Inflammation Circuit Dysfunction – Part 1

By: Dr. Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


There is a close correlation between adrenal fatigue and chronic inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in the symptoms associated with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) such as brain fog, anxiety and depression, bloating, various bodily aches/pains, and low blood sugar levels. To best understand how this works, you need to take a look at your body’s inflammation circuit.

How the Inflammation Circuit Works

A knee that looks red and inflamed due to inflammation circuit dysfunctionInflammation, essentially, is the result of the body’s response to stress of any kind. This implies it could be due to stress of a physical or a psychological nature. To illustrate, an example of physical stress may be where you fall and break your leg or you become ill with influenza. Psychological stress, on the other hand, is a result of your emotions, e.g. you get into a heated argument with a colleague at work.

Inflammation is the result of a series of changes in your body. These are signals arising at a molecular and cellular level that change your normal physiological responses. The results are the four cardinal signs of inflammation. It was Celsus, a Roman, who in the first century AD, first described and named these four symptoms of inflammation. He termed them:

  • Dolor – pain
  • Rubor – redness
  • Calor – heat
  • Tumor – swelling

Inflammation is extremely important when it comes to the body’s ability to repair itself, as the inflammation process allows the body to both fight against and get rid of whatever is causing it harm. The symptoms we feel – redness, swelling, pain, and heat – are the side effects of this process.

Inflammation starts the moment our body begins defending itself against the toxins and pathogens that invade our body or when the body starts healing. During this process, the blood capillaries dilate while the walls become more porous. This allows white blood cells to move through the walls of the blood vessels and thus reach the area where the damage due to the infection has manifest.
The swelling and associated pain in these areas are due to the buildup of fluid that in turn puts pressure on the nerves in these areas, thereby causing the pain and discomfort we feel. The molecular mediators (i.e. molecules fighting inflammation) also trigger pain, increasing your discomfort. The heat felt during the inflammation process is due to an increase in blood flow to that particular area of the body.

Generally speaking, the inflammation circuit responds to any situation in your body to keep itself healthy and working optimally. It is a natural, biological response. Problems arise, however, when inflammation is unchecked. Where your body’s natural inflammatory response is not curbed and controlled, the result may be chronic inflammation.

Types of Inflammation

As mentioned, inflammation is the result of either physical or psychological stress. However, inflammation due to psychological stress usually has a lesser impact than that triggered due to physical (physiological) stress. Inflammation is an automatic response to any threat experienced by the body, no matter whether it is real or not.

Physical or psychological stress can trigger inflammation circuit dysfunctionShort term pain usually associated with your body’s response to acute inflammation is of long-term benefit. The same, however, is not the case when it comes to low-grade, continuous inflammation that is so often the response to psychological stress and chronic infection, as is the case with Lyme Disease or the Epstein-Barr (EB) virus. Here, your body experiences a constant state of stress that results in the inflammation circuit working overtime. The result is a state of imbalance that makes you more susceptible to contracting different diseases and negatively impacts the effects associated with the aging process.

This kind of inflammation, although not noticeably perceivable, is present for years before actually manifesting itself. Interestingly, the length of time this inflammatory state is present not only directly impacts the severity of your diagnosed condition, but the prognosis as well. Your body’s inflammatory circuit’s response to certain conditions is, in many instances, the reason for certain chronic conditions.

Acute versus Chronic Inflammation

Although the typical signs of inflammation are easy to identify (heat, redness, pain, and swelling), signs pointing to chronic inflammation are not as easy to see. Among these are signs including: bloating, brain fog, food sensitivities, anxiety, depression, leaky gut (irritable bowel), dizziness, and many others.

Acute inflammation, in someone who is healthy, is easily controlled. It is activated when a threat is perceived. It then fights the infection and starts to repair any damage. It also, however, returns to normal once the threat has passed, allowing the body to function normally once more. The cortisol hormone secreted by the adrenal glands controls the inflammation ‘turn-off’ process. Cortisol is also your body’s stress reduction hormone.

Although inflammation is uncomfortable, it is necessary and the body is designed in such a way that it can both tolerate and control it. Research indicates that chronic low-level stress stays in the body for a period even when there is no physical sign of it and has a negative effect on both physiological and psychological health.

Localized Inflammation

Inflammation pertaining to a specific chronic condition is local. This indicates that those with heart disease have localized inflammation in their arteries, those with diabetes have it in their pancreas, and those with Alzheimer’s have it in their brain. Inflammation is also, however, the result of certain toxins present in the environment or in the food we eat; in this case, they can affect different areas of the body, thereby affecting not only your health and mental acumen but even your length of life.

There are many diseases and health issues that include an aspect of inflammation. These include, among others:

    • Fibromyalgia
    • Lupus
    • Asthma
    • Stroke
    • Celiac disease
    • Autism
    • Wrinkles as you age
    • Acid reflux
    • Susceptibility to certain infections (viral, bacterial, fungal)
    • Cancer
    • Arthritis

Psoriasis can be due to the inflammation circuit

  • Skin problems – such as acne or psoriasis
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pain
  • Bronchitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Heart diseases
  • Candidiasis
  • High blood pressure

Causes of Inflammation

There are many causes of chronic inflammation that result in the inflammation circuit becoming unbalanced. These include, among others:

  • Mild, chronic allergies or food sensitivities
  • Dysbiosis of the gut (an imbalance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract) resulting in the immune system acting aggressively towards microbes present in the gut
  • Environmental toxins (which are linked to numerous diseases, e.g. cancer). Among these toxins, we find food preservatives, toxic metals, chemicals added to drinking water, and air pollution
  • A more sedentary lifestyle
  • A diet high in processed foods, sugar, and fat – lifestyle and diet are two major contributors with regards to inflammation, diabetes, and heart disease
  • Too little sleep
  • Excessive exercise regimes
  • Certain medications, e.g. antibiotics that cause gut dysbiosis
  • Chronic stress, whether psychological or physiological in nature results in the overproduction of cortisol in the adrenals, resulting in inflammation

Adrenal fatigue is commonly overlooked as the cause of an unbalanced inflammation circuit.

The inflammation circuit is one of the key responders when the body is subjected to any type of stress. The inflammatory response works in conjunction with other body systems and organs when reacting to stress, while still trying to keep up with their ‘normal’ bodily functions. The body systems that most directly affect the inflammation circuit include:

  1. Your immune system
  2. Your gut (gastrointestinal tract)
  3. Your microbiome

What are the individual functions of these different components and how do they affect inflammation?

Check out this easy to understand infographic about causes and signs of Inflammation Circuit Dysfunction

The Gut and Inflammation

Most of the different inflammatory diseases start in your body’s gut (gastrointestinal or GI tract). From there, they spread to different parts of your body. The gut’s lining is permeable, meaning it allows certain substances to pass through and enter the bloodstream.

When this permeability increases, however, unwanted substances also pass through, thereby triggering the body’s immune system in order to fight it. This may result in not only inflammation but also allergies and diseases consequently. In certain instances these toxins make their way to your brain, resulting in not only depression but certain neurological problems as well.

Once the problem becomes systemic in nature, in other words, it affects your entire system, your body is no longer able to digest properly. This makes it extremely difficult for you to get the different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your body needs in order to work effectively, no matter how healthy your diet may be.

Let’s look at some symptoms that can arise from an inflamed gastrointestinal system.

Food Sensitivities and The Inflammation Circuit

Another issue that is on the increase is an increasing sensitivity to certain foods, especially gluten. The reason why food sensitivities often go undiagnosed for so long is because the symptoms are so similar to that of other gut disorders and conditions. They are usually mistaken for another ailment.

Gluten can make the inflammation circuit worseGluten, the protein responsible for making dough sticky, is made of glutenin and gliadin. This protein is found in most grains, e.g. wheat, barley, rye, semolina, Kamut (Khorasan wheat or Pharaoh grain), and barley. It is not, however, only limited to certain types of grain, but is usually found in many types of processed foods, medications, supplements, and health and beauty products.

The question, however, is why has the number of people with a gluten sensitivity increased by so much?

The reason is simple. Wheat has been cross-bred with other proteins to get a product that not only grows much faster, but that is able to survive in more difficult environmental conditions. Add to this the fact that it has been processed in such a way as to become even more water-soluble in order to mix with other ingredients. This means that we are actually consuming wheat in much larger quantities than our forefathers ever did. The result is an ever-increasing percentage of the population developing a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten.

Once eaten, gluten is broken down into gliadin and glutenin due to enzyme action. Once they reach your gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), they are assessed to see whether they are harmful to your body. If you happen to be sensitive to gluten, the GALT attacks the proteins by means of antibodies. In those with Celiac disease, both the proteins and enzymes breaking down the gluten are attacked by the antibodies produced by the GALT.

Another function of this enzyme is to help with the absorption of nutrients. This it does by holding the gut’s microvilli together. Microvilli are hair-like structures that are found in the intestinal wall. Any attack on this enzyme results in the microvilli becoming damaged – which in turn has a negative impact on the gut wall, making it more permeable to toxins and resulting in a condition known as leaky gut. The antibodies could also attack your organs and other tissue, e.g. your skin and brain. The result is an autoimmune disorder.

However, it is not only gluten that causes inflammation. Other sources are dairy products, oils containing linoleic acid, e.g. peanut, sunflower, safflower, and corn oil, and refined and simple carbohydrates.

You can both heal your gut and calm down your inflammation circuit by identifying and eliminating foods to which you are sensitive. Chronic inflammation is closely linked to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. By making dietary adjustments, you help yourself heal from adrenal fatigue while at the same time reducing the risk of contracting a GI disorder.

Read Part 2 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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