The role of inflammation in health and disease

Inflammation is an immune response characterised by redness, swelling, heat, pain, and fever that can be either acute or chronic.

Acute inflammation is usually caused by injuries or infections. This type of inflammation should resolve relatively quickly and plays a beneficial or protective role to the host (i.e., aids in the healing of injuries).

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is longer lasting. It is a prolonged reaction that influences signalling between cells, blood vessels, enzymes, hormones and organs. Over time, chronic inflammation can contribute to fatigue, body pain, gastrointestinal issues, depression, weight gain or loss, as well as being correlated with many health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and atherosclerosis (Rohleder, 2019). 

The good news is that Naturopathy can help to resolve acute and chronic inflammation using a combination of dietary and lifestyle modifications, herbal medicine and/or nutraceuticals. However, to ensure that treatment is effective, we must first identify the causative and/or sustaining factors behind the inflammation.

For example, in acute inflammation, the causative factor could be an injury where by the sustaining factor is self-limiting (i.e., the trauma has already passed), so the resolution of inflammation is quicker and usually requires little to no support (i.e., rest, nutraceutical/herbal support to manage pain and swelling, promote healing or to support the immune system in the case of an infection) (Ward, & Lentsch 1999).

Contrarily, chronic inflammation can be more complex, as it may involve a diagnosed health condition, to which we may need to look back years to find the causative factor/s that originally disturbed normal physiological processes and the factor/s that currently sustain the inflammation (Margină, et al 2020). This may include:

  • A poor diet (e.g.,high in processed or refined foods).
  • Toxin exposure or accumulation over time.
  • Ongoing stress or trauma (physical or emotional).
  • A sedentary or unhealthy lifestyle.

Once all factors are identified we work with the individual to remove disturbances and establish healthy dietary and lifestyle habits that will allow the inflammation to resolve. Naturopathic treatment may include:

Following an anti-inflammatory diet or increasing the consumption of anti-inflammatory foods, such as:

  • Omega3’s: a-linoleic acid (ALA) (found in linseeds, chia seeds, legumes, certain nuts like walnuts, and small amounts in leafy vegetables), and the long-chain (LC) acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) that are found in oily fish and other seafood. Research on LC acids show increased anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular benefits, and positive alterations to gene expression (Casas, Sacanella, & Estruch 2014). 
  • Antioxidants: Found in brightly coloured vegetables (beetroot, carrot etc.) and fruit (especially finger-staining fruit e.g., blackberries and mulberries). Antioxidants protect the body against inflammation by neutralising free-radical damage (Casas, Sacanella, & Estruch 2014).

Reducing the consumption of pro-inflammatory foods (which contribute to or exacerbate inflammation), such as:

  • Refined sugars (granulated sugar and sugar syrups)
  • Preservatives and additives (numbers, colourings and flavourings)
  • Packaged, store bought foods (biscuits, lollies, chips, chocolates)
  • Processed flours (pasta, bread, muffins)
  • Red meat from grain-fed cattle*
  • Dairy (especially from grain-fed cattle)
  • Soft drink, cordial, alcohol and caffeine
    (Casas, Sacanella, & Estruch 2014)
    *Limit to a palm-size per day. Red meat from grass-fed beef is higher in omega 3’s compared to grain-fed beef (which is higher in pro-inflammatory omega 6’s).

Reducing toxin exposure and supporting detoxification

There is a growing body of evidence showing the correlation between toxins and ill health, including many inflammatory conditions (Yang et al 2014). Click here to see the research of Dr Joseph Pizzorno on the symptom’s indicative of specific toxins, or here for the disease’s indicative of toxins. For example, joint pain is correlated with exposure to aluminium, cadmium, dioxins, and PCBs. If toxins appear to be a contributing factor to your condition, naturopathic treatment can aid in the detoxification process with additional dietary and lifestyle modifications, herbal medicines and/or nutraceuticals.

Stress management with mindfulness practices

Mindfulness is the art of immersing yourself in the present moment (Creswell et al 2012). Regular practice (e.g., for 10 minutes every day) can help to lower or manage your stress levels. A mindfulness activity we commonly recommend is conscious breathing.

 To practice conscious breathing:

  • Lay down or sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and bring your awareness to your breath.
  • Notice the cooler air as it enters your nostrils, and the warmer air as it leaves your nostrils.
  • If you lose focus or catch your mind wandering, that's ok, acknowledge your thoughts without judging them. Just bring your attention back to your breath each time this happens.

 Nutraceutical or herbal medicines

In some cases, additional support may be required, such as when the inflammation is long-standing or where short-term symptomatic relief is required whilst working on the long-term treatment plan. Supplementing with anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals or herbal medicines (e.g., Omega 3’s, curcumin, grape seed extract) may be beneficial if you aren’t able to reach the therapeutic requirements for these nutrients through diet alone (Jurenka 2009, Calder 2017, Terra et al 2007).

Always consult with a qualified health practitioner before starting a new diet, supplement or routine, especially if you have any diagnosed health conditions, are on any medications, are pregnant/breastfeeding, or in the very young or elderly.

 

Reference List

Calder, PC 2017, Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical SocietyTransactions45(5), 1105-1115.

Casas, R, Sacanella, E, & Estruch, R2014, The immune protective effect of the Mediterranean diet against chronic low-grade inflammatory diseases. Endocrine, Metabolic & ImmuneDisorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-Immune, Endocrine &Metabolic Disorders)14(4), 245-254.

Creswell, JD, Irwin, MR, Burklund, LJ,Lieberman, MD, Arevalo, JM, Ma, J, & Cole, SW 2012, Mindfulness-based stress reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial. Brain, behavior, and immunity26(7), 1095-1101.

Jurenka, J. S. (2009), Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Alternative medicine review14(2).

Margină, D, Ungurianu, A, Purdel, C,Tsoukalas, D, Sarandi, E, Thanasoula, M, & Tsatsakis, A 2020, Chronic inflammation in the context of everyday life: dietary changes as mitigating factors. International journal of environmental research and public health17(11), 4135.

Rohleder, N 2019, Stress and inflammation–The need to address the gap in the transition between acute and chronic stress effects. Psychoneuroendocrinology105,164-171.

Terra, X, Valls, J, Vitrac, X, Mérrillon, JM, Arola, L, Ardèvol, A, & Blay, M. 2007. Grape-seed procyanidins act as anti inflammatory agents in endotoxin-stimulated RAW 264.7 macrophages by inhibiting NFkB signaling pathway. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry55(11), 4357-4365.

Ward, PA, & Lentsch, AB, 1999, The acute inflammatory response and its regulation. Archives of surgery134(6),666-669.

Yang, SN, Hsieh, CC, Kuo, HF, Lee, MS,Huang, MY, Kuo, CH, & Hung, CH 2014, The effects of environmental toxins on allergic inflammation. Allergy, asthma & immunology research6(6),478.

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