Stress, obesity and poor diet trigger persistent inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and depression. We’re finally working out how to fight it
By Caroline Williams
JOB, kids, mortgage, bills, groceries, housework… coping with modern life can sometimes feel like a remorseless treadmill. Many of us end up exhausted, with a vague feeling that all this pressure can’t be doing us any good. But we do it anyway, driven by the notion that stress is for wimps. And there’s always a glass of wine and a takeaway to look forward to at the end of the week.
Big mistake. Far from being for wimps, physical and psychological stress are major triggers of a modern scourge that has been linked with every malady from heart disease, depression and chronic pain to neurodegenerative diseases. That scourge is inflammation. Until recently, we have known little about how what starts as a protective immune process in the body goes awry, and there have been frustratingly few evidence-based suggestions on what we should do about it. But now we are starting to learn more about how the process works, how it connects body and mind, and what we might do to keep it in check. This new understanding is leading to treatments that may finally let us douse this constant fire – not by stopping it from happening, but by turning it off when it is no longer useful.
Such treatments could benefit the millions of people around the world who have chronic inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and coeliac disease. They could also assist those of us who want to have our cake, eat it and not end up inflamed. Finding a way to manage inflammation could help prevent modern life from damaging our long-term physical health.