Although we see clients with lots of different ailments at Nourish, inflammation is a common theme in many of their pathologies.
Inflammation is part of the functioning of your immune system. It is a normal and beneficial process that occurs when your body’s white blood cells and chemicals protect you from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
We all need some level of inflammation in our bodies to stay healthy, however it’s also possible, and increasingly common, for the inflammatory response to get out of hand. If your immune system mistakenly triggers an inflammatory response when no threat is present, it can lead to excess inflammation in your body. This can cause inflammation in different parts of the body:
- Inflammation of your large intestine (colitis): cramps and diarrhea
- Inflammation of your heart (myocarditis): shortness of breath or fluid retention
- Inflammation of the small tubes that transport air to your lungs (bronchitis): difficulty breathing or asthma
- Inflammation of your kidneys (nephritis): high blood pressure or kidney failure
Chronic v Acute Inflammation
Some of the signs of a normal inflammatory response i.e. when you have an infection or are injured include:
- Loss of movement and function
However, when inflammation becomes chronic, there are often no symptoms until a loss of function occurs. This is because chronic inflammation is low-grade and systemic, often silently damaging your tissues.
As in heart disease, this process can be hidden for years without you noticing until it comes to a head and causes heart attack, stroke etc. Studies have shown that at the root of many diseases is chronic inflammation including: cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or autoimmune disease like multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes Chronic Inflammation (CI)?
Your lifestyle (including stress) and diet have a major part to play in the development of chronic inflammation – that’s good because it means you can do something about it! CI can either be a mal-functioning, over-reactive immune system, or it may be due to an underlying problem that your body is attempting to fight off.
Certain foods can increase inflammation. Eating oxidised or rancid fats and sugar will increase inflammation in your body, eating healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats or the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) will help to reduce them.
Leaky gut is an incredibly common digestive problem, whereby the gut lining becomes too porous, allowing poorly digested protein particles from food, as well as toxins and microbes directly into your bloodstream. This represents a real challenge to the immune system.
Something else about digestion, dysbiosis etc.??? Think it’s worth driving the point home that inflammation begins in the gut.
In fact, all of the following can increase your risk of chronic inflammation:
- Not eating a nutritious diet
- Being overweight especially around the middle
- An existing heart condition
- A family history of heart disease
- Diabetes that’s poorly controlled
- A sedentary lifestyle (no, or very little, exercise)
- Long-term infections
- Gum disease
- Leaky gut and other digestive problems
So how do you know if you have chronic inflammation, especially since many of the “symptoms” are silent?
One test used by conventional medicine is the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) test, which measures a protein found in your body that signals responses to any forms of inflammation.
You can also use a fasting blood insulin level for this purpose. Although this test is typically used to screen for diabetes, it’s also a marker for inflammation as the higher your insulin levels are, the higher your levels of inflammation tend to be.
How inflammation is treated by your GP
Conventional medicine will recommend anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and NSAIDs (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs). There are times when these are needed for pain relief but long term use is not recommended as they cause side effects and don’t address the root of the problem.
Statins are sometimes prescribed to people who have normal cholesterol levels if they have elevated C-reactive protein, to combat inflammation, and reduce their risk of developing heart disease. But taking a statin in this case will NOT resolve the underlying problem causing the increase in inflammation and will expose you to an abundance of statin-related side effects.
The third drug often given to people with inflammation is the corticosteroid prednisone. This immunosuppressive drug, though necessary in some cases, is associated with serious long-term side effects such as cataracts, bone loss, weakening of the immune system, and many others. One of the most serious complications from prednisone is the risk of osteoporosis, which occurs from bone loss.
Although prednisone is in some cases needed and can actually be life saving, it is nearly always a poor choice to use for the long term. Prednisone will cover up the disease, but it is the underlying dysfunction – the cause of the disease – that needs to be addressed.
How to address inflammation at the root
Lifestyle changes will really help in reducing chronic inflammation in your body, so focus on making the following changes:
- Eating a healthy diet. This includes avoiding pro-inflammatory foods like trans fats, fried foods, sugar and gluten grains, foods cooked at high temperatures and oxidised cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs).
- Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats by taking a high-quality fish oil e.g. Krill oil, which is full of anti-inflammatory omega 3s.
- Balance your blood sugar. If your fasting insulin level is not lower than three, consider limiting or eliminating your intake of grains and sugars until you improve your insulin level. If you’re not sure whether you have a blood sugar problem, we can assess this at Nourish.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is a great way to lower inflammation without any of the side effects associated with medications.
- Stop smoking. Smoking hardens your arteries and increases inflammation. But research shows you can reverse all the damaging effects to your arteries within 10 years of stopping. However, be sure you sort your diet out first so as to avoid swapping cigarettes for unhealthy food.
- Make sure your waist size is normal. If you’re a woman with a waist measurement of over 35 inches or a man with a waist of over 40 inches, you probably have high inflammation and should take steps to lose weight. Nourish runs a weight loss group specifically targeting midriff weight.
- Have healthy outlets for stress and other negative emotions. High levels of stress hormones can lead to the release of excess inflammatory chemicals, so ways to help you deal with your current stress and resolve past emotional problems. Meditation, yoga, hypnosis, counselling etc. Find one that suits you.
- Have your Vitamin D levels checked. This can be done by your GP. Vitamin D can have a profoundly dramatic impact on your health. The best source of vitamin D is through your skin being exposed to the sun. In winter, however, you may need to take an oral supplement.
Anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements
These herbs will simply treat the symptoms and should be used in conjunction with lifestyle and dietary changes to have the greatest long term benefit:
- Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or “Indian frankincense,” this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients, referred to as boswellic acids that animal studies have shown significantly reduce inflammation.
- Bromelain: This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form.
- Ginger: This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice. Powder capsules are also available, but we recommend using the fresh root.
- Resveratrol is a potent antioxidant found in certain fruits, vegetables and cocoa. It works by preventing your body from creating sphingosine kinase and phospholipase D – two molecules known to trigger inflammation.
- Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils: These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for addressing arthritic pain. It is reasonable for many to take these as a supplement, particularly if you struggle with dry skin in the winter, as this is a strong indicator that you are deficient in these fats.
- Turmeric, Tulsi and Rosemary: The transcription protein Nuclear Factor-kappa Beta (NfKB) is a major inducer of inflammation, and these three herbs are capable of modulating NfKB.
- Probiotic bacteria: They help to restore the balance of bacteria in your colon, crowding out excess pathogenic bacteria and yeasts that can promote leaky gut and inflammation.