By Michael Anft
Inflammation has been found to be an underlying cause in many diseases, making it a hot topic in the health media. But what do we really know about chronic inflammation and its effects on the body?
As scientists have searched for the mysteries behind the diseases most likely to afflict us, they have alighted on one factor common to virtually all of them: inflammation. Chronic inflammation, headlines now regularly state, has a role in a host of common and often deadly diseases, including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly even depression.
Unsurprisingly, this news brings with it a raft of self-proclaimed remedies purporting to fight inflammation. Diets, herbs, supplements, and exercise regimens have flooded the market with promises to keep inflammation in check and improve overall health.
But is there evidence that over-the-counter products or sweeping lifestyle changes will reduce inflammation’s damaging effects? Scientists caution that despite its current high profile, inflammation remains a mystery. “Basic science hasn’t yet answered the major questions about inflammation,” says Michelle Petri, a rheumatologist and a director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center. Researchers like Petri have been studying low-level inflammation as a culprit in a number of diseases for decades. What they have discovered has led to an emerging understanding of how lifestyle choices—like diet, dental health, and exercise—may influence inflammation and its potentially damaging downsides.