You haven’t been paying attention if you’ve never heard the term “inflammation” concerning general health. However, inflammation has been a hot topic in the wellness world over the past few years as it relates to almost every chronic condition.
But can social determinants like social status, poverty, and even gender set us up for illness? A new study out of Europe seems to say just that.1
Are inflammation and chronic disease the same thing?
It is essential to recognize what chronic diseases are and what causes inflammation to understand the inflammation-chronic disease link.
Common chronic diseases
Chronic diseases do not spread from person to person and have long-term timelines and treatments.2 Heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even long COVID-19 are some common chronic disease diagnoses. So, how are they all related? Inflammation.
Causes of inflammation
The body’s reaction to stressors causes a highly complex cascade of inflammatory responses. The stressors can be microbial, chemical, or mechanical (pressure on tissues). As cells and tissues become injured, infected, or forced to take on more than they can handle to keep us in balance, triggers within us lead to inflammation.
This inflammatory response is part of our immune system’s way of fighting to keep us healthy. Inflammation is not harmful in small doses, but If the stressor is not managed or removed, the inflammation becomes a constant in the body and leads to chronic disease.1
More commonly known sources of inflammation are a poor diet, smoking, exposure to chemicals, and infections. The development or advancement of chronic disease was also found in those living with constant mental stress triggering similar inflammatory pathways like those in arthritis and heart disease.3
Is your neighborhood making you sick?
It is lesser known that a correlation exists between inflammation and stress caused by social determinants of health. The social determinants of health refer to social status (education, income, job satisfaction), social connections and inclusion, and access to care.
Living conditions and chronic disease
Living in disadvantaged neighborhoods has a connection to inflammation and disease. Consider the implications of socioeconomic status and living at or below the poverty line like
- limited access to healthy food choices,
- noise and/or air pollution,
- congregate living,
- lack of safe environments for physical activity,
- unsanitary water,
- and lack of access to affordable quality care.5
These conditions are a daily reality for many living in areas of economic disparity.
Gender and chronic disease
Beyond living conditions, your gender puts you at risk for chronic diseases. Women living beneath the poverty line are uniquely predisposed to developing high stressors throughout their life due to
- childbearing status
- risks associated with childbearing and birth,
- being the caregiver for the family,
- and finally, menopause.4
The ability to receive timely and quality care during these stressful times in a woman’s life is essential. Due to socioeconomic inequalities, optimal care in areas with fewer options is challenging.4
Knowledge is power
Knowing there is a tremendous relationship between the social determinants of health and the chances of developing chronic disease is essential for screening and prevention. Linking living conditions and health outcomes allows all members of the health advocacy community to focus risk assessments and interventions on the people who need them most.
- Berger, E., Castagné, R., Chadeau-Hyam, M. et al. Multi-cohort study identifies social determinants of systemic inflammation over the life course. Nat Commun 10, 773 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-08732-x
- Bernell, S., & Howard, S. W. (2015). Use Your Words Carefully: What Is a Chronic Disease? Frontiers in Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2016.00159
- Christiansen, J, MSc, Lund, R., Ph.D., Qualter, P Ph.D., Andersen, C Ph.D., Pedersen S Ph.D., Lasgaard, M Ph.D., (2021) Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Chronic Disease Outcomes. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Vol 55, Issue 3, 203–215 https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaaa04
- Crear-Perry, J., Correa-de-Araujo, R., Lewis Johnson, T., McLemore, M. R., Neilson, E., & Wallace, M. (2021). Social and Structural Determinants of Health Inequities in Maternal Health. Journal of women’s health (2002), 30(2), 230–235. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2020.8882
- Durfey, S. N., Kind, A. J., Buckingham, W. R., DuGoff, E. H., & Trivedi, A. N. (2019). Neighborhood disadvantage and chronic disease management. Health services research, 54, 206-216.