Chronic Inflammation, Pain & Disease: Combating Them Naturally (Part 1)
In the classic response to injury or infection, the injured area becomes red, swollen, hot, and painful. But, there is another type of inflammation that is not so obvious. This silent inflammation reflects an underlying low-grade stimulation of the inflammatory process with no outward signs of inflammation. The only time that it becomes apparent is when the blood is tested for markers of inflammation . . . .
~ Michael T. Murray, ND & Joseph Pizzorno, ND
The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine – 3rd Edition
Are you in pain? Have you been diagnosed with a chronic condition or disease? Would you like to avoid the potential side effects of over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, prednisone, and cortisone? Learning about inflammation, and how to combat it through lifestyle modifications, is a key means of beginning your healing process.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is an acute or chronic response to damage caused to the body. Many factors contribute to the complex course of inflammatory reactions, and the pain associated with it results from the overworking of the body’s normal defense system. However, not all inflammation is bad. Acute inflammation can be critical to keeping the body safe, such as when it arises in connection with healing cuts, burns, other physical traumas, infections, and allergies. However, according to Michael Murray, ND, chronic and systemic low-grade inflammation (or “silent inflammation”), is a “major factor in the development of virtually every major chronic degenerative disease, including cardiovascular disease, allergies, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.” Silent inflammation is also a key element in overweight/obesity, osteo/rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis (psoriasis, eczema, skin cancer), bowel disorders (IBS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), and psychological imbalances (depression, anxiety, ADHD).
The Conventional Approach
While a wide variety of prescription and OTC drugs address the symptoms caused by inflammation, none actually prevent it, and they all have potential side effects, including: (1) Corticosteroids (Cortisone, Prednisone): can cause long-term pain, glaucoma, cataracts, hypertension, weight gain, increased risk of infections, and high blood sugar; and (2) NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, Celebrex): can cause kidney and liver failure, increased intestinal permeability and stomach ulcers, edema, prolonged bleeding, and serious cardiovascular risk (Celebrex).
When seeking a practitioner’s help with any inflammatory condition, request a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP) (or a high-sensitivity CRP test, which yields results in 25 minutes), which indicates the amount of inflammation in the body but does not diagnose a specific disease. In certain cases, anti-inflammatory drugs may be indicated. Each patient should review his specific condition with his medical practitioner and weigh a recommended drug’s risks and benefits.
The Natural Approach
Reducing or eliminating debilitating chronic inflammation often does not require anti-inflammatory medications. Holistic practitioners generally maintain that a healthy diet strategy and certain dietary supplements (high quality and in the right doses) can minimize inflammation, thereby easing pain and even preventing age-related and other diseases.
Anti-Inflammatory, Alkalizing Diet
Preventing and reducing inflammation must begin with an anti-inflammatory, high-alkaline diet. A “healthy diet” in this context: (1) excludes saturated, hydrogenated, or trans fats (beef, pork, lamb, duck); (2) minimizes simple carbohydrates (foods with a high glycemic index that quickly convert to acid-forming sugar in the body: sweets; pasta; bread; potatoes; rice), cholesterol, and alcohol ; and (3) includes higher levels of monounsaturated fats (soaked nuts and seeds, olive oil), omega-3 fatty acids (especially from certain wild, cold-water fish) and as many high-fiber, organic, raw (unprocessed) foods as possible, such as low-sugar fruits (berries and apples), legumes (especially sprouted black and navy beans), and a large variety of dark green and cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) (often referred to as the “Mediterranean Diet”).
The oversimplified acid-alkaline theory of disease, which maintains that excess acid accumulation in the body causes many diseases, aligns with the guidelines of an anti-inflammatory diet. Since it is also widely believed that acid-forming foods cause inflammation, the dietary goal is to consume more neutral and alkaline-producing foods. [Unfortunately, not all experts agree on the acid/alkaline categorization of a number of foods. Also, impact on the body can range from highly acidic (pH well below Neutral 7.0) to highly alkaline (pH well above Neutral 7.0, with varying levels of each in between.]
Keeping in mind that there is a difference between acidic and acid-forming foods (some acidic foods actually alkalize the body), a chronic inflammation sufferer should monitor intake of commonly consumed acid-forming foods, including: soda; most nuts (walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, dried coconut); animal proteins (including eggs); most grains and flours (pasta, bread/crackers/cake, rice); dairy (cheese, yogurt, cow’s milk, ice cream); condiments; most sugar-based sweeteners; processed/iodized salt; coffee; and most prescription drugs. On the other hand, healthy neutral or alkalizing foods include: most vegetables and fruits (not corn, tomatoes); herbs/green and herbal teas; apple cider/balsamic/wine vinegar; alkaline water (over pH 7); olive/sunflower oils and ghee; soy beans; whey protein; certain sweeteners (raw honey, brown rice syrup); sea/Himalayan salt; and certain nuts (almonds, chestnuts, pine nuts, fresh coconut).
Preventing “Leaky Gut Syndrome”
Minimizing the permeability of the intestinal walls is also critical to managing chronic inflammation. Intestinal permeability is a condition in which undigested substances intended to remain in the intestines leak through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. These wayward particles cause system-wide inflammation and can create an immune response, which in turn can lead to food sensitivities/allergies, inflammatory bowel conditions, dermatitis, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and psychological disorders, among other ailments.
Substances and health conditions that challenge gut lining integrity include various food, environmental, and microbial toxins (including candida albicans/yeast overgrowth), food allergies, certain drugs (such as aspirin), and the consequences of various intestinal diseases (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease).
Dietary supplements that protect intestinal integrity include probiotics, soluble fiber (prebiotics that feed beneficial intestinal bacteria, including acacia or psyllium fiber, or chia or flax meal) (30-40g/day to bowel tolerance), aloe juice/gel, collagen, quercetin, DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), l-glutamine, NAG (n-acetyl glucosamine), digestive enzymes, HCL with pepsin (taken with protein), and anti-fungals (grapefruit seed extract, caprylic acid, oil of oregano).
A toxin is any substance that negatively affects cell function or structure. Toxins that the liver cannot process and eliminate build up in various tissues, especially in fat stores (one reason overweight/obesity can be quite dangerous). Removal of excess toxins can produce numerous and varied positive impacts on the body, including: reduced inflammation, pain, and achiness; higher energy; improved mood and brain function; better overall organ function; and stronger immunity.
Organic vegetable juice fasting for 3-5 days is one highly effective means of quickly eliminating wastes and advancing healing. It is also advisable to detoxify on a daily basis with ample intake of high-pH water, green tea, an apple cider vinegar cocktail, or lemon and water.
Recognizing the causes and impact of chronic inflammation is the first critical step to healing many painful or otherwise burdensome health conditions. Focusing on diet and intestinal health can greatly reduce damaging long-term inflammation. Watch for Part 2 of this article, which will review critical anti-inflammatory dietary supplements.
The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to take the place of a physician’s advice.
Submitted by J. Erika Dworkin, Certified Lifestyle Educator, and Nutrition Consultant and owner of the Manchester Parkade Health Shoppe (860.646.8178, 378 Middle Turnpike West, Manchester, CT, www.cthealthshop.com), trusted since 1956. Erika is available to speak to groups.
All statements in this article are research-based and references are available upon request.