The combined effect of poverty and chronic inflammation could more than double the risk of death from heart disease and triple the mortality risk due to cancer over a 15-year period, new research in the US has found.
Poverty has been documented to individually heighten the risk of mental illness, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, in addition to higher mortality and lower life expectancy.
Further, chronic inflammation brought about by lifestyle factors like poor diet or lack of physical activity, or being exposed to environmental toxins, or having autoimmune disorders such as arthritis also is a known risk factor for disease and mortality.
However, researchers at the University of Florida said they have shown for the first time that the combined effect of poverty and chronic inflammation could reduce health and life expectancy even further, significantly worse than the outcomes expected when evaluated separately.
“We found that participants with either inflammation or poverty alone each had about a 50 per cent increased risk in all-cause mortality. In contrast, individuals with both inflammation and poverty had a 127 per cent increased heart disease mortality risk and a 196 per cent increased cancer mortality risk,” said Frank A. Orlando, an associate professor at the University of Florida and second author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
The team further found that both the risk factors – poverty and chronic inflammation – worked together in a “synergistic” or an interactive manner in heightening the mortality risk, rather than merely in an “additive” manner.
“If the effects of inflammation and poverty on mortality were additive, you’d expect a 100 per cent increase in mortality for people where both apply. But since the observed 127 per cent and 196 per cent increases are much greater than 100 per cent, we conclude that the combined effect of inflammation and poverty on mortality is synergistic,” said Orlando.
For the study, the researchers analysed data from adults aged 40 and older, enrolled between 1999 and 2002 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and followed them up until 31 December 2019. They combined the NHANES data with records from the National Death Index, to calculate mortality rates over a period of 15 years after enrollment.
The findings highlighted the need for routine chronic inflammation screenings in socially disadvantaged people – already a medically vulnerable group – to limit what are, in many cases, preventable deaths, according to lead author Arch Mainous III, a professor in the department of health services research, management and policy at the University of Florida.
“We need to translate the basic science on chronic inflammation to the doctor’s office through the creation of screening guidelines so physicians can identify chronic inflammation in their patients and work to treat the underlying causes,” said Mainous.
“It is time to move beyond documenting the health problems that inflammation can cause, to trying to fix these problems,” said Mainous.