Inflammation’s Dark Side: Why Inflammation, not Cholesterol, Is a Key Cause of Chronic Disease

Cholesterol is bad. At least that’s what many of us have been told. It sounds so simple, but where did that perception come from, and why is it only a very small piece of a much larger puzzle?

Growing evidence suggests that high cholesterol may be one of the symptoms of chronic inflamation in the body. Overtime chronic inflamation can cause chronic diseases like cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc (Goswami et al., 2021; Walker, 2019).

What Is Inflamation?

Inflammation is a natural defence mechanism used by our immune system to protect us against harmful substances like germs, injuries, or irritants (Pahwa et al., 2022).

The immune system’s response to injury or infection involves several things (Pahwa et al., 2022). First, it increases blood flow to the affected area, which can make it look red and feel warm (Pahwa et al., 2022). This increased blood flow helps deliver more immune cells and nutrients to the site of the problem (Pahwa et al., 2022).

Next, the immune system releases chemicals called cytokines (Pahwa et al., 2022). These cytokines help recruit more immune cells to the area, like soldiers coming to fight off the invaders (Pahwa et al., 2022). These immune cells work together to get rid of the harmful substances and start repairing the damaged tissues (Pahwa et al., 2022).

But, if the inflammation response can’t fix what’s irritating our body or if the irritation keeps coming back over a long period of time, for example due to smoking or chronic gout, the body can develop chronic inflammation (Tsoupras et al., 2018). This can lead to tissue damage, changes in our DNA, and the formation of scar tissue inside our bodies (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

These changes can have a negative impact on our cells and other molecular processes (Goswami et al., 2021). Chronic inflamation can increase our risk of developing chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease) and make those diseases worse over time (Goswami et al., 2021).

How Did Cholesterol Get Blamed?

It is commonly believed that eating foods with cholesterol and having high cholesterol levels in the blood are the main causes of chronic diseases like heart problems (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

This is called the ‘cholesterol hypothesis’, and this idea basically says that high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for health problems and that lowering your cholesterol levels can reduce risk (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

The reason the cholesterol hypothesis became so widely believed was due to a study that was groundbreaking at the time called the Seven Countries Study (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

This study was conducted in between 1958 and 1970 and was one of the first studies to explore the connection between food and health based on its association with regional cuisines.

During this study researchers studied populations from seven different countries to better understand the relationship between diet, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular diseases (Tsoupras et al., 2018). This study suggested that high cholesterol intake and subsequent high levels in the blood could increase the risk of these diseases (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

However, more recent research on cholesterol and our understanding of chronic diseases themselves, have changed this rather one dimensional perception. We now know that Seven Countries Study had some limitations to this conclusion as they didn’t consider other important factors that contribute to these diseases, like inflammation in the body (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

More recent studies have shown that the way our body reacts to inflammation plays a bigger role in chronic diseases than just cholesterol alone (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

For example, the Mediterranean diet and people living in certain regions called the blue zones have shown that even though they eat foods with cholesterol, they have lower rates of chronic diseases (Tsoupras et al., 2018). This is because people in these blue zones focus on other important factors, like managing inflammation, reducing stress and making healthy lifestyle choices (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

How Does Inflamation Cause High Cholesterol?

When the body experiences chronic inflammation, certain chemicals and immune responses can disrupt our normal lipid metabolism (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

This can lead to increased levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides, as well as decreased levels of HDL cholesterol (often referred to as “good” cholesterol) (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

Compounding this issue inflammation can contribute to a condition called dyslipidemia, which is characterized by abnormal lipid (fat) levels in the blood (Tsoupras et al., 2018). Having dyslipidemia, is problematic because it is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

Inflammation can also increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in the arteries (Tsoupras et al., 2018). This happens because inflammation can cause ‘oxidative stress’, which can lead to the oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles (Tsoupras et al., 2018). Oxidized LDL cholesterol is bad because it makes it more likely for plaque to form in the arteries (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

Additionally, inflammation can impair the function of the cells lining the blood vessels (endothelial cells) and activate the immune system, further contributing to the development of atherosclerosis (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

It’s important to understand that inflammation and dyslipidemia can create a cycle in which each condition worsens the other (Tsoupras et al., 2018). High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase inflammation, and inflammation can make dyslipidemia worse as well (Tsoupras et al., 2018).

How To Manage High Inflamation Levels?

The first step is to get tested for inflamation. This helps you to get a formal diagnosis, allows your doctor to plan your treatment, and monitor the problem overtime to ensure your inflamation levels are going down.

At Epicentre, we provide the Full Blood Count (FBC), Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), C-reactive Protein test (CRP), and Uric Acid (UA) Blood Test. These are the top tests for assessing and managing inflammation-related conditions.

How To Book Our Inflamation Tests?

You’re welcome to just walk in to one of our labs and get tested or book our tests online simply click the button below to learn more.

What to Expect During Your Test

At Epicentre, we understand that getting tested can be a daunting process, which is why we strive to make it as simple and stress-free as possible. Here’s how you can get started:

Step 1: Choose the test you need

Our website has all the information you need to decide which of inflamation tests are right for you.

You can also contact us on WhatsApp at 072 843 7564 if you have any questions or need further assistance. Don’t forget to check out our special deals and discounts to save money on your tests.

Step 2: Visit our testing centre

Once you’ve decided on a test, simply visit one of our branches in Hillcrest, Rondebosch or Randburg. Depending on the test you’ve chosen, you’ll either drive through our testing site or enter our boutique lab. Our friendly and professional staff will guide you through the testing procedure and collect a sample from you using a new swab, lancet, or syringe, depending on the test.

Step 3: Wait for your results

Most of our tests have a turnaround time of 36–48 hours, except for our rapid or antigen tests, which gives results in just 10 minutes. We’ll send your results to you via email or SMS, depending on your preference. You’ll also receive a medical certificate with each test that you can use for official purposes.

At Epicentre, we pride ourselves on providing accurate and affordable testing services that suit your needs and preferences. Our testing process is simple and hassle-free, and our staff is always available to answer any questions or concerns you may have. So why wait? Visit our website today to book your test or find out more about our offerings. We look forward to serving you!

Learn More About Our Walk-In Lab

Epicentre has an extensive walk-in testing centre for both rapid and lab tests. Learn more here.

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