Chronic inflammation is common in cats and dogs and can have serious consequences. Read here what you can do to support your chronically ill animal.
How Does Chronic Inflammation Develop?
If the rescue operation described above can eliminate the damage, the acute inflammatory reaction ends on its own. This is different if the trigger of the inflammation cannot be completely eliminated or repeatedly irritates the immune system. This chronic inflammation resulting from acute inflammation is called secondary chronic inflammation.
However, it is often the case that the inflammation proceeds from the outset in such a way that it continues to maintain itself in a kind of vicious circle, as a so-called primary chronic inflammation. This long-term destructive reaction, which has lost its physiological meaning, is the subject of intensive research because it is responsible for a great many serious diseases.
What Factors Promote Chronic Inflammation?
The tendency to excessive, misdirected, and never-ending inflammation is hereditary, because how well or poorly the immune system works is partly genetic. For example, the tendency to allergies and autoimmune diseases is inherited, but whether and when they actually break out is partly dependent on living conditions.
Age, diet, weight, and stress level, for example, influence the immune system and thus the course of the inflammatory reaction, which is essentially coordinated by immune cells. According to the current state of research, so-called oxidative stress plays a special role.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is understood as an excess of reactive oxygen species, so-called ROS (reactive oxygen species) — which also include the so-called free radicals — and their relatives, the reactive nitrogen species, RNS for short (reactive nitrogen species).
These reactive molecules (= oxidants) are formed in normal cell metabolism and are routinely neutralized in the cells by protective mechanisms, especially antioxidants. However, if there is an imbalance between antioxidants and oxidants, the aggressive compounds damage, for example, metabolic enzymes, the cell membrane, and the genetic material (DNA) in the cell nucleus. This can lead to functional limitations of the cell up to cancerous mutation or death of the affected cell.
The reactive oxygen and nitrogen species play important roles in inflammation. They are released by white blood cells to kill bacteria or virus-infected cells, for example. The RNAs are involved in the dilation of blood vessels and even cancer cells can be killed with the help of ROS.
In fact, these oxidants have very important roles in the normal protective inflammatory response. However, if they are not sufficiently kept in check by antioxidants or continue to be produced because the inflammation does not come to a standstill, they also unfold their destructive effect in actually healthy tissue.
What Role do Diet and Weight Play?
Diet affects inflammatory processes in several ways. On the one hand, animals and humans need a sufficient amount of nutrients so that the immune system – as well as all other organ systems of the body – can work smoothly. For example, it needs energy for the function of the immune cells and protein building blocks for the formation of defense substances (antibodies) and messenger substances (cytokines). Antioxidants ingested with food (including vitamins C and E) also help to directly combat oxidative stress.
On the other hand, a diet that is too high in calories leads to obesity and this promotes chronic inflammatory processes. The excess energy is stored in fat cells, and if you are overweight, these produce pro-inflammatory messenger substances (cytokines), resulting in a chronic inflammatory situation (low-grade inflammation).
It is known from human medicine that people in countries with a diet rich in antioxidants (see also below) – for example in the Mediterranean region or in India – suffer less frequently from inflammation-related civilization diseases.