Inflammation, Friend or Foe?
We all know what inflammation feels like. You hit your finger with a hammer while hitting a nail, or perhaps you wake up one morning with a big, red, swollen sore on your face. Both are inflamed. Physicians in ancient times defined inflammation as redness, heat, swelling and pain. The difference between these two examples is that while trauma created the first acute example, the other is chronic and internally created. Is this the same process?
Inflammation is now understood to be a central factor in conditions as diverse as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, arthritis, eczema, sinus infections, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Support is increasingly growing for the contention that ALL chronic diseases have an inflammatory component. Our ability to age gracefully may well be dependent on our bodies’ ability to manage inflammation.
Is inflammation just a cruel trick of nature to be suppressed with medications such as anti-inflammatories, or is there a more noble purpose?
What is Inflammation?
According to Leon Chaitow, N. D., D. O., inflammation is a natural and potentially beneficial response of the body to factors that are irritating or damaging it. Whether this process is self limited and beneficial or becomes excessive and chronic is dependent on the health of the immune system.
The complex process by which our bodies inflame initiate as a response to halt tissue damage. The process is the same regardless of whether the damage is the result of trauma or an ongoing internal process. Both local trauma and processes such as cellular energy production create organic material. Bacterial microbes, the most common cells in our body, decompose organic material, similar to food left out to rot decomposes. So, when the body senses these bacteria are excessive, inflammation occurs as a way to clear out cell destruction. In other words, our body chooses inflammation over microbial overgrowth. Organic material, generated by natural internal processes or localized trauma can be viewed as garbage.
An old naturopathic saying is that our body either excretes the garbage or it inflames and infects. I commonly quote this in clinic as we seek to increase excretion potential (via the liver, the kidneys or the lungs/skin) or reduce inflammation or infection.
Many people do not realize that before pain or redness comes stiffness. Stiffness in the joints or low back on rising which diminishes with movement is inflammation.
The major agent of inflammation is oxidation.
What is Oxidation?
Popular health information tells us to take lots of anti-oxidants. The reason anti-oxidants are important is to reduce the effects of oxidation.
Oxidation is a biochemical process characterized by the loss of electrons creating “free radicals”. The process of oxidation is used in a wide variety of industries. In the body, this uncoupling occurs as a by-product of normal metabolic processes and xeno-toxic reactions (foreign to the body). The breaking of electron bonds creates molecules which are unstable and highly reactive. In an attempt to become stable these incomplete molecules steal electrons from other molecules. When an attacked molecule loses an electron, a chain reaction results causing neighboring molecules to become oxidized, or unstable. Many chronic diseases are implicated with free radical damage.
Since oxidation is required for energy production to create ATP, it can not be called a “bad” process. The problem is excess oxidation. Other problems occur when metabolic processes create elevated chemicals which can easily combine with these unstable, oxidized particles to create other chemicals (oxysterols, peroxynitrite – search http://scholar.google.com/for research on the damaging impacts of these chemicals).
If someone gave you a cocktail of pesticides, you would think they were nuts, but our bodies create chemicals every bit as dangerous as pesticides every day. With a healthy immune system, healthy metabolic processes and good excretion, our body keeps all these complicated processes in balance.
Factors that Contribute to Oxidation
Factors which contribute to oxidation stress are:
1. Adrenaline changes from too much STRESS (see Focus on Health “Building Health” for more information) Note: Stress, for any reason, is very damaging.
2. Excess sweets and carbohydrates
3. Drugs of all kinds, including medications
4. Fast foods
5. Eating too much or eating too late
6. Heavy metals
8. AGE’s (chemicals created from highly heated proteins and sugars – think grilled meats)
10. Low anti-oxidant diet
Determining Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress can easily and cost effectively (about $25 ) be checked with a test for free radical activity using a urine sample. This test is the most accurate test on the market. (For additional information seehttp://oxidata.com/).
In order to get a complete picture of the impacts of oxidative stress, urinary electrolytes, used to create energy, and urinary nitrates, a cell signaling molecule which is a mediator in inflammatory responses and which helps blood vessels relax and widen, need to be assessed. These molecules, if elevated, along with oxidation create dangerous internal toxins.
While traditional western medicine is concerned with inflammation and oxidation, few tests or markers exist. A common test, C-reactive protein, measures inflammation in the blood.
Nutritional Support in Reducing Inflammation and Oxidation
Perhaps the most important element in reducing inflammation and oxidation is to reduce the stressors in one’s life. If one’s adrenal system is overstressed or not functioning, one is not able to handle the stressors in one’s life. A simple urinary test can determine the status of one’s adrenal system, and targeted nutrition and relaxation techniques can be implanted to heal one’s adrenals.
To decrease oxidative stress or free radicals, reduce the factors which contribute to oxidation listed above.
Specific dietary changes can reduce the effects of inflammation.
1. Increase Omega 3 Fatty acids (fish oils, seeds like flax and nuts)
3. Increase anti-oxidants foods (blue/purple are the power colors). Examples are blueberries, bilberries, Acai fruit, pomegranates.
4. Increase anti-oxidants vitamins such as bio-flavonoids, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Note: specific vitamins target different area of the body.
5. Reduce foods known to increase inflammation such as red meats. For some people, vegetables of the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes) can increase inflammation.
4. Increase aerobic exercise. Try yoga, Tai Qi or meditation to increase relaxation.
5. Include therapies such as spinal manipulation, acupuncture and massage.
6. Try natural anti-inflammatory substances such as Willow Bark, Chinese herbs and Proteolytic enzymes, and Rescue Remedy or Traumeel.
The elements to building health, while describing complex processes, are pretty simple. Focusing on core processes first assures your health is being built from the ground up. With a strong foundation, we can all maximize our health potential.