Minimizing chronic inflammation may reduce illness and save lives:
A group of scientists is recommending early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of inflammation to reduce the worldwide burden of chronic diseases
Scientists from 22 institutions, including UCLA, are recommending early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of severe chronic inflammation to reduce the risk of chronic disease and death worldwide.
The group of international experts, which also includes scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Columbia University Medical Center and University College London, point to inflammation-related diseases as the cause of 50 percent of all deaths worldwide.
Inflammation is a naturally occurring response by the body’s immune system that helps fight illness and infection. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, it increases the risk of developing potentially deadly diseases.
In a perspective article, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the authors describe how persistent and severe inflammation in the body may lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.
They suggest that prioritizing research to better diagnose and treat severe chronic inflammation may not only extend life, but also help reduce worldwide chronic disease burden and improve human health.
Senior author George Slavich, director of the UCLA Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research, said it is important to make people aware of the risk factors for chronic inflammation, which include obesity, physical inactivity, social isolation, chronic stress and inadequate or poor sleep.
“Chronic inflammation is influenced by many social, environmental and lifestyle factors,” said Slavich, who is also a research scientist at the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. “If we make people aware of these risk factors, our hope is that individuals will reduce the factors that apply to them. And what better time to make such a change than in the New Year.”
Slavich said research should focus on identifying new biomarkers or substances in the body that will enable doctors to screen for and better diagnose and treat severe chronic inflammation. Currently, just a few biomarkers are known to indicate inflammation such as elevated levels of C-reactive protein, which is a protein found in blood plasma. Slavich said there are potentially hundreds of other substances in the body’s immune system that may indicate chronic inflammation, but they have yet to be identified.
“It’s also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide,” Slavich said. “Therefore, this is a substantial public health crisis that we’re talking about. By viewing inflammation as a common cause of both physical and mental health problems, our hope is that we may be able to greatly improve human health and even extend life.”
Download article: Chronic Inflammation in the Etiology of Disease Across the Lifespan
Dr. Slavich is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, a Research Scientist at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research.