Inflammation in the Human Body and the Role of Stem Cells in Reducing It
Inflammation – most of us are familiar with it. When you twist your ankle and it swells up, making it difficult and painful to move, that’s inflammation. When a cut on your finger becomes infected and it swells and gets hot, that’s inflammation. There are thousands of other examples. Inflammation is part and parcel of life, and in many instances, it is a good thing that defends us against illnesses.
What Is Inflammation?
In its most basic instance, inflammation is the response of your body to an injury or to an invader, such as a pathogen or virus. Take the example of a twisted ankle once more. Your body automatically causes the tissue around the ankle to become inflamed in order to protect it from further injury. This is an example of acute inflammation – a one-time response to a specific situation. However, there is another type, called chronic inflammation, which is not so benign.
Chronic inflammation is any situation in which inflammation is caused by the presence of unwanted, dangerous, or damaging substances within the body. For instance, smoking causes inflammation in response to the toxins in the tobacco, and to nicotine itself. Inflammation can even be caused by an excess of fat cells in the body.
Why Is Inflammation Dangerous in the Body?
Inflammation is dangerous to the body in a wide range of different ways. For instance, inflammation within your arteries helps to create atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the artery. The inflamed artery narrows, making conditions perfect for plaque to begin building up. Eventually, the narrowing of the artery remains even if the inflammation recedes.
The same thing is true for the rest of your body. For instance, in many types of arthritis, the body’s own immune system attacks otherwise healthy cells. This creates inflammation and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis is a perfect example of this. However, Crohn’s disease is another example where the immune system can cause inflammation, which leads to pain and discomfort.
Sources and Causes of Inflammation
There are many different sources of inflammation. As discussed, some inflammation can be attributed to external forces – you stub your toe or cut your finger, and see the area swell up and turn red. Other sources of inflammation can include viruses and microbes. Inflammatory sources can also include toxins that you willingly ingest – alcohol causes inflammation, for instance, as does nicotine. Illicit drugs, and even many prescription drugs, cause inflammation within the body.
Even the very foods that you eat can be sources of inflammation, particularly fatty foods, fried foods, red meats, and more. Foods that your body thinks are dangerous invaders (food allergens) can cause severe inflammation, including anaphylaxis. Refined carbohydrates, and high-sugar foods also lead to inflammation and disease.
These are just a few examples of what can cause inflammation within your body. There are many others. The good news is that many of them are within your control, although some are not and will require specialized treatment.
What Can You Do to Reduce Inflammation?
You can control inflammation in any number of ways, and most of them should be familiar to you. They’re the same advice you’ve been given by doctors and other medical professionals most of your life.
Exercise – Exercise can cause acute inflammation if you’re injured, but it is good for alleviating chronic inflammation. This is particularly true over the long term as you burn fat cells and reduce the number of fat tissue-created cytokines and the concentration of macrophages in fat tissue.
Diet – One of the most powerful tools at your disposal for battling chronic inflammation is your diet. The foods that you eat can cause inflammation, but they can also combat it. Some of the foods best suited to fighting inflammation include fatty types of fish, olive oil, tomatoes, most nuts and fruits, and any green, leafy veggies, like spinach. Even coffee can help to protect you against inflammation, so long as you don’t load your cup up with sugar and dairy.
Stop Bad Habits – There are plenty of bad habits that can lead to inflammation, pain, and even diseases. Smoking is probably one of the worst offenders, because you get the dual whammy from the nicotine (which causes unwanted inflammation and other side effects) as well as the negative repercussions of tobacco itself.
Other bad habits to stop immediately include over consumption of alcohol, which can cause inflammation of the liver, as well as the rest of the body. Illicit drug use has also been connected with inflammation and poor health outcomes.
The Role of Stem Cells in Reducing Inflammation
Stem cells have been researched for several years at this point, and we are only just beginning to realize their immense potential. Much of that potential hinges on one aspect – stem cells have a major impact on inflammation. This touches on virtually every area of ongoing stem cell research, from drug addiction to helping stroke patients heal.
One study, published in the journal Advances in Wound Care, found that mesenchymal stem cells improved wound healing by reducing inflammation. Another study, this one published in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, found that mesenchymal stem cells were effective for managing inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis. Yet another study, this one published through the journal Nature, found that stem cell transplantation was instrumental in reducing inflammation in mice with induced pneumonia.
It is becoming increasingly clear that stem cells therapy can provide a host of advantages and benefits all tied to their ability to reduce inflammation and heal damaged tissues of all types. However, it should be noted that autologous stem cells (those sourced from a patient’s own body) are less well suited for this purpose than allogeneic stem cells sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue. This is because autologous stem cells carry significant mutations and lack the vigor found in allogeneic stem cells.
As it stands, there are currently no FDA-approved stem cell therapies for humans. Any treatment offered based on stem cells should be considered experimental only.