Inflammation is essential: Acute inflammation
Inflammation is a highly important process in the body. Without it, simple injuries and illnesses would kill us. Inflammation is part of the healing process by which our body protects us from injury, outside invaders, viruses, bacteria, toxins and other harmful things. Short term acute inflammation is great. Chronic inflammation, however, can be a big problem.
Too much of a good thing: Chronic inflammation
Too much of a good thing can be a problem and this is the case when inflammation becomes chronic. Inflammation eventually can start to damage healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time this can lead to DNA damage, tissue death, internal scarring, and disease.
Chronic Inflammation can contribute to:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Allergic asthma
- Neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Why does inflammation become chronic?
There are many reasons why inflammation might become chronic. The body might not be able to fight an infection, parasite, fungi, or another pathogen and so produces inflammation as part of the body’s immune response against the pathogen. It could also be as a result of repeated traumas or illnesses, such as someone with a weak immune system who is constantly sick or injured. Similarly, continued exposure to a toxin or irritant can cause a similar response. The body would constantly be fighting that toxin and therefore constantly produce inflammation to fight it.
Autoimmune disorders are another common culprit for chronic inflammation. The body mistakes a normal part of the body as an invader and launches an ongoing immune response (inflammation) to fight it. There can also be problems where the cells in the body that produce inflammation mistakenly stay turned on and causes chronic inflammation.
Oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction are other common culprits of chronic inflammation. Oxidative stress means that there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. Because of the uneven number they easily react with other molecules as they try to even the number out. This reaction can cause harm to the body including inflammation and disease. Mitochondrial dysfunction occurs when the mitochondria don’t work as well as they should. The mitochondria, nicknamed the powerhouse of the cell, essentially are how our cells produce energy. So whenever there is dysfunction to them, all sorts of bodily systems do haywire including inflammation.
Contributing Factors to chronic inflammation
There are many factors that contribute to why people experience chronic inflammation. It seems that increasing age is associated with an increase in inflammation. This is suspected to be a part of the normal ageing process such as mitochondrial dysfunction which occurs as we age and an increase in body fat is also common. Body fat has been shown to increase certain inflammatory markers so it’s important to keep body fat to a healthy level to prevent unnecessary inflammation.
Diet & Weight
Diet has been shown to have a huge impact on inflammation. There are many competing ideas these days over what’s a healthy diet what most researchers do agree on is that a focus on eating whole natural foods while avoiding processed food and junk foods are important. Eating a low glycemic diet has been proven to improve levels of unnecessary inflammation so avoiding sugar and simple carbs are key. Sugary foods and processed foods are well known to produce inflammation. This is especially true for people who have diabetes or are overweight so if you fall under either of these categories it’s especially important to stay away from sugar and work towards a healthy weight.
As we all know by now that smoking is bad for your health. When it comes to inflammation smoking is loaded with toxins that the body has to fight, which triggers the inflammatory response. This is true of other toxins as well such as alcohol, mould, chemicals, and environmental pollutants.
Hormones, Stress, and Sleep
Studies show that sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen have an impact when it comes to inflammation. When hormones are balanced they have the ability to help to suppress unnecessary inflammation. There are a lot of factors that can influence whether or not our sex hormones are balanced but one of the biggest factors you have an influence on is stress. Stress includes emotional stress as well as biological stress. Stress has a huge impact on the immune system, which you now know impacts inflammation.
If you want to learn more about the impact of stress on the immune system you can learn more about that here. Things like excessive training, skipping meals, or not sleeping are types of stress. Eating enough healthy fats is also an important part of a good hormone balance. Not having enough sleep, lack of a regular sleep schedule all contribute to chronic inflammation as well.
What you can do to combat chronic inflammation
You might have some ideas already from what we’ve talked about above. Avoiding chronic inflammation can be as simple (though not always easy) as eating healthy, avoiding toxins, maintaining a healthy weight, managing both physical and emotional stress, getting good sleep, and getting adequate exercise. Exercise in fact shows some promising results as a potent anti-inflammatory. There is growing evidence that diseases with an inflammatory component can be treated through physical exercise alone without the need for anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, NSAIDs, or corticosteroids.
If lifestyle isn’t enough herbal medicine has many powerful anti-inflammatory botanicals that can really reduce inflammation naturally throughout the body including:
- Cat’s Claw
- Willow Bark
You can also look to herbal remedies that are immune modulators because they will help with the impacts of the immune system on inflammation. Many immune modulators are also adaptogens which are great for helping your body to adapt to stress which can cause inflammation. Our favourite immune modulators/adaptogens include:
- Reishi Mushroom
- Panax Ginseng
Chronic inflammation is often a systematic problem so it’s important to look at healing inflammation from the inside out with lifestyle and internal remedies, however, if you are experiencing localized symptoms such as eczema, psoriasis or joint pain topical anti-inflammatories can be a great addition to your healing repertoire. Our favourite topical anti-inflammatory herbs include:
- Olive oil
- Pine tar (particularly for inflammatory skin conditions)
- White Oak
Nature’s Anti-inflammatory contains Tumeric, arrowleaf balsamroot, rose hips, bacopa monera, cat’s claw, neem, olive leaf, marshmallow, astragalus, dandelion, ginger and cayenne. It contains a potent blend of anti-inflammatory herbs along with other herbs that support healing from inflammation. Astragalus, for example, will help to balance the immune system and stress. While dandelion will help to detox toxins that can cause inflammation.
Black Ointment is wonderful for skin inflammation. Pine tar, olive oil, chaparral, white oak, comfrey, marshmallow, and a bunch of other healing herbs are going to soothe inflammation to the skin. It also works on sore joints and muscles that are inflamed and painful.
Reishi Blend contains Reishi Mushroom, Echinacea, and Astragalus for immune-modulating and adaptogenic effects. It’s going to balance the immune system’s response to inflammation and reduce the stress that can contribute to inflammation and immune problems.
Panax Ginseng is going to help you to resist the mental and physical aspects of stress. It’s also going to support a strong immunes system. This is great if stress or immune function is related to your chronic inflammation
Ashwagandha is going to have a similar impact on stress and inflammation as Panax Ginseng by supporting a healthy immune system and helping the body to adapt to stress. Some say Panax Ginseng is more stimulating while Ashwagandha is more of a relaxing herb. They both, however, will help you to have more energy when you need it and to rest when you want to.