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The Cytokine Storm and What You Need to Know
Today, medical experts around the globe agree chronic inflammation is a great risk to humanity. In this article, you’ll learn about inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses of small proteins called cytokines and their role in stimulating immune response in the body. While inflammation is an essential part of a healthy immune system, chronic and uncontrolled inflammation can lead to serious illnesses.
Specific cells of the immune system secrete cytokines which are essentially proteins and peptides. Peptides are compounds consisting of two or more amino acids linked in a chain. Cytokines are communicating molecules that stimulate and coordinate immunity, inflammation and the process through which the body manufactures blood cells.
Cytokines are produced in response to foreign invaders such as pathogens, germs, fungi and viruses, as well as abnormal cells, infection and chemicals. Cytokines function as chemical messengers to stimulate the innate and adaptive immune system response. The innate immune system is what you are born with, while the adaptive immune system is upgraded over your lifetime as it learns to adapt to foreign substances that enter the body. When the body can’t identify something, it stimulates the adaptive immune response by binding to specific cytokine receptors on other cells of the immune system which in turn governs the immune activity to destroy the foreign invader and get rid of it.
A healthy immune system is able to efficiently identify itself from outside substances and stimulate the immune cells to produce anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory cytokines to maintain health. Over time, uncontrolled chronic inflammation in the body triggered by a prolonged immune response can lead to pain in muscles, limited range of motion and limited mobility. An unhealthy immune system can trigger an inflammatory auto-immune response when the immune system is overwhelmed.
As inflammation rises in the body, it can weaken the body’s immune response letting unwanted pathogens, bacteria, viruses, etc. to attack the body. Unhealthy inflammation left unchecked or unresolved over time may trigger a cytokine storm leading to more serious chronic inflammation that we all want to avoid.
The suffix -itis means inflammation, so the next time you hear a medical condition ending in “itis” think of this acronym, “I Take Inflammation Seriously!”
Stress is another factor that can compromise the immune system. It seems stress triggers an immune response in the body that over time can trigger a cytokine storm. While cytokine activity is linked to infection, pathogens, chemicals and injury, it’s also due to lifestyle-related issues such as obesity, smoking and a sedentary lifestyle. Stress can also trigger unhealthy choices which can further exacerbate higher inflammatory cytokine responses such as over-eating, eating unhealthy foods and poor sleep. This can all lead to obesity, pain and chronic inflammation.
Luckily, you can monitor and measure the level of inflammation in your body. There’s a simple laboratory test called a C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test, which can be ordered by your doctor. C-Reactive Protein (CRP) ranges are listed below.
Consuming nutrients that can help combat inflammation is important. Anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and fruits such as blueberry. Other ways to consume anti-inflammatory nutrients include using supplements or products with anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Now that you have a better understanding of what cytokines are and how they work, it’s time to take action by making some fairly simple yet highly effective lifestyle modifications. Start with managing day-to-day stress so stress doesn’t trigger distress on your body. Stress leads to high cortisol, increased inflammatory cytokines, a compromised immune system and weight gain. By better managing stress, you’ll create a healthier outlook and will be able to make healthier choices in your diet and activities such as sleep and regular physical activity. I would also suggest speaking with your doctor about getting a CRP test the next time you get your lab tests done. This test may be helpful to your doctor in not only identifying your inflammation level, but also determining the possible root cause of some of your symptoms.
About Paul Bernitt, DHH.
Paul is a passionate advocate for early detection, prevention, and wellness, and brings extensive healthcare education, experience, and leadership to his role as the Director of the TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine.