Inflammation is thought to be the core of all modern diseases
Itching, burning, tender, swollen and sore are all symptoms of inflammation, an immune response created by the body in reaction to a cut, scrape, burn or pathogen. In this sense, inflammation is a defense against invaders and a key component of tissue healing. But when inflammation becomes chronic, this natural healthy reaction can become unhealthy and cause problems such as atherosclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of other diseases.
Inflammation is so vast and varied it’s impossible to cover in a sentence or two. In fact, many now believe that it is at the core of nearly all our modern diseases. For a decent overview, take a read on Wikipedia,or go the Cleveland Clinic’s site for more details on joint inflammation. Such varied maladies as allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease (Lupus, Crohn's) and asthma are attibuted to inflammation. But what most people don’t know is that hidden inflammation, the kind that we can’t readily see the symptoms of, is at the root of all chronic illness – conditionssuch as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression and cancer. Modern medicine doesn’t have the best grasp on treating inflammation; it tends to treat only the symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs, pain killers and steroids, which often lead to other complications while the underlying inflammation persists.
There are two things you must do in order to reduce inflammation: Reduce the number of omega-6 foods that you are taking in, and increase the amount of inflammation-fighting omega-3s in your diet. (For more information on this first step, see Inflammation and the omega-3/omega-6 balance. For fighting specific symptoms of inflammation, numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of certain dietary supplements.
Inflammation-fighting dietary supplements
In the dietary-supplements world, omega-3-rich marine oils such as fish oil and krill oil have been found to dramatically reduce inflammation, including inflammation in the cardiovascular system that leads to arteriosclerosis. When omega-3s were part of a diet for overweight men that included other supplements such as green-tea extract, and vitamins C and E, researchers found that inflammation and oxidative stress (damage to tissues, including the blood vessels) was reduced.
Two of the most researched supplements for joint inflammation and arthritis are glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate. Usually taken together, the mix has been found to help the body repair joint tissue, versus just mask the pain, thereby reducing the amount of drugs or anti-inflammatories needed. The combination can contribute to complete recovery. The studies are mixed and many, but a good overview on this pair can be found on Medline. Another supplement for joint inflammation is the herb cat’s claw, which can reduce pain and improve joint function.
From the land of spices, turmeric is considered a good anti-inflammatory. Its main ingredient, curcumin, has been found to prevent inflammation in animal studies. Other touted effects of curcumin include anticancer effects and lowering cholesterol. But to avoid the risk of bleeding, be careful not to mix curcumin with blood thinners such as such as warfarin (Coumadin) or heparin, and anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix).
A sweet and tangy supplement that’s been getting attention for reducing inflammation lately is pomegranate juice. Some studies suggest the extract could help slow down arthritis, while other research is finding this seedy fruit can reduce chronic inflammation.
Yes, you can find out about whether or not there is hidden, acute inflammation in your body. One of the markers of inflammation is called C-reactive protein, and a good integrative health specialist will be able to administer the test to determine if your levels are elevated.
Ways to fight inflammation
As with most chronic conditions, modifying your lifestyle will make a big difference.
Eat better – lots more vegetables and fruit, lots less meat. Eat organic foods whenever possible, and eliminate fast foods, especially those fried in trans fats. Eat more healthy fats like olive oil and nuts and avocados.
Stop smoking – heard this one before?
Reduce stress – exercise regularly, even if it is only rigorous walking, or learn to meditate, take a yoga class, spend time in nature.
Take probiotics – the immune system is the core of your ability to fight diseases, including inflammation.
These actions can help reduce or even eliminate the amount of painkillers or prescription anti-inflammatories you are taking, and even lead to reversal and healing of inflammation-related conditions.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.