. Of course, reflects the professor of Preventive Medicine: “Effects We can obtain similar ones with a healthy lifestyle “.
Better start by subtracting an hour from work and adding it to sports
We live in an environment riddled with factors that favor chronic inflammation. Africa González lists them: “Pollution, smoking, low physical activity and stress”; It also highlights the importance of being overweight and obese, “considered a chronic inflammation —lipoinflammation is mentioned— that can lead to the metabolic syndrome (diabetes, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, elevated cholesterol, triglycerides, and uric acid).”
Knowing the factors that favor the development of chronic inflammation, the general opinion among scientists is that by correcting some it is possible to slow down the inflammatory progression . This is the case of physical inactivity, related to a larger waist size, which in turn is associated with higher blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of chronic inflammation), points out a Danish study published in PLOS ONE .
And how does exercise deflate? Alejandro Lucía, professor of Exercise Physiology at the European University of Madrid, explains: “Each acute episode of exercise produces the release of myokines into the blood, molecules that have an anti-inflammatory effect because they inhibit the secretion of pro-inflammatory substances.” And it can last for a few hours. The benefits of exercise are multisystemic (in all tissues). “There is no drug that does this, and it works by dose / response: that is, the more the better,” stresses the professor. ” Exercise prevents the development of many cardiometabolic or chronic diseases of our time, and when the disease has already manifested itself, sport can slow its development.”
Stress also appears on the proinflammatory stage (promotes inflammation). The psychologist Julia Vidal, member of the council of experts of the Stress and Emotion Management Area of the Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC) and of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress(SEAS), remember that when faced with anxiety, the body responds with more muscle tension or blood pressure. “And this affects our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Hormones and neurotransmitters are secreted that reach the bloodstream, muscles and organs, and when this reaction is intense or sustained, it is no longer adaptive and can affect our health.” In a continuous way, it deteriorates the organism by two different routes: “It modifies our habits [when we are stressed we tend to eat hypercaloric foods, to smoke, drink or stop exercising] or with a sustained secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters that damage it (reduces defenses of the immune system, increases blood pressure, digestive disorders …) “, alerts. ”
Be careful with the buns: they don’t just inflate you on the outside
It is clear that our lifestyle influences, and a lot, the degree of inflammation of the body, and diet is a fundamental piece. Ramón de Cangas, an academic at the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, traces some basic brushstrokes on pro-inflammatory diets: ” They are very rich in energy and abundant in saturated fats, trans, salt and added sugars , from red and processed meats, food fast, salty snacks, soft drinks and pastries. In addition, they are characterized by the presence of endocrine disruptors and being poor in vegetable foods, fresh or poorly processed, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts or whole grain derivatives “.
Dietitian-nutritionist Miguel Aganzo Yeves, from the Fundación Jiménez Díaz, explains: “Some studies have suggested that many foods modulate inflammation acutely and chronically, although they have limitations.” And he gives two examples of how it inflames each group of nutrients : “Dietary fatty acids can affect inflammatory processes through effects on weight or body fat and cause a change in the composition and function of the cell lipid membrane. Carbohydrates, for their part, are related to inflammation and oxidative stress due to post-intake glucose levels (postprandial glucose), considered a predictor of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. ”
Just as the diet can inflame, it can also do the opposite – which does not mean that it is an “anti-inflammatory diet”, a claim rejected by most experts. Aganzo points out: “EPA fatty acids and some molecules with anti-inflammatory effects derived from DHA (both are omega 3 fatty acids) actively reduce the pro-inflammatory state: they are the nutrients provided mainly by fish and their derivatives.”
Fiber, on the podium against inflammation; but don’t be monotonous and diversify
If there is a food that concentrates scientists’ interest, it is fiber, a devotion that is justified by its influence on the composition of populations of intestinal bacteria (microbiota), which affects the development of many diseases (including obesity and diabetes). ” A high fiber diet (30 grams a day) decreases the concentrations of inflammatory markerslike C reactive protein. For example, a diet high in complex carbohydrates, relatively high in fiber and low in fat has been shown to reduce the incidence of diabetes by 50% in the long term, “says Fundación Jiménez Díaz researcher.” And a diet rich in vegetables that provide fermentable fibers (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain cereals, nuts and seeds) have an impact on immune function thanks to butyrate [a short-chain fatty acid produced during the fermentation of the fiber by the microbiota intestinal]”.
“A diet that fights inflammation improves bone health and reduces the risk of hip fractures in postmenopausal women younger than 63,” Journal of bone and mineral research
But the maximum benefit will not come from a single type of fiber, so experts advise combining different foods so that each class nourishes a particular set of bacteria . For Ramón de Cangas, following a diet that does not promote inflammation is simple: “In reality it consists of a dietary strategy maintained over time and consisting of real and real food (without ultra-processed foods).” It includes, in addition to whole grains and their derivatives, “foods rich in antioxidants (spices, fruits, herbs, vegetables-vegetables, nuts …), probiotics (fermented milks) and omega 3 fatty acids (fish in general, although they are more abundant in the blues) “, lists the dietitian-nutritionist.
One of the latest findings in this field is that the antioxidant capacity of the Mediterranean diet can slow aging. Elena Yubero-Serrano, from the Maimonides Institute for Biomedical Research of Córdoba, emphasizes extra virgin olive oil: “In addition to being a monounsaturated fat, it contains polyphenols, the antioxidant properties of which are widely described, so that if during aging increases oxidative stress, consuming it will help reduce or balance it. ” More rich things that puncture the balloons that we carry inside? Coffee, if light roast beans are chosen (lightly roasted), according to studies from the University of Seoul (Korea) and dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa), as concluded by two independent studies presented a few weeks ago in San Diego (USA),
And if the skin mutates, listen to it, it’s a sneak
“The release of cortisol (the stress hormone) produces acne-like rashes, while numerous infections trigger outbreaks of dermatitis, including psoriasis, which are the key clue to detecting an inflammatory process at an early stage,” says dermatologist Fernando Alfageme, of the Puerta de Hierro Hospital in Madrid and member of the Spanish Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (AEDV) . The skin maintains a fine balance between inflammation and anti-inflammation, and when the balance is altered, most dermatological diseases appear. Exposure to oxidizing agents and free radicals that reach this organ exogenously (contamination, inadequate exposure to excess or defect in the sun) or endogenously (toxic, tobacco, diets rich in fats, alcohol) trigger the process.
DO ALL CANCERS COME FROM INFLAMMATION?
Absolutely. “But it is a risk factor for some. Digestive tumors (although not only, far from it) are more related to chronic inflammatory processes, such as Crohn’s disease ”, says Rafael Álvarez Gallego, Medical Oncology Healthcare Coordinator at the Comprehensive Oncology Center Clara Campal HM CIOCC, from the HM University Hospital Sanchinarro (Madrid). In any case, the oncologist recommends caution with the fury for antioxidants: “Supplements do not prevent cancer. And in already diagnosed patients, they could accelerate tumor growth. ”
Each skin type reacts to inflammation in a certain way : fats tend to have an acneiform pattern, with uncomfortable comedones, papules, and nodules; the driest, according to an atopic profile characterized by peeling, redness and itching; and the mixed ones manifest the inflammation with acneiform lesions in seborrheic areas. “Topical treatment of skin inflammation with creams is effective. And the dreaded corticosteroids, used in appropriate guidelines, are irreplaceable,” stresses the dermatologist, adding that, from cosmetics, “there are creams that reduce inflammation through other natural substances , like those based on the calendula plant “.
You always have to take your skin seriously, insists Alfageme, also a professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid: “It is like a traffic light, when it turns red it is warning us to stop and enjoy better what we have and take care of ourselves. little more”. In other words: it is a visible manifestation that inflammation wants to take control of our body. Luckily, we have at hand a handful of tools to reverse it. And remember: among them is dark chocolate.