Inflammation masks itself in many disguises. Most of us tend to think of inflammation in terms of a response to overuse, physical injury or irritation. The signs of such inflammation typically (but not always) include pain, redness, swelling, heat, and often decrease or loss of function. This is classified as acute inflammation. A less obvious form of inflammation can be classified as chronic or silent. Obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease are examples of silent inflammation. This type of inflammation can linger silently in the body for years, causing damage to vital organs like the heart and brain.
As awful as it sounds, inflammation is actually a necessary part of the healing process since it prepares the body for repair and renewal. The body uses inflammation as a sort of protective mechanism. When in balance, the inflammatory process is body wisdom at its best. However, our bodies run into trouble when inflammation becomes part of the normal state. Chronic inflammation is not normal. A consistent state of inflammation can be likened to smoldering embers on a fire. Feed it a little and the flame will rage. Douse it a bit and it goes back to smoldering. So for example, with acute injury, short term (a few days) pain management with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help tremendously. But masking the pain with drugs over the long term is not a good idea. It is better to try and manage the inflammation by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and other foods and herbs that can naturally help fight against inflammation.
One “marker” of inflammation that physicians are now looking at is called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is an acute-phase protein that increases when inflammation is present in the body. CRP can be measured in the blood via a “high sensitivity assay for CRP test” (hs-CRP). Higher hs-CRP levels in the blood have been linked to a greater risk of having a heart attack. Elevated hs-CRP has also been linked to sudden cardiac death, stroke, and peripheral arterial disease. Talk to your doctor about screening for CRP and whether or not you would be a good candidate for this test.
Prevention and treatment begin with avoiding the predisposing factors! In the case of overuse injuries, you may find it beneficial to consult with an occupational or physical therapist. To keep your body in a state of balance, here are some dietary and lifestyle considerations:
1.) Clean up your diet: It should come of no surprise that some of the top offenders that feed inflammation in the body come from food. The culprits include saturated, hydrogenated, and partially hydrogenated fats, fried foods, highly sugared junk foods and refined carbohydrates. Take a tour of your pantry and refrigerator and boldly clean house. Remove any foods that do not truly nourish and sustain your total well-being. This means getting rid of the cookies, donuts, Danish’s, and all things containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients that you can’t pronounce. Consider also removing white potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers. These vegetables are part of the plant family called “Nightshades” and contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine. Solanine can trigger pain and inflammation in some people.
At the same time add dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, chard, kale, nuts like walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, and seeds like pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. Think “Mediterranean diet,” which is a great preventive diet plan for lowering inflammation and protecting your heart and mind. Add high antioxidant spices like turmeric, curry, ginger, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and cinnamon and enjoy pure dark cocoa in moderation to soothe your body and soul.
2.) Sweat: A mindful balance of cardiovascular strength and flexibility training will help your body balance inflammation in key ways. Exercise reduces stress hormones that can drive inflammation, positively shift hormonal balance, and can help you lose weight/fat. Note: being overweight drives inflammation and inflammatory foods drive obesity – notice the negative cycle there. Reprogram your inner thermostat by beginning your day with exercise.
3.) Life Balance: Allow yourself to take “balance breaks” throughout the day. A simple breathing practice performed for 1 to 2 minutes every hour can be great at cooling the fires that tend to begin to rise as your perform your daily deeds. At night create time to stretch, reflect, and meditate. These practices will help to release any residual angst along with fostering restorative sleep, which is a key anti-inflammatory remedy. Also, look at your habits of addiction. Are you still smoking or drinking alcohol beyond moderation? These two habits can also trigger inflammation and the cascade of health implications that follow. Seek support for ending these addictions.
4.) Supplements: Scientific evidence supports the use of bromelain, turmeric, ginger, and Boswellia (an Ayurvedic medicinal herb), in reducing symptoms of inflammation. For acute pain, using topical capsaicin (from cayenne pepper) can help relieve joint pain. Omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can help reduce inflammation and may be beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. White willow bark is an herb that has properties similar to aspirin and may help ease pain and recue inflammation.
Before you start jumping into supplements you need to talk to your doctor to help determine the cause of your inflammation. As with most things in life, change isn’t always easy, but if you stick with a healthy anti-inflammatory lifestyle, you can expect positive changes within a month and for the rest of your life.
About: Dr. James Rouse is a naturopathic doctor and expert in functional and lifestyle medicine. An author of nine books, host and founder of Optimum Wellness Media, and Ironman triathlete, James has coached Fortune 50 and 500 companies, MLB and NFL teams, several branches of US Government and consults for companies including BackJoy, SKOOP and Kroger Grocery. He has shared his message to audiences in the US, Europe and Asia.