Rethinking the Origins of Inflammatory Disease (& Why It Matters!)

Inflammatory diseases are tricky, since they have sneaky underlying causes and can make finding the right fit for treatment more difficult. While chronic inflammation can’t be cured, healthy living (like a nutritious diet and regular exercise) can make inflammatory diseases more manageable, which can increase quality of life.

The origins of inflammatory diseases can be challenging to nail down just as differentiating cause and effect. And because inflammation can occur in nearly any part of the body, even at the cellular level, delving deep is complex.  

Luckily, understanding both past knowledge and forward-thinking on the subject may help you to discover solutions for healthy living.  Read on for inspiration on rethinking the origins of inflammatory diseases, including prevention tips. 

What Is Inflammatory Disease?

Inflammatory disease is a broad category of health conditions. Despite being all too common, they are considered clinically diverse, meaning they are hard to define, diagnose, and treat since they typically exhibit a broad spectrum of signs and symptoms. One medical review even refers to inflammatory diseases as an “unsolved mystery.” 

Most often, the term inflammatory disease is used about conditions that impact the immune system. For example, in the case of autoinflammatory diseases, the body attacks its own immune cells (often healthy cells it shouldn’t be attacking), setting off an inflammatory response that’s hard to quiet down.  

Inflammation may sound like a nebulous term, but it’s most often characterized by swelling, redness, and pain. While a scrape, cut, or temporary illness may sound off a “fire alarm” in the body for a quick and orderly response, chronic inflammation has been compared to having the whole house on fire and unsure where to start putting out the flames.  

Is Some Inflammation Normal? 

Inflammatory disease is different from short-term inflammation. During an illness or infection, it may be expected for the body to develop a fever. It may actually be a sign your immune system is fighting the disease and that the body is making progress toward healing. This can also be true of injuries, such as when the skin around a cut temporarily turns red. 

When Does Inflammation Become Concerning?

On the contrary, inflammatory disease or chronic inflammation can cause you to lose the full function of a part of the body. For example, chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can cause the lining of the intestine to become inflamed and unable to fulfill its intended function. This damage can ultimately impact how well the body can absorb food, and the chronic inflammatory state may even contribute to malnutrition.  

Chronic inflammation has many causes but is thought to result from an initial source of inflammation that failed to resolve itself or be adequately treated. Although it can be spurred on by short-term illness or injury, it often develops more slowly as a result of poor lifestyle habits, like poor sleep, stress management, or diet. 

Over time, the level of inflammation can worsen, and your risk of developing other diseases —such as type 2 diabetes—increases. 

Common Inflammatory Conditions

Some common conditions where inflammation plays a key role include:

  • Autoimmune diseases 
  • Cardiovascular diseases (heart disease)
  • Certain cancers 
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (such as inflammatory bowel disease)
  • High blood pressure 
  • Lung diseases (like COPD or asthma)
  • Mental illness (most notably, depression)
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (for example, Parkinson’s disease)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Historical Contexts of Inflammatory Disease 

With autoinflammatory diseases, scientists suspect a sort of “mixed signals” situation, sometimes with unknown origins. The body’s innate immunity, or the immune defenses one is born with, seems misguided and more prone to make “mistakes” when identifying foreign substances.

Your immune system is ordinarily well-trained to take out invaders. But with autoimmunity, the body participates in a sort of “friendly fire” inflammation that causes continuing degradation if untreated. 

In the case of other inflammatory chronic diseases, the body is in an ongoing state of inflammation, often triggered by the body being in a disease state. Somewhere along the line, the inflammation may jump from just affecting one area to becoming systemic or affecting entire or multiple body systems. 

Chronic inflammation is not a sign of healing—like in a short-term illness—but rather a deterioration method. Over time, inflammation (even low-grade) can have a wear-and-tear effect on the body. 

Viruses and infections are often suspected as one type of trigger for chronic inflammation since they can sometimes cause inflammation that doesn’t end after the infection is gone. Other culprits that may trigger inflammation include chronic stress, shock, or trauma, which illuminate a mental health component to chronic inflammation.

Pioneering the Origins of Inflammatory Disease

Both patients and practitioners are currently noticing inflammation for the health threat it is. Chronic inflammation is believed to be a contributing factor to over half of deaths worldwide. It’s viewed as a threat down to the cellular level, where it can damage DNA and even how genes are expressed. 

Efforts are being made in many areas to quell inflammation, particularly in the gut. Intestines are integral in many body functions, beyond digestion to help produce chemicals associated with mood and immune function. Many scientists and diet experts believe healing the gut is a crucial component to reducing inflammation in other parts of the body.  

Lifestyle patterns have also been discovered as a possible link. This makes sense, especially since habits develop over time, just like inflammation can. While many associations seem murky, some of the strongest influences include diet and exercise. 

Modern-Day Tips to Prevent & Manage Inflammatory Disease

Although anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly prescribed for conditions, many solutions reside outside a lab or pharmacy. Embracing healthy eating patterns and exercise, in particular, can help promote healing without all the side effects possible with medication. 

The following tactics can reduce risk factors and prevent or manage inflammation, all while putting you back in the driver’s seat of your own health.  

Start By Removing Barriers to Diet & Exercise 

Since diet and exercise are two crucial components of exercise, it’s often helpful to start by asking, “What’s preventing me from eating well and exercising?” Understandably, chronic inflammation (especially in the joints) can make preparing a meal or participating in movement extremely difficult. 

Luckily, there are many ways to remove barriers to healthy living. For example, maybe healthy meal delivery could free up more time in your schedule to meet with a specialist to address your struggles. 

Meeting with a physical or occupational therapist who is familiar with inflammatory diseases may also help you to find less painful forms of exercise. For instance, many individuals with swollen joints or inflammation in their back find it soothing to participate in swimming since the water helps them feel “weightless” and removes some of the pressure on the joints. 

You may feel a temporary increase in inflammation as your body gets used to a new level of activity, but in the end, these protective measures will be worth it. If a new diet or exercise pattern ever feels uncomfortable, talk with your healthcare team to make sure you’re following the right course of action for you individually.

Next, Implement Healthy Habits

It’s never too late to start a healthy habit! There’s no shame in baby steps, and you can proceed with a new protocol as slowly or gradually as needed. Often this is a healthy, more sustainable way to approach a change, anyway! 

Healthy habits often replace “bad” or unproductive habits with better ones. For example, instead of reaching for a fatty or sugary snack (foods known to promote inflammation), try a delicious yet nutritious berry parfait instead! You can make fruits and vegetables fun, while also getting plenty of the antioxidants (nutrients that fight inflammation at the cellular level) that they contain. 

Then, Add in Supplementary Tools 

Sometimes, it’s challenging to get everything you need during your regular routine. Whether you’re dealing with a “flare” (episode of symptoms) or ongoing pain, it can be helpful to supplement your efforts with specific tools. 

This is especially true when it comes to diet. Despite your best efforts, inflammation may interfere with your body’s ability to properly digest or absorb nutrients. Fortunately, dietary supplements exist, and they act as an “insurance plan” to ensure your body receives the vitamins and minerals it needs. For example, since the gut plays a primary role in mediating inflammation, probiotics are often recommended to help restore intestinal balance and reduce inflammation. 

Beyond physical health, this approach can work for mental health, too! Sometimes, even when you’re doing everything “right” (such as journaling, meditating, and managing stress well), your body can still feel like it’s in survival mode. 

You can supplement your own efforts by meeting with a therapist to ensure you have a “toolbox” complete with tools you need if and when a stressful situation comes up. There’s no shame in meeting with a therapist for inflammation, especially since many inflammatory conditions go underdiagnosed, and the diagnosis process alone can cause a sort of medical trauma. 

Finally, Keep On Keeping On! 

Possibly the most difficult part of the process is trusting the process. Since many inflammatory diseases start with barely noticeable symptoms, restoring health to your body may come rather slowly as well. Remember, you’re likely undoing years of damage and inflammation, so healing and restoration are happening slowly (but surely) as well. 

While inflammation may never be completely gone, your efforts are valuable in preventing further damage. They may even have the power to reverse the damage already being done. 

Surrounding yourself with a positive support system and supportive healthcare team can help you hold on to hope when all seems lost. They can also help you to recognize milestones in your health journey and moments worth celebrating. 

Final Thoughts on Rethinking the Origins of Inflammatory Diseases

There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about inflammatory diseases, which can make them particularly difficult to diagnose and treat. Luckily, you don’t need to be an expert to start living more healthily, starting today! 

Removing barriers to diet, exercise, and positive thinking can be a great place to start. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help during treatment and that small steps in the right direction can still make a big difference. 


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Kany S, Vollrath JT, Relja B, Cytokines in Inflammatory Disease. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(23):6003. 

McInnes IB, Gravallese EM. Immune-mediated inflammatory disease therapeutics: past, present and future. Nature. 2021;21:680-686. 

National Cancer Institute. Chronic Inflammation. . Published April 2015. 

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Autoinflammatory Diseases. Published January 2017.  

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Inflammation. Published September 2023. 

Wang J, Chen WD, Wnag YD. The Relationship Between Gut Mucrobiota and Inflammatory Diseases: The Role of Macrophages. Front Microbiol. 2020;11. 

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