When you get a cut or a cold, your body fixes the problem by responding with inflammation. White blood cells move in to start the healing process. But researchers, including some at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, are discovering that that process can get out of control and lead to what's called chronic inflammation. And they say that it's linked to a list of chronic and sometimes deadly conditions like heart disease and cancer.
Kristin Kelly spoke with Dr. Mary Cushman at UVM.
Kristin Kelly: What are researchers finding in relationship to bad things like cancer and heart disease?
Dr. Mary Cushman/UVM College of Medicine & FAHC: It's really fascinating. We used to think that inflammation only occurred when you had a bad infection like pneumonia. We discovered over the last three decades that most diseases have an inflammatory reaction associated with them, like atherosclerosis that causes heart disease for example, and you can see that in the pathology of those diseases. Back in the 90s in studies at UVM... So it's really integral to most of the chronic diseases.
Kelly: What does the role of fat play in all of this?
Cushman: When you look at factors that correlate with higher levels in the blood... But the strongest correlate with having higher levels of inflammation is having obesity. And the reason is the fat tissue is a very active tissue. It is not just a depot that makes you look different. It's actually an active organ and it secretes substances called cytokines that stimulate inflammation.
Kelly: So, what can somebody do to protect themselves from inflammation?
Cushman: Well, we know a lot of the things your grandmother told you are helpful in this regard... What we believe, also, is that if you can practice the healthy lifestyle habits of plenty of physical exercise, not smoking, getting the right exercise, a healthy diet; you can lower your risk of a whole range of diseases from diabetes to cancer.
Kelly: Dr. Mary Cushman, thank you.
Cushman: You're welcome.
Even if you are not overweight you can be at risk for chronic inflammation. There is a simple blood test that can check your risk level. It's called a CRP test. Most doctors can perform one.
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