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Inflammation and Immunity: Putting Them in Context

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by James Gormley -

OK, so you have developed a product, or are planning to, which focuses on inflammation, probably reducing it or otherwise beneficially modulating it, and it is likely it has to do with joint health, pain, or cardiovascular health. Before your marketing team jumps all over it, however, it would be worthwhile to take a 30,000-foot view of the nexus between immunity and inflammation.

You may be asking: What do these things have in common? Plenty. In fact, there are few examples where the incredible connectivity, overlapping, and intersecting of all components of our health (homeostasis, or balance) and un-health (disease, or imbalance) vectors is more apparent than in the interface between immune/allergic response, inflammation, and cardiovascular function.

There is a wide array of diseases, and disorders of immunity, inflammation, and allergy. That cardiovascular disease is in this grouping may be a shocker to some, but it shouldn’t be, since some of the same components which signal, mediate, and modulate immune, inflammatory, and allergic responses also signal, mediate, and modulate circulation and vascular response.

We specifically see a number of the same players in all of these activities: eicosanoids (like the prostaglandins and thromboxane) and cytokines (like interleukin-1, Il-1, and tumor necrosis factor, TNF).

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that polyunsaturated fatty acids, as one example, are key in both producing these mediators (prostaglandins)---which, in turn, influence immune function (like T-cells)---and in modulating inflammatory/immune response (suppressing or stimulating those cytokines, for example). The eicosanoids regulate, in fact, many cell functions and play critical roles in wide-ranging activities, including various immune and inflammatory functions.

When we realize that IL-1 and TNF contribute to both the “pathogenesis of inflammatory disease,” and atherosclerosis, we see clearly how intimately intertwined are immunity, inflammation, allergy, and cardiovascular function.

Is inflammation always bad? Absolutely not. The answer lies in the concept of homeostasis---a state in which a system is functioning properly---balance. Each, and every, compound and cell related to inflammation serves specific, important purposes, depending on need.

Problems arise, and diseases can get their start, however, when we are not in a state of homeostasis---when the inflammatory cascade veers out of control---when inflammation:

(1) continues beyond the borders of a specific need (e.g., wound healing);

(2) is triggered by natural or toxic environmental causes (e.g., pollen or DDT); or

(3) is pervasive, and running rampant, bespeaking a bodily system which is drowning in a reactive sea of synthetic food ingredients, environmental toxins, and internal mediators (like prostaglandins), awash in products and symptoms of an immune system that is red-lining at the same time that has run out of fuel.

So, there you have it, from a topline perspective: inflammation is not intrinsically bad. It is just the body’s response (or over-response) to things that are going on in the body. If we keep in mind how very interconnected are the processes in the body, it will help your marketing department come up with labeling, messaging, and advertising that takes a much more holistic view of the body and its complex processes.  

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