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What is inflammation?

The human body faces numerous biological aggressions every day; bacteria, viruses, and fungi all try to penetrate your defense wall (the skin) to find a new resources of food.

Whenever a foreign organism or object for that matter tries to get into your body; the immune system robustly responds.

The first line of defense is, of course, the skin; however, if that foreign object finds a way around this physical obstacle, the immune system will react.

This is where the innate immune system intervenes, and the first mechanism of defense in this system is inflammation.

The inflammatory response is our body’s way of reacting to foreign hostility; immune cells are recruited into the site of the lesion, and when these cells arrive, they start to produce and release pro-inflammatory mediators such as cytokines, histamine, and prostaglandins.

Eventually, the action of these inflammatory molecules will produce the classic cardinal presentation of inflammation:

  • Rubor (redness)
  • Dolor (pain)
  • Tumor (swelling)
  • Calor (warmth)

So far, we’ve only talked about inflammation as part of a physiological healthy response to foreign pathogens; however, this system isn’t always perfect.

When the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines isn’t strictly regulated anymore, and when inflammatory mediators are circulating in the blood in high concentrations without a clear cause, this process becomes pathological.

Chronic inflammation is one of the hallmarks of a wide range of diseases including autoimmune diseases (e.g. systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, etc.), cardiovascular disease (e.g. coronary artery disease), pulmonary disease (e.g. asthma), neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease), and cancer.

In conventional medicine, treating inflammation involves the use of two classes of drugs:

1-Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): aspirin, ibuprofen.

These drugs interrupt some metabolic pathways that produce pro-inflammatory mediators. They exert their action by blocking the enzymes involved in these pathways; the most important enzymes that NSAIDs block are COX-1 and COX-2.

These two enzymes are part of the metabolic cascade that produces prostaglandins (strong pro-inflammatory mediators).

2-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: prednisone, betamethasone.

Unlike NSAIDs, steroids have a broader function on inflammation and the immune system; they block enzymes higher in the chain of reaction exerting both anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive actions.

Adverse effects of these drugs

Long term use of both of these classes is associated with serious adverse effects; this the reason researchers started looking into other natural molecules out there with anti-inflammatory properties and minimal adverse effects.

 

Citrus fruits contain polyphenols which can protect against inflammation.Citrus fruits contain polyphenols which can protect against inflammation.

Polyphenols’ mechanism of action on inflammation

In the past few years, there has been increasing interest around the anti-inflammatory properties of polyphenols and how they can be used to downregulate inflammation.

The biochemical structure of polyphenols is what gives these natural molecules their anti-inflammatory features.

The exact mechanism of action polyphenols uses to reduce inflammation has not been fully elucidated; however, it is believed that they exert their action in a similar way as NSAIDs.

Additionally, polyphenols also downregulate the expression of some genes that code for pro-inflammatory proteins.

Polyphenols and arthritis

Arthritis is the medical term we use for joint inflammation; common forms of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Nevertheless, all forms of arthritis involve pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, and swelling of the affected joint.

All the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat arthritis have serious adverse effects when used long-term. Which is why multiple studies have researched the effects of polyphenols on different forms of arthritis.

Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, polyphenols have shown great potential in reducing the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.

Unfortunately, and despite the clear positive effects that polyphenols have on arthritis and inflammation in general, there are no dietary recommendations for patients.

However, this doesn’t in any way devalue the potential of these natural substances in fighting inflammation, it just means that further studies need to be done before we start prescribing polyphenols as supplements and/or drugs.

Conclusion

Due to their anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulant properties; polyphenols have great potential to be used in the prevention and treatment of numerous diseases.

Because inflammation is the cornerstone of most chronic diseases, polyphenols have shown promising results in reducing the severity of these diseases.

Before we start prescribing polyphenols; however, further research is required to get a firm understanding of these magical substances.

 

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