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Reasons Most People Have Inflammation, Say Physicians

These habits are causing dangerous inflammation.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Inflammation is a necessary function of the human body, but chronic inflammation can be dangerous. "Inflammation is the body's response to a problem," says Edwin McDonald, MD. "It's a normal, important reaction that signals to the immune system that something is wrong, so it can then fight off infection or heal injuries. When you have influenza and run a fever, that's inflammation. When you eat something bad and get diarrhea, that's inflammation. Swelling after you twist your ankle? That's inflammation, too. We need a little inflammation. We would die if we did not have inflammation. Chronic inflammation, however, is another story. Chronic inflammation can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. Over time, it can lead to diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease." Here are five common causes of inflammation, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.




Drinking too much alcohol may increase your risk of inflammation. "Too often do I see patients doing everything'"right' but continuing to hold on to alcohol," says Dr. Will Cole. "While it may seem harmless to indulge in a few drinks on the weekend with some friends, doing this on the regular can contribute to chronic inflammation and underlying gut problems like leaky gut syndrome. In many cases I have seen, alcohol is the missing link between lifestyle and chronic health problems in otherwise diligent people."



woman puts hands on head, stressed, busy at work

There is a wealth of evidence showing the link between stress and inflammation. "When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease," says Sheldon Cohen, Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. "Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well. Knowing this is important for identifying which diseases may be influenced by stress and for preventing disease in chronically stressed people."

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No Exercise

Woman sitting on bed looking at phone bored and in a bad mood

Lack of exercise is strongly linked to chronic inflammation, doctors say. "When you don't eat healthy, don't get enough exercise, or have too much stress, the body responds by triggering inflammation," says Varinthrej Pitis, MD. "Chronic inflammation can have damaging consequences over the long term. So the food you eat, the quality of sleep you get and how much you exercise, they all really matter when it comes to reducing inflammation."

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Poor Diet

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

"The standard American diet is pro-inflammatory because it's rich in ultra-processed foods and red meat, and low in fruits and vegetables," says Dr. McDonald. "All processed foods can cause inflammation. They can alter the bacteria that live in our gut, and that alteration has the ability to interact with our immune system and eventually trigger it in a way that leads to chronic inflammation. A quick way to recognize ultra-processed foods is to read the ingredients and see if you can pronounce what's in it. The stuff you can't pronounce is what can promote inflammation. Also, fried foods, soaked in oil with Omega 6 fatty acids, can be pro-inflammatory. Sugar and soda may cause inflammation because of their effects on insulin."

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Smoking E-Cigarettes

vaping girl

Not only do regular cigarettes cause inflammation, but e-cigarettes may also be linked with chronic inflammation, according to a study published in iScience. "The safety of e-cigarettes have been debated fiercely on both sides," says Pradipta Ghosh, MD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "Nicotine content, and its addictive nature, has always been the major focus of those who argue against its safety, whereas lack of chemicals in the carcinogens that are present in the cigarette smoke has been touted by the makers of e-cigarettes when marketing these products as a 'healthy alternative.' In reality, it's the chemicals making up the vapor liquid that we should be more concerned about as they are the cause of gut inflammation." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan