The word “inflammation” seems to be everywhere these days. More and more people are recognizing that inflammation is the culprit behind everything from chronic conditions (like inflammatory arthritis or Crohn’s disease) and pain to bloating and a lack of energy.
Inflammation has even been linked to cancer and heart disease.
However, inflammation seems pretty elusive, right? We can’t see it, and we usually don’t know what’s causing it, so how can we treat it?
It’s important to recognize that inflammation, when chronic, can be a response to a greater, possibly systemic, issue. No one supplement, food, or exercise can provide a quick fix. Because of this, it’s important that you talk with your doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner about your symptoms and wellness goals.
Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to support overall wellness and to potentially reduce inflammatory responses. Let’s first get into understanding inflammation.
The A-Z of Inflammation
Some specific signs of acute inflammation include:
- Inflamed areas
- Immobility or stiffness
- Heat to the touch
Symptoms of chronic inflammation, however, are even more deep-rooted, and they include:
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Skin rashes
Maybe you know what caused the inflammation—like a cut, a physical trauma (like falling down the stairs), an infected nail, or even an intense workout. This can all cause acute or temporary inflammation.
Or maybe you suspect something else is going on. According to Kellyann Petrucci, MS, ND, in mindbodygreen, chronic inflammation might even lead to:
- Belly fat
- Extreme (and constant) tiredness
- Gum disease
- Puffy face
- Digestive issues
If you suspect something is up, it’s important that you see a doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner. Sometimes it’s hard to detect that you even have inflammation before the symptoms set in.
According to Medical News Today, chronic inflammation can lead to more serious conditions and diseases that include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Hay fever
- Some cancers
Inflammation, put simply, is the body’s natural response to injury. A healthy immune system protects you from foreign invaders and germs by sending white blood cells to the scene of the crime, so to speak. This is acute—or good—inflammation.
One of the main causes of inflammation is autoimmune disease, which affects millions of people and is even a leading cause of death in middle-aged and young women, according to a publication in the American Journal of Public Health.
Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis, among nearly 100 others.
You may also hear “auto-inflammatory diseases” come up when talking about autoimmune diseases. They’re similar, but not the same. Auto-inflammatory diseases are rooted in a malfunction in your innate immune system. This system attacks antigens immediately and randomly, without a directed course of attack. Autoimmune diseases, however, are rooted in a malfunction in the adaptive immune system. This system reacts to antigens with a guided course of action.
As we know, the immune system sends acute inflammation, which is viewed as the “good” inflammation, to the site of an injury. But in inflammatory diseases, the immune system is on overload, which leads to chronic inflammation. VeryWell Health also points out that autoimmune diseases can cause your body to falsely label your own tissues as being foreign bodies, which then leads to tissue damage. There are even some specific cases of arthritis that are rooted in this type of tissue damage.
Many people with acute inflammation or auto-inflammatory diseases take medications specifically designed to reduce inflammation. These medications might be taken both in the short and long term. There are plenty of drugs for inflammation, but what works for one person may not work for another.
There are many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to reduce the inflammation itself, as well as treat the symptoms of inflammation (like pain and swelling). Many of these anti-inflammatory drugs can be purchased over the counter. These might include:
- Meloxicam (Mobic)
- Celecoxib (Celebrex)
- Indomethacin (Indocin)
But that’s not all! Beyond the above, there are many other medications, and many are approved to treat specific diseases. These may include:
- Corticosteroids (like prednisone)
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Biologic drugs (which can suppress your immune system altogether)
- Disease-modifying treatments
These all require prescriptions and may be more intensive than, say, taking an aspirin. Some require self-administered injections, for example.
It’s important to know the full risks associated with the drugs mentioned above. Even something as common as ibuprofen comes with risks (like bleeding, damage to kidneys, development of GI ulcers, and risk of stroke), especially when taken in the longer term. In fact, most of the research on NSAIDs has focused on ibuprofen, so we don’t even have all the information on many of the other medications.
Other medications, like biologics, have been linked to infections and cancer. For this reason, be sure to collect as much information as you can from your doctor before signing onto any treatment plan. It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of each treatment plan with your healthcare provider.
Nutrition & Supplementation to Reduce Inflammation
According to a report in Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, there are foods that may have an impact on inflammation levels.
If you’re looking to participate in an anti-inflammatory diet, you’ll want to cut out inflammatory foods like sugar (especially added sugars), processed foods, and grains. At the same time, you should eat more vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Studies have found that foods like extra virgin olive oil and avocado have been linked to lowering inflammation.
Additionally, there are supplements available that you can take to support a healthy inflammatory response. According to a review published in Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, there are several natural anti-inflammatory herbal supplements that have been shown to be beneficial in patients with inflammation:
- Curcumin has been shown to be one of the best supplements for inflammation. The review notes that it is useful in reducing the inflammation that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, it’s been found to be effective in the inhibition of inflammatory bowel disease and the relief of ulcerative colitis and psoriasis.
- Rosemary is said to have anti-inflammatory effects, benefiting those with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. In the review mentioned above, inflammation was noticeably decreased after four weeks of use.
- Ginger actually compared favorably to Indomethacin and Ibuprofen in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, according to the review. Additionally, it found that ginger powder displays an ability to improve the conditions of patients dealing with RA and musculoskeletal issues.
- Boswellia was shown to result in a drastic reduction in pain and swollen joints, while also leading to an increase in joint flexibility. It had a great effect on morning stiffness as well.
- A good quality fish oil supplement is a must in the anti-inflammatory arsenal, as fish oil is also linked to a reduction in inflammation. According to one study, omega-3 fatty acids (like those found in fish oil) are seen as an alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. This is considered one of the best joint supplements out there.
Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
In the end, chronic inflammation is a response to not only whatever systemic issue you’re dealing with, but also the way you live your life. This means getting a handle on your diet, your stress levels, and your sleeping habits.
When you let stress dictate your life, you may notice an increase in inflammation. According to Science Daily, increased stress means that immune system cells have to participate in the body’s stress response, which can then lead to hormonal imbalance and inflammation.
Adopting a daily practice that focuses on rest, reducing stress, and mindfulness may help lower your stress levels. This might be listening to music while stretching, journaling, meditating, or taking time to simply shut off your brain while breathing mindfully a few times a day.
Additionally, it’s important to get enough sleep. According to a study published in Biological Psychiatry, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to inflammation. In fact, anything less than seven or eight hours of sleep each night may increase inflammatory markers in the blood.
According to VeryWell Health, movement and exercise can help inflammation, joint health, and pain levels as well. Some of the exercises cited include:
- Tai chi
- Water aerobics
- Other low-impact exercises
These exercises focus on mobility and flexibility, and a few of them actually blend with the principles of mindfulness. A workout and a mental health break? Yes, please!
If you’re worried that you’ve been living with chronic inflammation or have immediate symptoms, let one of the health and wellness practitioners within the BodyLogicMD network guide you onto a healthier path, one with fewer painful symptoms and more of the pursuits that bring you joy!