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6 Common Causes of Inflammation That Have Nothing to Do With Your Diet

These often overlooked factors could also be to blame.

Inflammation is a normal and necessary immune response to infection or injury. When an area of your body becomes inflamed, cells rush to attack the invading bacteria, viruses or fungi, or to heal the damaged tissue. However, sometimes the body sends out inflammatory signals when no infection or injury is present, resulting in chronic inflammation.

Most often, people look to their diets to address the symptoms of inflammation, which may include joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Their experts note that inflammation is also linked with Alzheimer's disease, asthma, cancer, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes, among other serious conditions.

While it's true that eating certain anti-inflammatory foods can help your body fight off inflammation, several other common causes of inflammation have nothing at all to do with your diet. Read on to learn which other factors may be behind your chronic inflammation, and how to reverse their effects.

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Having a chronic infection

Sick guy feeling ear pain, health care, neurological infection, itchiness otitis

Left untreated or under-treated, a chronic infection can trigger a prolonged inflammatory response, which can in turn lead to higher incidence of chronic illness. "When the body detects an infection, the immune system responds by releasing various chemicals that cause blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow to the affected area. This influx of immune cells and fluid causes redness, swelling, and heat," explains Blen Tesfu, MD, a general practitioner and medical adviser at Welzo.

Tun Min, MD, a family physician and general practitioner working with the U.K.'s National Health Services (NHS), says that while an inflammatory response is usually "self-limiting," it can still "cause serious harm if repeated infections or in people with defective immune systems. Prompt recognition and treatment of any infections and strengthening of the immune system will help alleviate this condition," he tells Best Life.

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Being stressed out

A young couple facing away from each other on the couch; the man has his head in his hands and the woman is crying.
Budimir Jevtic / Shutterstock

Physical and mental stress produce an excess of hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and growth hormones. "These hormones alter the cellular signals and stimulate the inflammatory process," says Min.

Tesfu agrees that chronic stress is a common culprit behind inflammation."Stress can disrupt sleep patterns, impair immune function, and lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as poor diet choices or excessive alcohol consumption, which can further contribute to inflammation," she tells Best Life.

The good news? There are several ways to reduce inflammation by managing stressors and your response to them. Tesfu recommends techniques like mindfulness, exercise, getting adequate sleep, and seeking support from friends, family, or professionals to help improve your symptoms.

Getting older

Sick senior patient with belly pain,severe stomach ache,symptoms gastrointestinal system disease,gut,digestion problems,diarrhoea,elderly woman suffer from stomachache,irritable bowel,food poisoning
CGN089 / Shutterstock

As you get older, you may find that chronic inflammation becomes a more frequent adversary. "Aging itself is a chronic inflammatory process because of the dysregulation of the immune system. Markers of inflammation such as C reactive proteins are elevated in old age persons, levels increased with increasing frailty," explains Min.

However, there are ways to mitigate the effects of aging through good lifestyle habits, the doctor points out. "Although aging can't be prevented, healthy aging can be achieved through good nutrition, exercise therapy and treatment of medical problems like diabetes mellitus and hypertension," he adds.

Tobacco use

No smoking sign outside

We all know that smoking is bad for your lungs, cancer risk, cardiovascular health, and more, but many people don't realize that chronic inflammation from cigarette smoke is a driving factor behind these major health woes. "Nicotine and other chemicals activate white blood cells which later secrete inflammatory mediators. It can also impair the body's defenses and promote the chance of getting respiratory tract infections," explains Min.

However, those who quit smoking will see high returns on the investment in their health. "Quitting smoking for about one year can improve lung function and quitting for about 10 years can reduce the added risks of cancers by half," Min says.

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Having dry skin

Woman with itchy, tingling arms scratching skin.

New York-based dermatologist Dina Strachan, MD, says that when skin is dry, it is in an inflammatory state. This can cause a range of inflammatory skin conditions including eczema, acne, and psoriasis, as well as a broader flare up of inflammation throughout the body.

Strachan notes that this also applies to the skin on your scalp, and says that inflammation can occur when you don't wash your hair often enough. "Accumulation of dead skin cells, oil and yeast on the scalp create an inflammatory environment," she explains. "This causes dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis to flare," she adds.

Having gum disease

Dentist treats teeth girl lying in the dental chair

Gum disease is often referred to as a "gateway disease" because developing chronic infection or inflammation in your mouth often results in general inflammation.

"Like the skin, inflamed gums increase general inflammation," says Strachan, adding that gum disease is associated with other serious chronic conditions including heart disease. In fact, the American Academy of Periodontology has also linked gum disease with diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and more.

By treating your oral condition with the help of your dentist, you may be able to lessen your risk of these systemic illnesses.

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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