The Link Between Chronic Inflammation & Deadly Diseases

February 15, 2019

Reduce inflammation to treat the root of many issues. If your gut isn’t working right it can cause so many other issues.

Dan Millman

Acute inflammation is part of the body’s immune response and is a natural way to defend against harmful stimuli. Without it, wounds and infection wouldn’t be able to heal. Yet, there’s another type of inflammation which occurs on an ongoing basis –chronic inflammation – that has serious health implications.

Chronic inflammation is central to many chronic conditions and ailments – especially those that are more likely to develop with age. Thus, controlling inflammation is integral to maintaining a long, healthy life.

Although we have many bits and pieces of data on inflammation, we have yet to put the complex puzzle together. For instance, while we know inflammatory factors influence our health, we still don’t know the exact degree to which each factor affects us.

What we do know, however, is that inflammation is inextricably linked to disease, and that tools that can help resolve inflammatory issues are invaluable for improving our quality of life. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the critical implications of inflammation, as well as ways to control it.

The Dangers of Chronic Inflammation

Acute inflammation takes place when your body is exposed to toxins, injuries, and infections. The immune system releases inflammatory cells to heal tissue, and blood vessels leak fluid to the affected area. This results in the telltale symptoms of redness, pain, and swelling.

Mature man with beard gripping chest while support himself on mint green wall

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is systemic and affects a number of functions throughout the body. It’s characterized by inflammatory cells within the blood vessels, which allow dangerous plaque to accumulate. This spurs a vicious cycle in which the body sends more inflammatory responders (white blood cells) to combat the plaque.

The plaque continues to accumulate, thickening the artery walls and increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke. [1] One inflammatory protein in particular, interleukin-6 receptor, appears to be involved in the development of plaque in the arteries. [2]

Another biomarker of inflammation is high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, or CRP. This protein is produced by the liver when widespread inflammation occurs throughout the body. Large elevations of CRP are commonly related to acute responses in the immune system, but can also indicate disease. In specific, continuous, slightly elevated levels of CRP are commonly associated with chronic inflammatory risk factors.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that chronic inflammation also plays a role in the constituents of what has been termed “metabolic syndrome,” or the constellation of disorders that precedes the formal diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Metabolic syndrome is an intermediary state of one or more conditions which may include obesity, a trend toward insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Chronic Inflammatory Diseases

Beyond cardiovascular issues, inflammation raises concerns as a risk factor for other diseases. For example, in autoimmune conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, the immune cells attack the digestive tract, targeting even the healthy bacteria living in the gut. While experts remain unsure exactly why only certain individuals have this response, it appears to be a result of combined genetic, environmental, and dietary factors. Stress management and taking antibiotics may contribute to risk too.

When it occurs in the joints, inflammation can also cause damaging conditions such as psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Stiffness and pain can occur, and because the conditions are chronic; there is no lasting cure, although lifestyle management techniques may help.

Conditions of Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation contributes to the following damaging conditions: 

  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stiffness and pain
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Weakened immune system
  • Breathing issues
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Infection
  • Asthma
  • Periodontal disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lupus
  • Depression

Indeed, the potential implications of chronic inflammation span far and wide. A significant amount of research has been conducted exploring the link between inflammation and disease. Although further, more conclusive studies must still be done, here are some of the most noteworthy observations to bear in mind:

  • High levels of inflammation may increase risk of cancer. Specifically, inflammatory diets have been linked to a 63% increase in colorectal cancer risk. When immune cells produce inflammation it impacts the body’s ability to regulate the immune response, allowing diseases like cancer to thrive. [3]
  • When seen in the lungs, inflammation can cause serious breathing issues including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), infection, and asthma. [4]
  • Inflammation is seen in periodontal disease, which is also thought to be a precursor of heart disease. When inflammation occurs in the mouth, it’s typically a response to bacteria which can be found elsewhere in the body. [5]
  • Inflammation in the brain is believed to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Originally, it was believed that inflammation couldn’t affect the brain due to the blood-brain barrier. Now, however, scientists know that immune cells do infiltrate the brain when a person becomes distressed. [6]
  • Chronic inflammation has also been associated with a host of other conditions, including lupus and potentially even depression. [7]

Based on these insights, the case for controlling chronic inflammation is compelling. Yet, to know how to combat it, we must first understand where it comes from.

Where Does Inflammation Come From?

Unfortunately, identifying the precise factors that lead to inflammation and why some people appear to be more sensitive to them than others isn’t so simple. What is clear, however, is that diet appears to be one of the most significant influencers. In particular, inflammatory factors parallel glycemic load and insulin sensitivity. While glycemic load refers to carbohydrates’ impact on the body and blood sugar, insulin sensitivity is a measure of how sensitive the cells are to insulin.

Thus, the National Health Service’s finding that a diet with a high content of processed foods, such as soft drinks, refined grains, and processed meats, is correlated with inflammatory biomarker levels makes perfect sense. Processed foods are typically high in chemical additives, which is why low-inflammation diets prescribe avoidance of them.

It isn’t just food that can elicit an inflammatory response, however. Chronic stress, obesity, smoking, and alcohol are also thought to trigger inflammation. Long-term exposure to irritants, including pollution or industrial chemicals, can also contribute. [8]

With this in mind, we’ll review some effective ways to control inflammation in the next section.

How to Control Inflammation

What Can You Do to Control Inflammation

The body’s inflammatory response can be regulated by the following: 

  • Improve diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Manage stress
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Exercise regimen

As mentioned above, not all inflammation is bad, but in the interest of wellness and disease prevention controlling chronic inflammation is essential. This often requires a number of lifestyle adjustments. Primarily, the following factors appear to have the most significant impact on regulating the body’s inflammatory response.


Mature woman cutting peppers in home kitchen with colorful vegetables layed out in front of board

Today, there are many variations of low inflammatory diets. In particular, diets low in carbohydrates have shown to significantly reduce inflammation, especially in obese individuals. [9] Additionally, the Mediterranean and DASH diets can help to lower inflammation levels.

Anti-inflammatory foods such as those rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, including nuts and the spices ginger and curry, should be prioritized, while known pro-inflammatory foods including refined and processed foods (especially carbohydrates) should be avoided.


Mature man in stripped business suit smoking a cigar

The impact of smoking on immunity is complex, with both harmful inflammatory responses and immune system suppression taking place. [10] The toxic effects of smoking are too far-reaching to list, which is why anyone who hasn’t already done so should develop a plan to quit.


Mature blonde woman gripping forehead due to headache

The body’s natural fight or flight reaction helped our ancestors respond quickly to threats, and it’s also what helps us perform well under pressure today. Yet, stress also triggers hormonal responses linked to inflammation, which is why chronic stress and inflammation go hand-in-hand. Thus, finding healthy ways to control stress is key in staying healthy and minimizing disease risk.


Mature man sleeping in bed with white sheets

Several pro-inflammatory markers are associated with sleep duration, and inflammation can result from even one night of missed sleep. For each hour of sleep deprivation, inflammatory markers increase by 8%. [11] The link between sleep duration and cardiovascular disease may be stronger than we previously thought, so diagnosing and addressing any sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is critically important to long-term health.


Mature man and woman jogging in park while listening to music

One of the most critical pieces of the inflammation puzzle, exercise is perhaps the best tool we have alongside diet for reducing chronic inflammation. While fat is an inflammatory organ, muscle is an anti-inflammatory organ. Just 20 minutes of exercise per day can suppress the activation of pro-inflammatory agents in the body. [12] Working out consistently also reduces mortality, CVD, osteoporosis, and breast cancer risk, while also improving cognition.

Understanding and Controlling Chronic Inflammation – In Conclusion

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all of the factors contributing to inflammation, and the many serious conditions to which it’s linked. Nonetheless, age management specialists like our clinicians at Cenegenics are committed to taking a comprehensive approach to help you manage your body’s inflammatory response.

With tailored exercise and dietary programs as well as robust blood panels and diagnostics, our experts pinpoint any concerns tied to inflammation and offer detailed, individualized solutions to help you optimize both your current health and long-term wellness.

If you’re interested in exploring how Cenegenics can help you combat chronic inflammation, contact your nearest center today.

Next Steps in Understanding Chronic Inflammation


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About the Contributor

Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise

Rudy Inaba Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise

Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 20 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.

Key Resources

This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:

Textbook of Age Management Medicine Vol. 1

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

Textbook of Age Management Medicine Vol. 2

The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation  

The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 2: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy

Click to purchase

Textbook Authors:

Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT

Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.


Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS

Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.

Additional Resources

What is Cenegenics?

Defy Your Age with Cenegenics

Are You Fully Prepared to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke?

What are the Best Sources of Micronutrients for Weight Loss & Optimal Health?

Understanding Type 2 Diabetes

What Are Processed Foods & Why Are They Dangerous?

Understanding How to Deal with Stressors

How Cenegenics Programs Differ from a Typical Weight Loss Program

Building a Nutritional Plan: Food for Weight Loss

How to Exercise for Weight Loss

Why Can’t I Sleep? – Clinical Explanations & Tips on How to Fall Asleep



[1] DiCorleto, Paul, PhD. “Why You Should Pay Attention to Chronic Inflammation.” Cleveland Clinic. 14 Oct. 2014. Retrieved from URL: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-you-should-pay-attention-to-chronic-inflammation/

[2] Nadeem Sarwar, et al. “interleukin-6 receptor pathways in coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of 82 studies.” The Lancet. 31 Mar. 2012. Retrieved from URL: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61931-4/fulltext

[3] Fred K. Tabung, MSPH, PhD, et al. “Association of Dietary Inflammatory Potential With Colorectal Cancer Risk in Men and Women.” JAMA Oncology. March 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/article-abstract/2669777

[4] MacMillan, Amanda. “13 Ways Inflammation Can Affect Your Health.” Health.com 04 March 2015. Retrieved from URL: https://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20898778,00.html?slide=91725#91725

[5] MacMillan, see above.

[6] Cleveland Clinic, see above.

[7] Anft, Michael. “Understanding Inflammation.” Johns Hopkins Health Review. Spring/Summer 2016. Retrieved from URL: https://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/understanding-inflammation

[8] Han, Seunggu, MD. “Understanding and Managing Chronic Inflammation.” Healthline. 27 Jul. 2018. Retrieved from URL: https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-inflammation

[9] Y. Gu, et al. “Very low carbohydrate diet significantly alters the serum metabolic profiles in obese subjects.” Journal of Proteome Research. 6 Dec. 2013. Retrieved from URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24224694

[10] J. Lee, et al. “Cigarette Smoking and Inflammation.” Journal of Dental Research. Feb. 2012. Retrieved from URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3261116/

[11] Leake, Jeffrey Park, M.D., CPT and Greenberg, Todd David, M.D., CSCS. The Textbook of Age Management Medicine: Volume 1. Leake-Greenberg Ventures, LLC. 2015. p. 335.

[12] Stoyan Dimitrov, et al. “Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intracellular TNF production by acute exercise via β2-andrenergic activation.” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Vol. 61, March 2017. Retrieved from URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159116305645