Chronic Inflammation: The Body's Defense or The Body's Silent Killer?


During menopause, women suffer from the loss of hormones that are usually present in earlier life. Recent studies have indicated that hormone loss may be a contributor to chronic inflammation. Diseases such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, and autoimmune diseases have all been linked to chronic inflammation. Women account for over 75% of all sufferers diagnosed with autoimmune diseases in the United States. Women's chances for heart disease is lower than men's until they reach the stage of menopause, then their chances for heart disease increases considerably. Many researchers feel the lowering of estrogen levels in menopausal women may be attributed to the higher risks of heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and autoimmune diseases.

Chronic Inflammation occurs when the slightest of factors invade the body. Inflammation is the body's fundamental defense against invading viruses, infections, and other invaders. For example, when a person gets a mosquito bite, the body reacts by sending cells and naturally produced chemicals to destroy the germs and repair the damage. As a result of this defense, the area that is affected becomes swollen or inflamed. In this example, the swollen and inflamed area is the skin; but then take into account the different germs, viruses and culprits that invade our bodies internally. This same natural mechanism for defense is used. Although, a great protector for the body, chronic inflammation can actually destroy the very tissue it is trying to protect. For example, in the autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, swollen and inflamed joints often leads to destruction of the tissue. Chronic inflammation signifies the body's immune system going into "overdrive"; the natural defense mechanism of the body is triggered even when there is not an imminent danger.

Before menopause, estrogen levels are balanced; inflammation in pre-menopausal women is moderated and basically the body is doing its job effectively to defend against invaders. But research has shown those women with lowering estrogen levels and specifically, post-menopausal women are more at risk for developing chronic inflammation. Therefore, there is on-going research being conducted to see if estrogen can perhaps ensure that the bodies defense in regards to inflammation doesn't go into "overdrive".

However, the correlation between menopause and chronic inflammation may be prevalent in one regard. Current studies tell us that women going through menopause often gain weight due to the lack of estrogen produced. The added weight means added fat cells. Scientists know that the protein cytokines are produced by fat cells. These proteins are pro-inflammatory and act as defenders against invaders. Common sense then tells you, the more fat cells you have the more cytokines your body will produce; which could lead to an "overdrive" affect causing chronic inflammation.

Often times, chronic inflammation has no symptoms at first. There are no current tests that can actually detect inflammation in a woman. However, modern medicine has found that testing the blood for C-reactor Proteins, which measures inflammatory markers in the blood, may help diagnose chronic inflammation.

Prevention is important in regards to chronic inflammation. At this time, there is little known regarding the role of hormone replacement therapy in regards to controlling chronic inflammation. So, at this time, the best advice offered from expert's center around lifestyle changes.

  • Nutritional changes need to center on foods that are anti-inflammatory in nature. Replacing refined sugars with whole grains and fruits, eating foods that are rich in Omega-3 fats like fish, green leafy vegetables, and flaxseed. Foods cooked in olive oil instead of vegetable oils; and nuts are a great means for Omega-9 fats, which are also considered anti-inflammatory foods. Avoid foods that contain Trans fats like margarine. You may want to consider asking your physician to recommend a multi-vitamin or supplement.

  • Exercise plays a role in eliminating body fat, and as stated earlier, this can also eliminate the over abundance of pro-inflammatory proteins in the body. Exercise can also release endorphins into the blood stream, which can soothe inflammation.

  • Smoking, Alcohol, Drugs, and Caffeine are considered invaders; the body's natural defense is to fight invaders by attaching with chemicals that cause inflammation. For example, when someone smokes, the body reacts by sending out chemicals to fight against and wipe out the invaders. And as stated earlier, constant attacks on the tissue can lead to inflammation and tissue damage.

  • Stress can have the same effects on the body as any other UN-natural invader. If you've ever broke out in a rash because of nervousness or seen someone have an asthma attach when in an over-stressful situation; you've seen the body's defense mechanisms working to fight off stress. Avoiding stressful situations is important, learn how to meditate or use breathing exercises to rid the body of stress.

  • Sleep is another great prevention for chronic inflammation. Physicians recommend between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. This gives the body time to heal itself from the previous day.
Chronic inflammation is a growing concern among health care professionals. However, there is still a lot to learn regarding the role of menopause and chronic inflammation. The best advice experts have for women concerned with chronic inflammation are to apply the lifestyle changes listed above to their regular routines.