Nearly every day people tell me that their joints are swollen and stiff, they hurt all over, and that they look and feel older than their chronological age. Most of these individuals have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
Arthritis is a sign of a “boosted” immune system with excessive inflammation leading to joint damage. People report pain in areas such as their backs, fingers, hands, wrists, knees, and shoulders.
Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints of the body. However sometimes even before joint symptoms appear, rheumatoid arthritis can involve other parts of the body including the lungs or eyes. Long-term inflammation of the lungs leads to scarring and shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, and an on-going, chronic dry cough. If the pleura, the tissues around the lungs, become inflamed, fluid buildup may result in fever, pain when taking a breath, and difficulty in breathing.
Inflammation Is Essential for Our Survival:
Clinicians, and most lay people, focus on the harmful aspects of inflammation and try to stop the inflammatory response at all costs. Instead, all that is needed is to control the this immune response. The process of inflammation is normal, protective, and absolutely essential for our survival. Inflammation is the first step to healing after an injury or when the body is gathering its forces to stop an infection. Immune inflammation also helps the body destroy cancer cells before they grow and multiply.
When the body recognizes it has been injured or infected, the immune system releases antibodies and cytokines, smaller proteins that attract different types of immune cells into an area, to help eliminate and destroy threats to the body.
Once healing has started, the amount of inflammation that the body produces must be controlled. The genes that control inflammation have to be “turned off”, down-regulated, so that inflammatory responses are limited.
Arthritis is an Autoimmune Disorder:
Arthritis is one of many autoimmune disorders in which the body mistakenly produces autoantibodies, antibodies against its own tissues that attach to joint linings, and cartilage which acts as a shock absorber. The presence of autoantibodies may trigger immune cells to release inflammatory molecules that cause damage to the joints and other organ systems.
The Effect of Stress and Weight on Arthritis:
There are many factors that contribute to the discomfort experienced by individuals with joint issues. Two of these most recently investigated are: stress and weight.
The body increases the amount of inflammation it produces when it is exposes to constant stress and the stress of pain. It becomes part of a vicious cycle. Stress causes inflammation, and inflammation leads to more stress. There is crosstalk between the nervous, hormonal, and immune systems. Changes in one system effects the other system.
Stressed individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis produce much higher levels of most cytokines than people without arthritis. Immunologically they respond differently to stress.
Overweight and obese patients with rheumatoid arthritis have more pain and respond less well to medication, as compared to normal weight patients. Obesity is an inflammatory disease during which fat cells, especially those concentrated around the inner organs, pump out large numbers of inflammatory molecules. Certain inflammatory proteins are found in high number in the abdominal fat tissue of overweight and obese individuals.
Importance of Immune Balance/Immune Homeostasis:
Immune inflammation is tightly regulated by the body. It consists of a) triggering and maintaining inflammatory responses, and b) producing immune messages that decrease and/or entirely stop the inflammation. Imbalances between the two phases of inflammation results in unchecked inflammation, loss of immune homeostasis, and may result in cell and tissues damage like that experienced in rheumatoid arthritis.
The key is to incorporate lifestyle changes to help the body maintain immune balance.
Help your body return to immune balance. Dr. Hellen may be contacted at: 302.265.3870 ET USA, or use the contact form. Thank you.