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Non-disease Causes of Inflammation

By Prof. Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH(AHG), Huntington University of Health Sciences

The role of inflammation in the pathogenesis of disease—as well as a consequence of disease—is well established. Indeed, when we think about chronic inflammation, we generally associate it with various disease states such as arthritis or IBD. While such an association is certainly correct, it is important to remember that there are non-disease causes of inflammation that should be considered and addressed. These include diet and colder temperatures.

A cross-sectional study1 was conducted with 732 women from the Nurses’ Health Study I cohort who were 43-69 y of age and free of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes mellitus at the time of blood drawing in 1990. Dietary intake was documented by using a validated food-frequency questionnaire in 1986 and 1990. Dietary patterns were generated by using factor analysis. A prudent pattern was characterized by higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains, and a Western pattern was characterized by higher intakes of red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries and refined grains. Results were that the prudent pattern was inversely associated with plasma concentrations of CRP (P = 0.02) and E-selectin (P = 0.001) after adjustment for age, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, smoking status, and alcohol consumption. The Western pattern showed a positive relation with CRP (P < 0.001), interleukin 6 (P = 0.006), E-selectin (P < 0.001), sICAM-1 (P < 0.001), and sVCAM-1 (P = 0.008) after adjustment for all confounders except BMI; with further adjustment for BMI, the coefficients remained significant for CRP (P = 0.02), E-selectin (P < 0.001), sICAM-1 (P = 0.002), and sVCAM-1 (P = 0.02). In conclusion, higher intakes of red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries, and refined grains are associated with experiencing more inflammation.

Colder Temperature
A study2 population consisting of a cohort of 673 men with mean age of 74.6 years, living in the greater Boston, MA area were examined every four years, and blood samples for inflammation marker analyses were drawn in 2000-2008 (total of 1,254 visits). A mixed effects model was used to estimate the associations between ambient temperature and a variety of inflammation markers (C-reactive protein, white blood cell count, soluble Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1, soluble Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interleukins -1beta, -6 and -8). Results were that that a 0 to 1 day lagged and up to four weeks cumulative responses were seen in C-reactive protein in association with temperature. The researchers observed a 24.9 percent increase [95 percent Confidence interval (CI): 7.36, 45.2] in C-reactive protein for a 5 degrees C decrease in the four weeks’ moving average of temperature. We observed similar associations also between temperature and soluble Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 (4.52 percent, 95 percent CI: 1.05, 8.10, over four weeks’ moving average), and between temperature and soluble Vascular Cell Adhesion Molecule-1 (6.60 percent, 95 percent CI: 1.31, 12.2 over four weeks’ moving average). In conclusion, cumulative exposure to decreased temperature is associated with an increase in inflammation marker levels among elderly men. In conclusion, colder temperatures are associated with experiencing more inflammation.

Eating a diet with lower intakes of red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries and refined grains can help reduce the potential for inflammation. Of course, it will be difficult to avoid colder temperatures if you’re living in a colder climate, but in either case the ongoing use of established natural anti-inflammatory agents—such as curcumin, boswellia extract and omega-3 fatty acids—can help compensate for these non-disease causes of inflammation.


  1. Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Fung TT, Meigs JB, Rifai N, Manson JE, Hu FB. Major dietary patterns are related to plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;80(4):1029-35.
  2. Halonen JI, Zanobetti A, Sparrow D, Vokonas PS, Schwartz J. Associations between outdoor temperature and markers of inflammation: a cohort study. Environ Health. 2010 Jul 23;9:42.

Professor Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, the Provost for Huntington College of Health Sciences, is a nutritionist, herbalist, writer and educator. For more than 37 years he has educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals, has researched and formulated natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies, and has written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer magazines and peer-reviewed publications. He can be reached at gbruno@hchs.edu.