Why Does Inflammation Cause Disease?

Inflammation: Friend or Enemy?

Mix of differrent berries

When threatened, the tissues of your body respond with inflammation in order to maintain stability and permit healing. Bio-chemicals in your white blood cells increase the blood flow to the area of injury or infection causing redness, warmth, and swelling. That’s why you have a fever when sick, why your finger swells if you don’t remove a splinter promptly, or why your eyes get red and itchy when the air isn’t clean.

This is a normal process … but, and it’s a big but, when inflammation is chronic, existing all of the time, the natural inflammatory response starts to damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs.  The consequences are wide-reaching, including DNA damage, and cell death.  Chronic inflammation is implicated in the development of many diseases, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, dementia, cognitive decline, obesity, as well as eye diseases and conditions.

Oxidative Stress and Inflammation

When the body is exposed to intrusion of toxins, foreign materials, pollutants, UV radiation, or a host of other infiltrators, various components of the cell oxidize. Oxidation causes stress and this phenomenon is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress also occurs in response to emotional or physical trauma.1

The body’s natural response to oxidative stress is to activate the immune system, resulting in inflammation. So, the roles of inflammation and oxidative stress are intertwined. Oxidative stress and inflammation can induce each other; sometimes oxidative stress causes inflammation; sometimes inflammation causes oxidative stress.2 The body protects against excessive oxidative stress caused by free radicals (pro-oxidants), by means of antioxidants.

Free Radicals

Free radicals are atoms that are missing an electron, and consequently, are unstable. Antioxidants supply the missing electron and restore stability. Over the last 30 years, research has established why and how imbalances in the relative levels of pro-oxidants and antioxidants result in oxidative stress. High levels of free radicals cause damage to DNA, lipids, and proteins. These three are the fundamental building blocks of cells with a wide variety of tasks.3 They are the building blocks of carbohydrates (e.g. simple sugars like glucose that supply energy, transport proteins, and permit cellular recognition).4

Inflammation’s Role in Vision Disorders

Over time, inflammation can affect the health of the eyes in many ways, negatively affecting circulation, nutrient absorption, and increased free-radical activity. Common eye problems that directly result from chronic inflammation include uveitis, scleritis, iritis, macula edema, Sjogren’s syndrome, central retinal vein occlusion, diabetic retinopathy, macular edema, retinopathy, and macular degeneration.

Dry eye syndrome is a good example of how inflammation manifests in vision conditions. If we look at the cycle of irritation and inflammation in dry eye syndrome, the most common complaint brought to eye doctors, we see that the problem is a repeating cycle. A review of more than 450 studies, 200 of which look at dry eye syndrome in humans, reports that inflammation has a central place in the development of dry eye. The authors conclude that chronic immune-system dysfunction leads to a cycle of chronic inflammation, along with natural and adaptive immune responses, and that anti-inflammatory treatments can be beneficial.

Uveitis describes several different conditions involving inflammation of the uvea of the eye, acute or chronic. It may arise from problems in the eye itself or as a symptom of diseases of other parts of the body. It may develop as a result of an autoimmune condition, trauma, bruise, infection, tumor, or due to environmental or other toxins.5 The resulting inflammation, if untreated, can destroy tissue, leave scars, lead to eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, optic nerve, and retinal damage, and even result in blindness if left untreated.

Macular degeneration. The retina features unique structural and functional properties and is therefore able to tolerate antigens (a toxin or other foreign substance that induces an immune response, such as an increase in the production of antibodies) without causing an immune system response. However, over the years, the retina is exposed to low levels of ongoing oxidative stress,. This stress continues and increases as we age, resulting in increased free radical activity. As macula degeneration is often the result of lack of essential nutrients and antioxidants in the eyes, the eyes are not able to neutralize the free radicals, resulting in damage to the retina and photoreceptor cells needed to process light for vision.  If the eye remains healthy, this response is able to maintain stability and healthy functioning. But in patients with macular degeneration, this response is not regulated and contributes to damage to the macula.6

Diabetic retinopathy. Having both diabetes and high blood pressure creates the risk of development and advancement of diabetic retinopathy. It is becoming increasingly evident that chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are major factors.7

Other conditions. Nearsighted people are at higher risk for many vision disorders, including retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts. Oxidative stress may help explain changes in the eye that create the increased risk. Oxidative stress, linked to damage associated with insufficient oxygen, changes the regulation of neural messaging. Free radicals damage the retina, vitreous, and lens, and they contribute an increase to the risk of retinal, vitreous, and lens problems.8

Read about risk factors, symptoms, development of and treatment for many eye conditions in our ocular support section.

Antioxidants Fight Oxidative Stress

Antioxidants in our diet and supplemental nutritional support provide ingredients for fighting excess inflammation and oxidative stress. These include enzymes, phytonutrients (lycopene9 lutein,10 and astaxanthin11), and vitamin and vitamin-like compounds.

Other nutrients and spices that help reduce inflammation include omega-3 fatty acids12 (such as fish oil), holy basil, turmeric (curcumin), ginger, MSM, CBD oil, cayenne pepper, cloves, rosemary, sage, black pepper, green tea, and spirulina. A well-balanced diet, combined with good eating habits, promotes the best possible absorption of nutrients. The Vision Diet is an anti-inflammatory diet. It is based upon the Mediterranean diet and is an alkalizing diet. Moderate daily exercise not only supports our muscular system and physical strength, but it supports every system of the body, including the visual system, circulation, respiration, digestion, the immune system, brain functioning, and hormonal balance. Managing stress and anxiety are also important, as these have been found to contribute to chronic inflammation. Lifestyle habits are important; for example, it can make a significant difference if you stop smoking and wear ultraviolet-blocking sunglasses.

Learn more about preventing excess inflammation.

Note that inflammation and oxidative stress can be major contributing factors or even causes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases along with other types of dementia related diseases, and discussed further in Natural Brain Support: Your Guide to Preventing and Treating Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Other Related Diseases Naturally

Recommended High-antioxidant Products

Dr. Grossman’s Advanced Eye and Dr. G’s Whole Food Superfood Multi120 Vcap Combo – 2 months supply – organic whole food formula.

Advanced Eye and Vision Support Formula 60 vcaps – whole food, organic GMO free formula

Dr. Grossman’s Vitamin C – (plant-based) 60 vcaps Formula

Dr. Grossman’s Bilberry/Ginkgo Combination 2oz (60ml) – wild crafted herbal tincture

Dr. Grossman’s Meso Plus Retinal Support and Computer Eye Strain Formula with Astaxanthin 90  vcaps – combination of lutein, zeaxanthin, mesozeaxanthin and astaxanthin.

  1. Salim S. (2014). Oxidative Stress and Psychological Disorders. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2014 Mar; 12(2): 140–147.
  2. Biswas, S.K. (2015). Does the Interdependence between Oxidative Stress and Inflammation Explain the Antioxidant Paradox? Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2016:5698931.
  3. Muro, E., Atilla-Gokcumen, G.E., Eggert, U.S. (2014). Lipids in cell biology: how can we understand them better? Mol Biol Cell, Jun 15;25(12):1819-23.
  4. Cooper, G.M. (2000). The Molecular Composition of Cells. The Cell: A Molecular Approach, 2nd ed. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.
  5. Facts About Uveitis. Retrieved Jul 31 2018 from https://nei.nih.gov/health/uveitis/uveitis.
  6. Chen, M., Xu, H. (2015). Parainflammation, chronic inflammation, and age-related macular degeneration. J Leukoc  Biol, Nov;98(5):713-25.
  7. Duarte, D.A., Silva, K.C., Rosales, M.A., Lopes de Faria, J.B., Lopes de Faria, J.M. (2013). The concomitance of hypertension and diabetes exacerbating retinopathy: the role of inflammation and oxidative stress. Curr Clin Pharmacol, Nov;8(4):266-77.
  8. Francisco, B.M., Salvador, M., Amparo, N. (2015). Oxidative stress in myopia. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2015:750637.
  9. Giovannucci, E., Ascherio, A., Rimm, E.B., Stampfer, M.J., Golditz, G.A., et al, (1995). Intake of carotenoids an retinol in relation to risk of prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst, Dec 6;87(23):1767-76.
  10. Kijlstra, A., Tian, Y., Kelly, E.R., Berendschot, T.T. (2012). Lutein: more than just a filter for blue light. Prog Ret Eye Res, Jul;31(4):303-15.
  11. Lee, S.J., Bai, S.K., et al, (2003). Astaxanthin inhibits nitric oxide production and inflammatory gene expression by suppressing I(kappa)B kinase-dependent NF-kappaB activation. Mol Cells, Aug 31;16(1):97-105.
  12. Calder, P.C., (2015). Marine omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: Effects, mechanisms and clinical relevance. Biochem Biophys Acta, Apr;1851(4):469-84.