The word inflammation comes from the Latin word inflamatio, which translates into: “to set on fire”. It is a term that describes the biological response to an injury or protection from a microbe. Essentially, this “injury” can only come from about 5 things: 1) physical trauma (e.g.: ankle sprain, etc.); 2) allergic reactions; 3) infections; 4) chemical toxins (e.g.: toxic metals, environmental chemicals. etc.) and 5) ionizing and UV radiation (e.g.: x-ray, sunlight, etc.). The”hallmarks” of inflammation are a change to the micro-circulation and build-up of inflammatory cells in the damaged area. The five key signs of inflammation are pain, redness, edema (or swelling), heat, and loss of use. You may not have all five, but in the most extreme case they all exist. These five signs are generated by the biochemicals which respond to any sort of tissue damage.
The biochemicals released are designed to help heal the damage that has taken place. They help clean up the debris from the damaged cells, bring more blood to the area to restore new growth, and improve the drainage. There is much controversy over when to “artificially” (through ice, nutrients, or medication) reduce inflammation. However, it’s generally accepted that acute (24-72 hours) inflammation is necessary to begin the healing process. Inflammation (that is one or all of the five key signs) that persists for longer than this time (that is sub-acute or chronic) may indicate an inability to repair properly; appropriately coined a “cumulative repair deficit” by Dr. Stuart White. Therefore, intervention in the sub-acute or chronic stages is usually necessary and certainly desired by the patient.
Let’s now discuss some natural ways to deal with chronic inflammation, considering that it is normal to have inflammation in the acute (and sometimes sub-acute) time-frames. First and foremost, the source(s) of inflammation needs to be avoided. For example, exposure to food allergies/sensitivities, chemicals, toxic metals, radiation, etc.. Additionally, if the inflammation is the result of a structural impediment, you may need muscle and joint re-balancing done by a doctor. If the source is not avoided or addressed, you are simply “painting over the rust” and dealing with symptoms as opposed to the cause.
The main natural remedy to alleviate inflammation would be Omega-3 fatty acids. I’ve often used Omega-6 fatty acids also; particularly gamma linoleic acid or GLA (found in black currant seed, evening primrose oil, and borage oil) with great success in patients that have chronic musculoskeletal inflammation. Generally speaking though, most people have too many Omega-6 fats compared to 3’s in their diet; so Omega 3’s are generally recommended more often. Omega 3’s are best found in fish and krill oil. Flax oil does contain Omega 3’s, however, many biochemical steps need to occur before they are converted into to EPA (the anti-inflammatory substance). And very often, these steps can be disrupted through faulty sugar metabolism, alcohol, and trans-fats. As a result, it’s quite possible that you’ll never achieve the potential anti-inflammatory effects you are looking for. Fish and krill oil on the other hand need no conversion, as they actually contain EPA. I do not recommend that you eat fish unless you absolutely know it’s “clean”, click here to read why.
Other natural anti-inflammatory compounds include turmeric, resveratrol, ginger, quercetin, garlic, onion, boswellia, rosemary, vitamins C + E, and should also be considered. However, keep in mind that no one ever has an “herb-deficiency”. Therefore, make sure you’ve covered your nutritional bases first; that is essential Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins C +E at a minimum. There may be other natural anti-inflammatory compounds as well, but the ones I mentioned should be more than enough.
Additionally, don’t forget that you need certain nutrients to rebuild the damage that has occurred from the inflammation. For this, think about rebuilding collagen, the most abundant connective tissue in the body. Therefore make to sure you have a sufficient amount of protein and vitamin C (the most basic nutrients) to build collagen. Some other nutrients for collagen formation would include: zinc, manganese, iron, vitamin A, sulphur, copper, and perhaps others indirectly.
In conclusion, it’s usually not apparent when you have chronic inflammation. The 5 key signs more often accompany acute inflammation and often are not observed with chronic inflammation if you don’t have pain or some sort of loss of function. This is especially true when there is inflammation in the arteries, which can lead to hardening of the arteries and ultimately cardiovascular disease. I most commonly see chronic inflammation as a result of poor dietary choices, environmental chemicals (and metals), and sub-clinical infections. Inflammation was the topic of a front-page article in Time Magazine titled “Inflammation: The Secret Killer”. It mentions the links between chronic inflammation and heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. So make sure you are getting anti-inflammatory compounds on a daily basis, through diet and/or supplements.
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology