Inflammation has been depicted as the evil tyrant behind all chronic disease. The inflammatory process is well documented as being the driver behind tissue damage, cell destruction, illness and dysfunction. Inflammation is listed as an underlying cause of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, depression, Parkinson’s. But what if inflammation had a good side? What if, like most things in nature there is a “good twin” to keep the “evil twin” in check. A yin to it’s yang, if you will.
What is inflammation?
When you damage a muscle or joint, like twisting your ankle, it becomes swollen, sore and bruised. This inflammatory response is critical to the process of repair. It may not be fun, but if nothing else, it prevents you from continuing what you were doing so that you don’t do any further damage to that tissue. By allowing fluid and increased blood flow (aka swelling, redness, bruising) to the injured area, the body can direct its own first aid team to the site where a response is required. Without this initial inflammatory response the injury may never heal.
Inflammation, good or bad?
Understanding inflammation requires us to consider how long the response has been going on, and how intensely the response endures. It is the intensity and duration that determines whether inflammation is disease causing (pathological) or simply a healthy and accurate response from the body to a specific situation (physiological).
Consider inflammation like a camp fire. A small, well contained camp fire can cook a steak to perfection. An uncontrolled camp fire, can turn into a bush fire that decimates the entire campsite. In other words “good” inflammation is the efficient house-keeping kind. The house-keeping style of inflammation turns up on time, does the clean up job efficiently, then leaves the premises without fanfare and goes home to rest and restore. Inflammation that goes unchecked, for too long and has a party while it’s hanging around, can lead to disease.
Similarly, not enough inflammation can also be problematic. If there is no house-keeping, things can get messy. Tissues won’t repair, the immune system will go on strike and the house will start to crumble. This can often be seen in people on immune suppressant medications.
It’s all about finding the balance
Ideally, for optimal health, we want balance. We want inflammation to play nicely on the see-saw and not put on too much weight. Unfortunately, as we age, and with repeated insult to the body an accumulation process can occur. This is an example of when inflammation starts to “put on too much weight”, keeping the see-saw permanently tipped in it’s favour. This type of slow, accumulating inflammation (inflammaging) is thought to be the underlying cause of chronic disease. Some of this tipping towards inflammation is an inevitable part of ageing, but, much of it is a consequence of unhealthy diet and lifestyle.
Taking charge of inflammation
The good news is that we all have some control over the switch or dial that moves the inflammation see-saw. We can slow inflammaging by minimising triggers and helping the body move back to balance. Instead of focusing on constantly trying to dial down inflammation, there are ways to retrain the body to switch it off.
Most pharmaceutical medications such as pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs do a great job of suppressing pain. Chronic pain sufferers describe their treatments as pain management. Pain relief or analgesic medications such as paracetamol, codeine, and other opiate based medications block the pathways that send pain signals to the brain. Most anti-inflammatory medications work by blocking the production of inflammatory compounds in the body. The problem here is that this also blocks the signals for the body to resolve the causes of the inflammation. In effect, anti-inflammatory medications can slow down or inhibit tissue healing, repair and house-keeping.
To reduce pain AND promote tissue healing and repair we need to do three things.
- Remove the underlying causes and drivers of pain and inflammation.
- Retrain the body how to resolve or switch off the inflammation at the right time.
- Give the body what it needs, the building blocks, to heal and repair tissues, cells and systems.
Secondary to a health giving diet and lifestyle, certain nutrients and plant extracts in medicinal doses, can be very effective in reducing pain, repairing damage and restoring energy and vitality. Nutrients like essential fatty acids from high quality fish oils, magnesium, zinc and vitamin C are vitally important. Probiotics and spices such as turmeric and cinnamon and plants such as broccolini and medicinal mushrooms can all be used as targeted therapies in various types of inflammation.
Most of us need help and support to understand what type of inflammation is happening in our own body and what to do about it. If you are tired of dealing with inflammation and pain, or would like to slow down the ageing process and prevent chronic illness, get in touch for a personalized approach to wellness.
Naturopath appointments are available in Darwin, Northern Territory, or online from anywhere in Australia.