Chronic inflammation: how to test for it and prevent it

Did you know chronic inflammation contributes to several diseases? Learn how to spot and test for inflammation. 

Some forms of inflammation are visible; you will see redness, swelling, and experience pain. However, chronic, low-level inflammation can be much harder to spot.

Yet, it can be very damaging to our health. 

What is chronic inflammation?

Chronic low-grade inflammation is persistent and usually caused by an unhealthy lifestyle – but not always. 

Lifestyle and behaviour-related causes of chronic low-grade inflammation [1]: 

  • A poor diet 
  • Alcohol consumption 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Sedentary behaviour 
  • Stress 
  • Smoking 
  • Weight gain 

 
Inflammatory conditions [2]:

  • Autoimmune diseases – thyroid conditions and rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Cardiovascular diseases – high blood pressure and heart disease 
  • Gastrointestinal disorders – inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis 
  • Lung diseases – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma 
  • Mood conditions – depression 
  • Metabolic diseases – type 2 diabetes 
  • Neurodegenerative diseases – Parkinson’s disease 
  • Some cancers 

How does chronic inflammation affect health?

Chronic inflammation diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world [3] - three out of five deaths relate to them. These include strokes, chronic respiratory disease, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. 

Now, you can likely see why chronic inflammation is a big topic in the health longevity space. Limiting inflammation can improve your chances of living longer in good health.   

Is all inflammation bad?

There are two types of inflammation: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is your response to injury, allergy, or infection. It comes up suddenly, lasts a few days to weeks, and settles back down. Our bodies need this type of inflammation to keep us healthy. 

Chronic inflammation is not quite as obvious. Chronic inflammation can develop for no medically apparent reason, last a lifetime, and cause harm – instead of healing [4].  

Signs of chronic inflammation

The thing that makes chronic inflammation seem scarier than acute inflammation is that it can progress silently. The symptoms are not always obvious, which is why they are often called hidden symptoms. You may start to feel sluggish but put it down to something else.  

Seven hidden symptoms of inflammation 

  • Body pain 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Frequent infections 
  • Gastrointestinal complications (constipation, diarrhoea, acid reflux) 
  • Insomnia 
  • Mood disorders (depression and anxiety) 
  • Weight gain or weight loss 

Who is at risk of chronic inflammation? 

You are more at risk of chronic inflammation if you lead a sedentary lifestyle and eat a diet high in ultra-processed food.  

Six risk factors for chronic inflammation

1. Ageing 

Getting older means your visceral body fat is likely to increase. You are like to have more inflammatory molecules because of free radical build-up or less efficient cells. 

2. A diet high in saturated fats 

Saturated fat, trans-fats, and refined sugar are all associated with producing more inflammatory molecules.  

3. Low levels of sex hormones 

Your sex hormones include testosterone and oestrogen. Testosterone and sex-hormone binding globulin (SHGB) have anti-inflammatory and protective effects by decreasing pro-inflammatory markers [5].   

4. Obesity  

Some studies have found body mass index to be proportional to the amount of pro-inflammatory proteins your body makes. Having metabolic syndrome has a similar effect on inflammatory proteins.  

5. Stress and poor sleep 

You are more likely to have chronic inflammation if you have an irregular sleeping pattern than if you have consistently good quality sleep. Good quality sleep can also strengthen your immune system and support your healing process.  

Physical and emotional stress can cause high blood pressure, which can also lead to inflammation and increase your chance of having a sleep disorder.   

Chronic inflammation, stress, and poor sleep 

6. Smoking 

Smoking increases plaque in the blood vessels, reducing blood flow and limiting your body’s healing process. This can also trigger an immunologic response, which is associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein and white blood cell count [6].  

 

How to reduce inflammation in the body

If you have recently taken a blood test that suggests you have chronic inflammation, then addressing your risk factors can help manage or reduce chronic inflammation.  

  • Eat more anti-inflammatory foods 

Natural foods, like whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds, help fend off inflammation. Have a look at our blog on the Mediterranean diet or foods to control inflammation.  

  • Eat less saturated and trans fats

Reduce or remove packaged and ultra-processed foods that contain saturated and trans fats from your diet as best you can.  

  • Talk to your doctor about medication 

Long-term use of antibiotics, antacids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen, can exacerbate chronic inflammation and diseases. If you’re concerned about long-term use, speak to your doctor.  

  • Exercise regularly 

Exercising helps you maintain a healthy weight and strengthens your heart, muscles, and bones. It increases blood flow around your body and supports your immune function. 

Chronic inflammation, exercise regularly

  • Sleep longer 

Seven to eight hours of sleep helps stimulate human growth hormones and testosterone in your body, helping to rebuild itself. 

  • Stress less 

Stress puts you at a greater risk of depression and heart disease, and your body loses its ability to regulate inflammatory response and defence. Read our five natural ways to reduce stress and cortisol levels.  

 

How to test for inflammation at home

C-reactive protein (CRP) checks for inflammation in the body. It won’t tell you where the inflammation is coming from. But, it’s a good way to monitor if there is inflammation and whether it changes over time. 

Our Optimal Health Blood Test gives a comprehensive view of your overall health. You can check 58 biomarkers, including tests for longevity like an apolipoprotein profile and triglyceride-to-HDL ratio.  

 

“Optimal

 


References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). All About Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/all-about-inflammation#:~:text=This%20chronic%20kind%20of%20low,this%20type%20of%20persistent%20inflammation

  2. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (n.d.). Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation

  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (n.d.). Inflammation. In: StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/#:~:text=Although%20chronic%20inflammation%20progresses%20silently,major%20contributor%20to%20several%20diseases

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. (2022, March 16). Why all the buzz about inflammation, and just how bad is it?. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/why-all-the-buzz-about-inflammation-and-just-how-bad-is-it-202203162705

  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2021, September 15). Inflammation, Ageing, and Chronic Disease. In: Open Biology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9810526/

  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2005). Smoking and inflammation: the cause and consequences of inflammation. In: American Journal of Physiology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160597/#:~:text=Smoking%20triggers%20an%20immunologic%20response,markers%20predict%20future%20cardiovascular%20events

 

Related tests

CRP (High Sensitivity) Blood Test

Check for chronic (long-term) low-level inflammation in your body, which is a risk factor for heart disease, with our easy home finger-prick blood test

  • Results estimated in 2 working days
  • 1 biomarkers
£39.00
Optimal Health Blood Test

Get detailed insights into your current and future wellbeing with our most comprehensive panel, covering 58 biomarkers — the ultimate test for anyone dedicated to living longer in better health

  • Results estimated in 6 working days
  • 58 biomarkers
£249.00
Ultimate Performance Blood Test

Our ultimate blood test for men and women gives you our most comprehensive health check, including advanced profiles for your hormone health, thyroid function, and sports nutrition

  • Results estimated in 3 working days
  • 56 biomarkers
£199.00