The immune system triggers inflammation in reaction to injury or infection. In this regard, it is a healthy part of natural recovery from an illness or injury. When inflammation develops for this reason, it indicates a correctly functioning system, but signs of inflammation that do not go away, or develop without a legitimate trigger, signify that the immune system is not working properly. The causes of chronic inflammation differ from person to person.
Excessive alcohol consumption, GI tract conditions, certain medications, and vomiting can cause gastritis or inflammation of the stomach. Sometimes, gastritis becomes a chronic condition that damages the stomach lining. It is important to see a doctor and find out what is causing the symptoms. Depending on the cause, a doctor may recommend stopping medications that irritate the digestive tract and avoiding alcohol and smoking. They may also recommend dietary changes or medications.
Studies show psychological stress interferes with the body's ability to control inflammation, which heightens the risk of disease. Emotional stress triggers the production of cortisol, the flight-or-flight stress hormone that plays a role in inflammation. Excess cortisol also increases one's risk of contracting an infection. Many people make this connection themselves, noting they are more likely to develop a cold or other minor infection when stressed than when mentally healthy.
Chronic physical stress can also result in excessive inflammation. For example, excessive exercise, such as running a marathon or going without sleep for a few days places substantial stress on the body and can trigger inflammation. However, regular exercise in moderation has an anti-inflammatory effect and may help keep inflammation in check.
Insulin resistance occurs when cells cannot take up glucose as efficiently as they should. This common health problem is linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance is more common in people who are overweight or obese, and it sometimes has a genetic component. Some studies link insulin resistance with chronic, low-grade inflammation, although more research is needed to clarify this link.
Inflammation could be a byproduct of an imbalance of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Imbalance in these hormones can alter the level of cortisol, a hormone that helps keep the immune system balanced and inflammation in check. Chronic inflammation can affect women going through menopause, causing symptoms such as adult acne and osteoporosis. Studies suggest that inflammation naturally increases with age and may be a factor in many of the chronic health problems people develop later in life.
Fibers in plastics, latex, and other products can trigger inflammation in people who are sensitive to these fibers. Often, the inflammation will be seen and felt on the skin in the area into which the product came into contact. For instance, if one reacts to latex gloves, they may notice inflammation, a rash, and other signs of irritation on their hands and wrists. Some people are allergic to latex and can experience a life-threatening reaction if exposed to it in any form. Other people are not allergic to latex but develop skin irritation and inflammation when they come into contact with it. A portion of people who have skin irritation eventually develop an allergy.
Diet plays a role in inflammation. Studies suggest that refined carbohydrates, foods made with white flour, processed meats, and sugar are linked with inflammation. In contrast, preliminary research finds other foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and fish are associated with reduced inflammation. This is one more reason to skip the junk food and choose more whole, unprocessed fare.
Food allergies and inflammation are both overreactions of the immune system, but they differ in some respects. The symptoms of food allergies are brought about by IgE antibodies that form from previous exposure to an allergen. Allergies often show up early in life, although adults can develop them too. They often have a genetic component and are more likely to run in families. Nuts, fish, and milk are common allergens, and in some, contact or ingestion can cause a life-threatening reaction. But people can also be sensitive to certain foods or dietary components without having a true allergy. For example, people with Celiac disease mount an immune response to gluten and develop inflammation as a result, though this is not a true food allergy. A doctor or nutritionist can help patients determine to which foods they are allergic through allergy tests and elimination diets.
Chemicals are another common cause of inflammation, and people may come into contact with them either through the air, ingestion, or topically. The ingredients in some personal care and cleaning products can be absorbed and cause reactions either on or beneath the skin. The signs of skin inflammation include redness, itching, tenderness, and swelling. The medical term for skin inflammation is dermatitis. Even mild exposure to workplace chemicals or cleaning products can cause inflammation, as can pollutants in the air.
Although food allergies are more severe than food triggers, even people without allergies can react negatively to eating certain foods. Products high in linoleic acid -- found in safflower, corn, soy, and sunflower -- can prompt an inflammatory reaction, according to some research. In some cases, diets high in refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods trigger inflammation. In contrast, healthy, fiber-rich carbohydrate sources, like fruits and vegetables, may reduce inflammation. As with full-blown allergies, skin tests and dietary restrictions can help doctors diagnose, and people control, these intolerances.
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