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Chronic Inflammation

by Linda Lazarides BA(more info)

listed in arthritis, originally published in issue 86 - March 2003

I have felt for some time that both orthodox and complementary practitioners get too hung up on disease names. The more I learn about chronic inflammation (see Table I) the more this opinion is reinforced.

Table I
Chronic diseases Inflammation of
Allergies Caused by specific trigger
Alzheimer's disease Primarily inflammatory condition
Asthma Bronchial tubes
Colitis/Coeliac Crohn's, IBS Intestines/Colon
Cystitis Bladder
Eczema, Psoriasis Skin
Emphysema Lung alveoli
Gum disease Gums
Hepatitis Liver
Lupus Disseminated inflammation
Multiple sclerosis Nerves
Nephrotic syndrome Kidneys
Rheumatoid/Osteo- arthritis Joints
Sinusitis Sinuses

In order to avoid 'not seeing the wood for the trees', perhaps we should disregard the names of the diseases and just learn more about the processes of inflammation? This has certainly helped my understanding of how to treat people with these conditions.

Causes of Inflammation

Inflammation begins with a trigger of some kind – anything which brings white blood cells known as macrophages to the scene.

Macrophages are attracted by proteins and other particles which 'should not be there'. For instance:

* Microorganisms • Cell debris from injuries or from toxic insult • Leakage from capillaries into surrounding tissues • Partly undigested food particles • Cells which look abnormal (e.g. cancer cells).

Macrophages produce cytokines – chemical messengers which stimulate the production of enzymes to 'clean up' these waste proteins.

One of these enzymes is collagenase (literally, 'collagen-destroying enzyme'). Unfortunately collagenase is not able to discriminate between unwanted proteins in the area and your own connective tissue, such as the collagen in your joint cartilage.

To aid the 'clean-up' process, much heat may be generated in the affected area(s). Swelling usually occurs; this means that histamine is being produced to make blood capillaries more 'leaky'. Leaky capillaries will release extra fluid into the area, and this fluid helps large numbers of white blood cells to swim quickly to the scene.

Swelling in sensitive areas causes tenderness and pain, as anyone knows who has sustained a ligament injury.

Chronic Triggers

Inflammation should cease when macrophages have completed their task. So if inflammation becomes chronic, this strongly suggests that some kind of trigger is constantly present. Table II considers potential candidates.

Table II
Triggers of Chronic Inflammation
Type of trigger Chronic effects Diseases produced
Micro-organisms Some (e.g. Candida albicans) can colonize organs and tissues. Intestinal toxin-producing bacteria cause gut inflammation; their toxins can also be absorbed systemically. Lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, colitis, IBS, gum disease.
Debris from injury and from toxic insult (e.g. smoking) Joints protected by inadequate cartilage will be under constant traumatic stress. Some toxins have a special affinity for a particular type of cell. Osteoarthritis, vasculitis, emphysema, non-viral hepatitis.
Capillary leakage Deficiencies of B vitamins, flavonoids and vitamin C can make capillaries permanently susceptible to injury and leakage. Osteoarthritis, varicose veins.
Undigested food particles These can cause inflammation in the colon. A leaky gut wall can allow particles to get from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. These form circulating immune complexes which lodge in organs and tissues and attract macrophages. Colitis, coeliac disease, IBS, nephrotic syndrome, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, sinusitis, eczema, cystitis.
Cells or tissues with abnormal appearance Mutated cells and undifferentiated (cancerous) cells result from toxic injury. Some toxins which cannot be eliminated from the body may become incorporated into the structure of cells and tissues, making them look abnormal to the immune system.


Cancers, auto-immune diseases.

Damage from the destructive enzymes of inflammation is soon repaired after a one-off injury or infection. But with chronic inflammation, the longer it continues, the greater the risk of tissue destruction. For example in osteoarthritis, cartilage is eaten away until bone rubs on bone. In rheumatoid arthritis, scar tissue takes the place of cartilage, and bones fuse together. Similar processes occur in gum disease, coeliac disease, kidney disease, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and emphysema.

Fibrosis, or a hardening of the area, may also result from long-term inflammation. This impedes lymphatic drainage, and can worsen and prolong any inflammatory damage.

Orthodox Treatments

Orthodox medicine treats inflammatory diseases with two major categories of medication:

* Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), e.g. aspirin, paracetamol, ibuprofen • Steroidal anti-inflammatories (mainly cortisone-based).

NSAIDs work by temporarily inhibiting the production of some (but not all) cytokines and inflammatory prostaglandins. Cortisone works by temporarily suppressing the immune system. Neither of these treatments are cures.

Natural Treatments are Based On

* Reducing pro-inflammatory foods • Anti-inflammatory, restorative foods and supplements • Intestinal cleansing and deep tissue cleansing routines • Massage and manipulation to encourage good circulation and lymphatic drainage • Natural pain-killers.

Pro-Inflammatory Foods

* Diuretic drinks: tea, coffee, alcohol, due to their dehydrating effect • Excess salt (raises histamine) • Meat and dairy products. These are the only food sources of arachidonic acid. Avoiding food sources of arachidonic acid achieves exactly the same purpose as the new COX-2 inhibitor drugs used to treat arthritis. The COX-2 enzyme makes inflammatory prostaglandins from arachidonic acid • Food intolerances (e.g. wheat, dairy products) are a major cause of inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

* Water • Black, blue and purple fruits • Celery juice • Oily fish (herrings, salmon, pilchards etc.) • Turmeric

Anti-Inflammatory Supplements

* Extracts of nettle and ginger: block cytokines • Fish oil: reduces formation of arachidonic acid from dietary fats • Evening primrose oil: contains GLA which blocks cytokines • Vitamin C (1-10 grams/day) and quercetin: reduce histamine • Celery seed extract: reduces acidity which promotes inflammation • Bromelain: reduces inflammation and fibrosis • Glucosamine sulphate: helps to inhibit cartilage-destroying enzymes.

Natural Pain-Killers

* Devil's claw herb • DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) – an amino acid.

The scientific references for this article are too numerous to include here, but can be found in Linda Lazarides' book, Treat Yourself with Nutritional Therapy (Waterfall, ISBN 0953804631, 2000).


  1. Jane Teverson said..

    Dear Linda,

    Can we ask your advice about specific supplements for a specific condition?

    Sincerely, Jane Teverson

  2. Admin said..

    Dear Jane,
    Regretfully, Linda is no longer available to answer this comment. This article was written over 9 years ago and we have not had any contact with Linda since then.

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About Linda Lazarides BA

Linda Lazaridesis a nutritional health expert, founder of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists, and worked with a GP for several years to develop her treatment methods. She is author of eight books, including the Amino Acid Report and Treat Yourself with Nutritional Therapy and teaches 1-year internet-based training course for Naturopathic Nutritionists. Visit Linda's website at

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