You have likely experienced the type of inflammation that announces itself as pain. But you may not be aware of a more insidious inflammation – chronic inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is defined as your body’s natural response to injury, illness, stress, or damage to tissues – and this is the appropriate and desirable inflammation response. Triggers of this type of inflammation include infections, burns, contact with chemicals, physical injury, or radiation; it is the biological response to foreign or harmful stimuli.
This type of inflammation (called acute) is an important component of the body’s innate healing process – and you can feel it at work. This type of restorative inflammation creates redness, swelling, and heat by the blood and fluid that rush to the affected area with the goal of helping eliminate foreign substances and generate the healing process. This process can cause discomfort.
During acute/healing inflammation, the immune system releases cytokines, a type of first responder that signals to other specialized biochemicals (nutrients, cells, hormones) to repair the damage. Other tissue healing substances, prostaglandins, aggregate blood cells (to create clots) that fix the injured tissue.
While acute inflammation tends to be benign as it is a healing process (albeit a temporarily uncomfortable one), it is chronic inflammation that, when too high, causes damage to many systems and organs – and you don’t feel it immediately and intensely as you do from acute inflammation. In recent years, medical research has realized that chronic inflammation is a condition that is at the root of development (and acceleration of) numerous disease states, such as cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified chronic inflammatory-based diseases as the “public enemy number one” of humans worldwide; it is the most common cause of death globally. WHO lists chronic diseases as the “greatest threat to human health.” And further, the organization expects an increase of prevalence of chronic inflammatory-based diseases to rise consistently for the next 30 years. In 2014, Rand Corporation research showed that approximately 60% of Americans were living with at least one condition of which chronic inflammation was a cause – 12% had five or more!
Globally three out of five individuals die from chronic inflammatory diseases. The most common disease states that have chronic inflammation as a significant contributing cause are: diabetes (affecting 30.3 million Americans), cardiovascular diseases (one out of every three deaths), and arthritis (affecting approximately 60 million by 2020).
Although you won’t feel chronic inflammation, there are physical signs of its existence. According to experts, indications that chronic inflammation exists are consistent fatigue and insomnia, overall aches, weight gain, digestive issues (eg, diarrhea, acid reflux, and constipation), and depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
Can Probiotics Address Inflammation?
Probiotics are one sound tool to support healthy inflammatory response. Healthy inflammatory response simply means supporting inflammation mechanisms when it’s acute, and helping to reduce chronic inflammation.
And when it comes to joint conditions, according to an article on Arthritis.org by Jodi Helmer, expert Jeremy Burton, PhD, from the Canadian Centre for Human Microbiome and Probiotics, asserted “Whenever there is a chronic disease that impacts the intestinal tract, including [autoimmune types of] arthritis, there is the potential to treat it with probiotics.”
Helmer also quoted nutritionist Sonya Angelone, who explained that increased intestinal permeability, caused by inflammation of the intestinal tract, has been shown to be common in those with inflammatory arthritis. Angelone said, “If you have an inflammatory type of arthritis, probiotics may be especially important. The beneficial bacteria appear to have an impact on inflammation, reducing common biomarkers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein. Probiotics may be able to help decrease the inflammation associated with increased intestinal permeability.”
Two separate 2014 studies showed probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus casei, had positive impact in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The first showed that of 46 RA patients, those who took L. casei had significantly lower markers of inflammation than those in the placebo group after eight weeks.
The second, also placebo-controlled, showed that L. casei 01 supplementation lowered pro-inflammatory C-reactive protein levels as well as lowered swollen and tender joint counts. At the study’s end, there was a significant difference between the supplement and placebo groups for pro-inflammatory compounds IL-10, IL-12 and TNF-α that were lowered in the probiotic group. The authors concluded, “Probiotic supplementation may be an appropriate adjunct therapy for RA patients and help alleviate symptoms and improve inflammatory cytokines.”
And there’s evidence in other studies that show roles of probiotics in inflammatory conditions. For example, authors of one review explained that “Several randomized controlled trials have now shown that microbial modification by probiotics may improve gastrointestinal symptoms and multi-organ inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis.”
Another review acknowledged that both probiotics and synbiotics have been used to modulate inflammatory response in several chronic conditions. The authors have observed overall, studies yielded that probiotic supplementation appears to be safe and effective in patients with IBD, CD and UC. “Indeed,” they pointed out, “probiotics such as Bifidobacterium longum 536 improved the clinical symptoms in patients with mild to moderate active UC.”
The strain Lactobacillus plantarum CGMCC1258 was shown in an vitro study to lessen the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines created in isolated epithelial cells by E. coli K88. And more research showed anti-inflammatory effects of Lactobacillus delbrueckii TUA4408L against E. coli 987P.
Inflammation is not preventable; chronic inflammation does exist in most if not all individuals to some extent. The idea – and a notion that more and more physicians are advising – is that proper diet and good lifestyle habits, such as supplementation, can help the body lessen its production of pro-inflammatory substances. When chronic inflammation is kept low, your resistance to development of adverse health conditions will be correspondingly high. And probiotics help!