Inflammation is one of the body's essential defense mechanisms and plays a vital role in protecting us against microbial attack, external and internally-produced toxins, as well as damaged and diseased cells and tissues.
Unfortunately, the inflammatory process is inherently destructive and both acute and chronic inflammation may cause damage to healthy tissues.
Typically, the longer the inflammatory process lasts, the more damage it does to the tissues involved. In the case of a local infection, inflammatory damage often manifests itself as scar tissue and if a wound becomes infected or fails to heal quickly, it will leave more scar tissue than it would have had it healed normally.
Similar but less visible processes are at work in a more sinister process called chronic systemic inflammation that can cause widespread damage to a range of different tissue types and which ultimately leads to specific disease entities.
Chronic systemic inflammation is a low-grade, pervasive form of inflammation that has been implicated as a major causative factor for several serious chronic diseases.
Although chronic systemic inflammation and local, acute inflammation share the same biochemical processes, the former is not restricted to a specific tissue or organ, but instead involves the endothelial lining of blood vessels and several other tissue types.
As a result the disruptive effects of chronic systemic inflammation are far reaching, causing damage to the cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine and other systems. This damage may, in turn, precipitate or exacerbate a wide variety of other pathological processes.
Chronic systemic inflammation is, for example, closely implicated in the development of insulin resistance ' and thereby metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
Damage to the arterial lining and the subsequent development of heart disease has also been linked to chronic systemic inflammation which has also been implicated in some forms of depression and even sleep disorders.
Causes of Chronic Systemic Inflammation
' Obesity: Several substances involved in the inflammatory response are produced in adipose tissue. Central, abdominal fat is involved in the production of excessive amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines and other markers of inflammation.
' Infections: Chronic infections like kidney or bladder infections, gall bladder infection, chronic tonsillitis, diverticular disease; chronic viral diseases like hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus and infectious mononucleosis or any other chronic infection such as Lyme disease or brucellosis.
' Periodontal Disease: Periodontal infection is believed to be one of the major causes of chronic systemic inflammation. Dental plaque is often responsible for initiating periodontal disease by releasing bacterial and protein toxins, and organic acids that contribute to a low-grade chronic systemic inflammation in tissues far from the mouth. The treatment of periodontal disease can actually reverse some of the damage done to the endothelial lining of the arteries.
' Environmental Toxins, Drugs and Tobacco: Most foreign substances can trigger an inflammatory response. This is probably one of the reasons that smoking tobacco is associated with an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. Inflammation in response to tobacco toxins is known to cause damage to the arterial endothelium, thereby aggravating the development of atherosclerosis.
' Autoimmune Diseases: Autoimmune diseases are pathological conditions where the immune system reacts inappropriately to normal tissues. These conditions, which include rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, vary widely in their intensity and usually precipitate serious inflammatory-mediated tissue damage.
Spices and Chronic Systemic Inflammation
The first step in dealing with chronic systemic inflammation is to find and treat the cause of the inflammation. This may require improving dental hygiene, stopping smoking or losing weight. Such interventions can be dramatically augmented by the consumption of spices, several of which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects.
Among the most potent of these are bay leaf, garlic, ginger oregano, rosemary, thyme and turmeric. Other spices, in particular black pepper and garlic, counteract chronic systemic inflammation by modulating the immune system thereby limiting the excessive production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Furthermore, as many of the causes of chronic systemic inflammation are associated with oxidative stress, the antioxidants found in most spices help control this condition too. In short, spices have all the attributes required to minimize the impact on our health of the insidious, destructive and potentially lethal effects of this destructive inflammatory process.
Dr Keith Scott is a medical doctor with a special interest in nutrition and complementary therapies. He has written several books including "Medicinal Seasonings, The Healing Power of Spices" and "Natural Home Pharmacy". Find out more how spices can help to prevent and treat many inflammatory conditions and why they are the "missing links" in nutrition at: