For those who like to understand the biology underlying body processes like inflammation, here’s a brief description of three major pro-inflammatory hormone groups and their fundamental roles.
Prostaglandins are compounds found within most tissues and organs that stimulate nerve cells, signalling pain to the brain and forcing you to stop what you’re doing — “Drop the hot pan!” They swell the blood vessels at the injured site, opening space in the capillary walls for the white blood cells to enter. The blood and plasma rushing out of those enlarged vessels causes the swelling, tenderness, and redness. Prostaglandins also cause constriction as well as dilation of smooth muscle cells, and are responsible for the pain of menstrual cramps.
Cytokines are immune system modulators produced by cells throughout the body. Cytokines communicate with your brain, sounding the alarm when they detect an intruder. A subclass of cytokines called leukotrienes (or interleukins) ensures that the immune response is checked before it destroys outlying healthy cells and tissue. Importantly, they call off the inflammatory response. If you have overactive leukotrienes, your body can lose control of the process — white blood cells begin to digest healthy tissue, causing excessive damage and scarring, a common symptom in many autoimmune disorders.
Histamines are the chemicals responsible for the itchy nose, watery eyes, or rash that often accompany an allergic reaction. Their job is to help you rid yourself of whatever toxin is causing the problem (by sneezing, coughing, crying, and scratching). They bring more blood and lymphatic fluid to the site of the invasion, which transport your white blood cells to the site and toxins away from it. The amount of histamine that gets released determines how intense the allergy response will be.
In many of us, this delicate interplay of hormones is easily disrupted, leading to chronic inflammation that can wreak havoc on our health.
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