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Physicians urge greater focus on role of chronic inflammation in overall health

The condition has been linked with diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and may help cause half of all deaths worldwide.

By Brian P. Dunleavy
Chronic inflammation has been linked with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Pictured is graphic depiction of inflammation on the brain. Photo by VSRao from Pixabay<br>
Chronic inflammation has been linked with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Pictured is graphic depiction of inflammation on the brain. Photo by VSRao from Pixabay

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Roughly half of all deaths worldwide are caused by inflammation-related diseases.

Now, a team of international researchers is calling on physicians to focus greater attention on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of severe, chronic inflammation so that people can live longer, healthier lives.

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In a commentary published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers at 22 institutions describe how persistent and severe inflammation in the body is often a precursor for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, diabetes, and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.

The researchers point to inflammation-related conditions as the cause of roughly 50 percent of all deaths worldwide.

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"This is a substantial public health crisis," co-author George Slavich, a research scientist at the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, said in a statement. "It's also important to recognize that inflammation is a contributor not just to physical health problems, but also mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, self-harm and suicide."

In the commentary, Slavich and his fellow authors describe inflammation as a naturally occurring response by the body's immune system that helps it fight illness and infection. However, when inflammation is chronic, it can increase the risk for developing potentially deadly diseases.

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Indeed, the dangers posed by chronic inflammation were highlighted in an analysis published in The Lancet in November 2018, which assessed 282 causes of death in 195 countries worldwide.

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According to Slavich, risk factors for chronic inflammation include obesity, poor diet, lack of physical inactivity, smoking, social isolation, stress and inadequate or poor sleep. Exposure to environmental and industrial toxins can also cause inflammation, as can infections, particularly when left untreated.

Slavich noted that future research should focus on trying to identify new biomarkers -- or measurable indicators of the presence of a disease, like levels of certain proteins in the blood -- that will allow doctors to better diagnose and treat chronic inflammation.

To date, only a handful of biomarkers for inflammation have been identified, including C-reactive protein, which is found in blood plasma.

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"Chronic inflammation is influenced by many social, environmental and lifestyle factors," Slavich said. "If we make people aware of these risk factors, our hope is that individuals will reduce the factors that apply to them."

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