What Causes Chronic Inflammation? 5 Key Contributors

June 28, 2023

Inflammation is a fundamental part of our body’s healing process. When there is an injury or an infection, your body triggers an inflammatory response wherein the inflammatory cells kickstart your healing process. This acute inflammatory response is a natural and healthy response. However, when your body triggers an inflammatory response, even in the absence of an injury or an infection, and persists as chronic inflammation – that sounds problematic, doesn’t it? With industrialization at its finest, we have introduced a whole new world of toxic substances into our everyday life that our bodies cannot digest or are alien to our bodies. In this article, I am going to take you through 5 key contributors to inflammation that are part of our everyday lives.

Refined Sugar

Sugar (free sugars) is nothing but pure evil. Eat less of it and you ache for more, eat more of it and you want more and more. I really do not have to elaborate on the harmful effects of sugar, for there are enough influencers on the internet doing that.  But I do want to delve a little into the two major classes of sugar – free and intrinsic and the role that free sugars play in the development of inflammation. All of the monosaccharides – i.e. glucose, fructose, galactose, etc. and disaccharides i.e. sucrose, lactose, maltose, etc. that the food industry intentionally adds to food products and sugars found naturally in foods like fruit juices etc. are free sugars. Intrinsic sugars on the other hand are those found in whole produce – fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. Intrinsic sugars are not related to any adverse health effects, whereas free sugars are associated with several pathologies such as stroke, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, and a whole host of inflammatory diseases. Free sugar can trigger inflammation by means of different mechanisms. Minus all the technicalities of T-cells, cytokines, immunosuppression, and the like, free sugars can impair the functions of a healthy immune system and cause the production of inflammatory factors. Free sugars can also stimulate the liver to produce free fatty acids, which when broken down can produce compounds that can increase intestinal permeability, and release inflammatory factors to the liver thereby increasing liver and systemic inflammation [1]. In addition, free sugars are also capable of altering the gut microbiome by reducing the beneficial microbe population leading to an increase in systemic inflammatory factors [2]

With enough scientific evidence indicative of sugar being a causative factor in inflammation, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get rid of all sorts of free sugars from your pantry. Your daily serving of fresh produce – fruits, and vegetables, contains just enough sugar for your body to function happily. Remember – just because something doesn’t taste sweet, doesn’t mean it is devoid of sugar. It is everywhere. 

Unhealthy Fats 

No, we are not talking about the good saturated fats – butter, ghee, cold-pressed oils (such as olive, and coconut,), and animal fat. We are talking about the real bad fats – unsaturated fats (omega-6 fatty acids in particular) and trans fats. 

Unsaturated fats are broadly categorized as omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats. While you need a good balance of omega 3, and omega 6 fats, it is the omega 3 fats that are the most beneficial to the body, and the ones that you really need to focus on consuming. Why? Because Omega-3 fats are something that the body cannot produce. They are essential fats that have important functions such as managing heart health, hormone production, and fighting inflammation. Omega 6 fats are also essential, and cannot be produced by the body. In tandem with omega 3, omega 6 helps in the regulation of metabolism, bone health, reproductive health, and brain functions. As much as omega-6 fats are essential in extremely small quantities, they are detrimental to our body in large quantities and can cause cellular inflammation. [3] However, you cannot entirely avoid omega 6 because most foods built with natural fat, have both omega 3 and 6 in a certain ratio. 

The best way to work around this is to focus on foods rich in omega 3s and with lesser quantities of omega 6, such as fish, grass-fed meat, and pasture-raised eggs. If these do not fit your bill, opt for a good omega-3 supplement. 

Trans fats are just as bad as sugar. They are extremely unhealthy for you, not just causing inflammation but also disrupting optimal functions of the body. These are industrially produced by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil which is naturally higher in omega-6 fatty acids, causing the oil to become solid at room temperature. Examples of trans fats are the popular dalda AKA vanaspati, margarine, and refined oils. These fats can cause intestinal inflammation and exacerbate metabolic diseases such as diabetes and fatty liver. [4] They are also carcinogenic in nature, and should never be part of your diet. So, next time you are craving that delicious deep-fried chicken or that samosa, think twice about the toxicity you will be consuming. 


Sedentary lifestyle

Lack of physical exercise and movement contributes to the accumulation of visceral fat. Visceral fat in turn predisposes your body to a pro-inflammatory state via increased inflammatory messengers such as interleukin 6; and reduced levels of adiponectin, which is anti-inflammatory in nature. Interleukin 6 stimulates the liver to synthesize the C-reactive protein which indicates inflammation. Eventually, a network of inflammatory pathways is activated leading to chronic inflammation, which in turn makes way for insulin resistance, atherosclerosis, neurodegeneration, and other diseases associated with physical inactivity. Regular exercise, in turn, exerts anti-inflammatory effects by regulating cytokine production, antigen presentation, and reduction in the number of circulating pro-inflammatory monocytes. Additionally, exercise also reduces visceral fat mass, thus resulting in a decreased count of inflammatory mediators as well. Hence, an active lifestyle is beneficial in keeping inflammation at bay. Try adding movement and physical activity in whatever way appeals to you – lift those weights, walk those miles, and climb those bars. Or simply run. [5], [6]

Non-native EMF exposure

Not to take you back to school, but a quick refresher - electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible fields of electric and magnetic fields of force produced by moving fields of electric charges. Broadly, there are 2 categories of EMFs – High-frequency EMFs and Low to mid-frequency EMFs.

High-frequency EMFs are known to cause active DNA damage and cell damage by ionizing – i.e. by removing an electron from an atom of the body. This can contribute to genetic mutations and cancer. However, most sources of high-frequency EMFs are not so commonly available around us, and hence it is something that we cannot do much about. Some examples of high-frequency EMFs are X-ray imaging machines, CT scanning machines, radioactive elements, etc. 

Low to mid-frequency EMFs on the other hand are non-ionizing in nature – meaning they don’t impact the cells at an atomic level. Sounds harmless, right? But, no. Over the years, several studies have shown the deleterious effects of continued exposure to non-ionizing EMFs on the human body. On continuous exposure, these EMFs can cause an increase in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and reduce the effectiveness of antioxidants. [7] Measurable changes in sleep and tissue repair processes have also been observed. [8]

Low to mid-frequency EMFs are practically everywhere around us. Think Wi-Fi, television, computer screens, cell phone base stations, microwaves, mobile phones, infrared waves, etc. While we cannot entirely escape this network of non-ionizing EMF sources, we can try to reduce exposure as much as we can. Some simple measures that you can incorporate are – a) switch off your Wi-Fi when not in use, and when you go to bed b) switch off your phone at night when you go to bed c) try spending more time in the great outdoors where there are more trees, or perhaps the beach d) use a blue light blocking filter for your laptops, and blue light blocking glasses for the eyes.


Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Vitamins and minerals are fundamental to the growth and maintenance of the human body, and a multitude of physiological processes. As much as they are key to human existence, too much of vitamins and minerals can be as problematic as too less of them. While both an excess and a deficiency of nutrients can lead to a multitude of issues like low bone density, neurological issues, and lack of sleep, a deficiency of vitamins and minerals generates an inflammatory response. [9] The most common vitamin deficiency linked to inflammation is that of vitamin D. While Vitamin D is known for playing a key role in maintaining the calcium levels in your body, it is also excellent in regulating the production of inflammatory cytokines and prohibits the proliferation of pro-inflammatory cells. [10] A deficiency in vitamin D can disrupt these regulatory processes creating way for a pro-inflammatory environment. Zinc is another element that is crucial in controlling oxidative stress, and regulating inflammatory cytokines and a deficiency can enable inflammation. [11] Magnesium plays a key role in homeostasis, immune functions, and regulating muscle and nerve function. A deficiency is linked to an increased number of circulating pro-inflammatory cytokines and an accumulation of free radicals resulting in inflammation. [12] To ensure that your body is free of deficiencies, make sure to take a full panel blood test to identify deficiencies, and then work with a functional practitioner to supplement accordingly. 


1. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481

2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30760471/


4. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2021.669672/full

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/ 

6. https://www.nature.com/articles/nri3041 

7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28370033/ 

8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0928468009000352 

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5691702/ 

10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4070857/ 

11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5691702/ 

12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1084952120301713

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