The Ins and Outs of Inflammation
There are three external signs of inflammation we often see: redness, warmth, and swelling. But it’s important to understand that the external signs are the result of internal biochemical reactions.
Chemicals from white blood cells are released into the blood or tissues to protect the body from what it identifies as a foreign invader. The release of the white blood cells and increased blood flow into the area is what causes redness and warmth.
Other chemicals – histamine, bradykinins and prostaglandins – are also released, resulting in fluid leaking into the tissues from blood vessels. Again, this happens as a protective measure, resulting in the swelling we see after an injury or a bee sting.
While this is our body’s innate response, or first line of immune defense, we also have an adaptive immune response, consisting of antibodies and immune cells, such as monocytes and macrophages.
Under ideal circumstances, this immune response functions as it should, protecting our bodies from external attack. Unfortunately, our immune system can go “rogue,” and instead of focusing on external threats, it attacks its own body. This is the beginning of what is known as autoimmune disease.
To understand this phenomenon, we need to learn about cytokines. The word cytokine comes from Greek; cyto means cell and kinos means movement. Cytokines are a class of immunoregulatory proteins that are secreted by cells of the immune system that are involved in cell signaling. When there is a trauma such as infection or inflammation, cytokines “call” or “signal” cells to come to the affected area and protect it.
Breast cancer and the autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis have cytokines involved, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) being one cytokine both have in common. When the body perceives an injury, monocytes and macrophages are called upon, and they make, or synthesize, TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha is a “gatekeeper” cytokine. If it’s prevented from doing its job, several biochemical responses occur which increase inflammation.
Cytokines are mediators that govern many different processes involved in the development of cancer and autoimmunity. There are many checks and balances in the body that need to be turned off or on, depending where in the pathway we look, to create cancer.