Long-term inflammation wreaks havoc on our bodies, with ill effects on our different body systems. A study published in the journal Nature Cell Biology on April 25, 2016, illuminates the detrimental impact of chronic inflammation on bone marrow stem cells. The study by Eric Pietras, PhD and his team focused on the inflammatory marker known as interleukin-1 (IL-1), a cytokine that is released in our bodies during times of stress or emergency situations. IL-1 has also been shown to be elevated in association with certain chronic disease processes such as diabetes, chronic stress, autoimmune disorders, and obesity.
IL-1 stimulates the blood-forming marrow stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells (HSC's), to produce certain types of cells that are needed as a direct response to a crisis situation such as an injury or infection. When this occurs, these stem cells give up their ability to self-renew, thus compromising the body's normal functioning blood system. This is a normal response to short-term issues that we are confronted with, as this acute response is necessary to fight infections or repair injuries.
However, this becomes a problem in situations where the long-term stress of inflammation never stops, as mentioned in the disease states above. When the signals that lead to elevated IL-1 are constant, the HSC's keep responding as if there is an acute injury or infection, at the expense of their ability to keep the blood system in normal working order. As a result, the body may produce too few red blood cells (thus decreasing the ability to deliver needed oxygen to the body) and/or too few lymphoid cells (thereby leading to a potentially immunodeficient state). In these situations, the body is essentially weakened and can exacerbate other medical conditions or predispose to new injuries, infections, or disease states.
The good news with the study is that these effects are only transient in nature and are reversible with the elimination of the IL-1 stimulus. The take-away message is that chronic inflammation is quite harmful and therefore necessitates the elimination of whatever is causing that state of being. And that is one of the foundations of integrative wellness, to determine what might be causing an inflammatory state and how to deal with it.