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Inflammation

Inflammation – The Central Factor in all our modern diseases

Our bodies were designed to work well for 30 to 40 years wandering around a jungle with a spear. Back in those prehistoric days, our lives were ended by either infection or trauma and our immune system was only really geared to deal with these two conditions.

The key features of our existence back then were

1) Feast and famine. The Hunter-gatherer would kill the beast and he and his family would consume the food immediately because in those days there were no prehistoric Kelvinators. It may have been 2 to 3 days before the next big feed and in the interim the hunter-gatherer would live off nuts and berries from trees, drinking water from the local watering hole.

2) This sort of existence also involved constant movement. It was a very simple, “top of the food chain” existence and let’s face it, living like this sucks with all of its inherent dangers leading to a short lifespan of 30 to 40 years.

Now bring in our modern world where we are in a state of constant feast, consuming breakfast, lunch and dinner, significant lack of movement with our very sedentary lifestyles, daily exposure to a myriad of synthetic chemicals and low background radiation, not to mention being woken by an alarm clock and this alarm and stress continues throughout most of our days.

But, living in our modern world is nowhere near as dangerous as the hunter-gatherer days and typically we are not taken off this planet through trauma or infection. This is, of course, unless you consider conditions such as COVID-19 or influenza as the primary cause of death in someone with a multitude of comorbid conditions that have been present for many years. Now, we are, in reality, living double our “use by date” with the average life expectancy throughout the modern world being around 80 years old.

Inflammation

The simple fact is that our modern killers-cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, the complications of osteoporosis, chronic pulmonary disease and autoimmune diseases are all based around the central theme of the body’s immune reaction to something that shouldn't be there in the first place.

To take our most common killer, cardiovascular disease, the most common underlying condition is atherosclerosis. This is the progressive build-up of fat, inflammatory tissue and calcification over many decades in the wall of arteries. Acute events such as heart attack or stroke occur typically when a fatty plaque suddenly ruptures, a clot forms and the affected artery blocks.

Atherosclerosis does not occur in people with lifelong cholesterol levels below 3 mmol/L and lifelong systolic BP below 100 mmHg. Almost all people living in the modern world have cholesterol and blood pressure levels above these figures. Fat escapes into the wall of the arteries via the bloodstream and through a process known as oxidation leads to deposition of this oxidised LDL under the innermost layer of the artery wall.

The body’s immune system sends one of the “foot soldiers” known as macrophages into the wall to remove the oxidised LDL. But, somewhat like a corrupt policeman, the macrophages become part of the problem. The macrophages enjoy the taste of the oxidised fat and these cells become obese and are converted into what is known as foam cells (overweight, fat laden macrophages). In follows more macrophages and the process becomes a vicious circle with these foam cells becoming so obese that they rupture, cause more fatty plaques & the process continues. Thus, rather than solving the issue of the unwanted oxidised fat, the immune system becomes a key component of the problem.

This is known as chronic inflammation and although I have only used the example of cardiovascular disease, the basic processes are there for all our modern killers. As I have mentioned, the body’s immune system was only evolved to deal with acute infection i.e. acute inflammation and trauma. Thus, the state of chronic inflammation is a pathologic process, contributing to the underlying disease itself.

I've explained the underlying condition of chronic inflammation and in Part Two will explain what can be done to modify & treat this process.

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