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Inflammation, Cytokines and You

Numerous scientific studies point out the links between chronic inflammation and various diseases and malignancies, ranging from hay fever and periodontitis to rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Acute inflammation benefits the body, responding to threats and kickstarting the body’s self-repairing processes. It’s only when this process continues out of control that inflammation becomes an adverse reaction with negative consequences.

Inflammation can be triggered by inflammatory cytokines, a signaling molecule released by certain body cells. These molecules regulate the body’s inflammatory response, addressing microbial intrusions. Anti-inflammatory cytokines work with them, easing inflammation once the initial threat is addressed. Proper regulation of these cytokines regulate the body’s inflammatory response. When outside causes upset the balance, inflammation becomes chronic and causes the aforementioned problems.

Acute inflammation appears within a few minutes or hours and eases once the offending stimulus is removed. For example, the skin around a splinter inflames with redness, swelling, heat and pain but begins easing after the splinter is removed. Increased blood flow to the stimulus site creates the characteristic heat and redness associated with inflammation. Inflammation also makes tissue more permeable to blood cells which respond to and repair the damage, creating the characteristic swelling.

Inflammation is divided into an initial vascular response and a later cellular response. The body releases cytokines and hormones which move more plasma fluid and antibodies toward the injury. Chemicals released into the bloodstream alter blood vessel permeability, allowing fresh blood and antibodies from the blood stream to move into the affected area. If the stimulus causing the response is a lacerating wound, the body also releases platelets and coagulants that clot the blood, stop blood loss and begin tissue repair.

Cytokines are a broad protein category involved in cell signaling, including inflammation regulation. Their release influences cell behavior around them, often marshalling immune cells to the body’s defense. They are related to but distinct from hormones, which have similar purposes but with certain key differences. Relatively speaking, hormone concentrations are almost always steady, while cytokine concentrations can increase exponentially in response to bodily trauma or infection.

Each cytokine has a matching cell-surface receptor, and the interaction between them influences cell function. Cytokine receptors have drawn scientific attention recently due to both their remarkable characteristics and the discovery that cytokine receptor deficiency is directly linked with certain immunodeficiencies.

Inflammatory cytokines are those specific signaling molecules, whose release causes immune system cells to promote inflammation. Helper T cells and macrophages produce most inflammatory cytokines, which upon their production regulate host defense against pathogens. They regulate the body’s innate immune system: the first line against infection. Some inflammatory cytokines serve additional functions including acting as growth factors, regulating neuronal reaction to injuries, and regulating cellular apoptosis: normal cell death.

Inflammatory cytokines, if uncontrolled by anti-inflammatory cytokines, can exacerbate disease symptoms. Excessive inflammatory cytokines can cause fever, tissue destruction, and in some cases shock and death. Excessive inflammatory cytokines has also been connected to depression and several other negative health outcomes.

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