Anti-Inflammatories: A Natural Approach
If you experience fatigue, low energy, aches and pains, or just don’t feel yourself, you may be struggling with chronic inflammation, an ongoing activation of your immune system. Longstanding inflammation increases the risk for many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and cancer. So, it is important to identify the problem and make efforts to get rid of it. A chronic infection may be responsible, for example dental infections or even athlete’s foot, so it is important to have a thorough physical examination to help identify an obvious culprit.
Sometimes though, the cause is not evident and several issues must be considered. Lifestyle and habits play a major role. Simply being overweight can cause inflammation, as can excessive stress, tobacco use, exposure to pollutants, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Nutrition and dietary habits are major factors. Many foods are inflammatory; regular ingestion of these can activate an immune reaction. The most common culprits are sugars and foods high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods that are laden with chemical additives. Avoid processed foods altogether and keep the refined carbohydrate intake to a minimum. Fried foods often contain inflammatory oils and should be avoided. If you enjoy red meat, try to limit this to no more than twice per week and choose grass fed beef, which contains less saturated fat, and is free of hormones and antibiotics. In general, a whole foods diet that includes lots of fruits and colored vegetables, herbs and spices, lean protein sources and whole grains is the best approach.
If you have food sensitivities, several food groups can be problematic. These include gluten, dairy products, soy, corn, eggs, grains, and legumes. While many people enjoy these foods without difficulty, you may not recognize that some of those listed may be giving you trouble! It can be difficult to identify food sensitivity. So, if you are struggling with inflammation despite following healthy eating guidelines, consider the “Anti-inflammatory Diet.” Food elimination programs can help to identify specific food sensitivities that may be causing persistent inflammation.
Even though you may be eating carefully, we live in a stressful world and are often exposed to pollutants and environmental toxins. These are inflammatory. What else can we do to naturally fend off and control inflammation?
The common anti-inflammatory medications available over the counter include ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), naproxen ( Aleve or Naprosyn), and aspirin. These “NSAIDs” ( non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) as well as many others available via prescription have been in widespread use for years and are quite effective for the relief of acute, short term pains and inflammation. The problem is, they have lots of potential side effects, including gastrointestinal problems, elevation of blood pressure, and kidney injury, to name a few. They may be used for a few doses when necessary to address acute problems but ongoing use for chronic inflammation should be avoided. NSAIDs do very little to address or resolve an ongoing inflammatory process.
There are several natural products that can be very helpful in combating inflammation safely and naturally:
• Fish Oil, a source of omega-3 fatty acids is a good place to start. The standard American diet is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which are inflammatory. By eating fish more frequently or supplementing with a quality fish oil product, we can reduce the omega-6/omega-3 ratio, thus reducing the inflammatory state.
Recommended dose: 2000mg daily. Be sure that the product contains adequate amounts of DHA and EPA, the major beneficial omega-3 fatty acids
• Turmeric is a spice used by Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal physicians for hundreds of years as a natural anti-inflammatory. The active ingredient, Curcumin, has been shown to possess anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties, as well. It is not well absorbed, so, rather than simply ingesting the herb directly, look for a supplement that promotes enhanced absorption. Bioperine, a black pepper extract is often used for this purpose, Recommended dose: 500-1000mg daily
• Ginger. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger is useful for indigestion and nausea and helps with muscle soreness. Recommended dose: 1 gram daily
• Boswellia Serrata(Indian Frankincense). Since ancient times, a resin from the Boswellia tree has been used for incense and aromatics, but also as a safe and effective anti-inflammatory agent. It contains several substances that inhibit the production of leukotrienes, potent mediators of inflammation and asthma. There are several other boswellia species that contain aromatic resins, but the anti-inflammatory volatiles are unique to B. Serrata. Recommended dose: 600-900mg Boswellia, standardized to contain 60-65% boswellic acids.
• Limbrel/flavocoxid Limbrel is actually a proprietary prescription product, considered by the FDA to be a “medical food”, rather than a pharmaceutical. It contains a collection of flavinoids which are phytonutrients derived from several plant and fruit sources. Flavonoids act to block cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase enzymes, which results a reduction in the production of the pro-inflammatory mediators, prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Indicated for the treatment of osteoarthritis, Limbrel is a safer option than conventional NSAIDs
• Specialized Pro-Resolving Mediators( SPMs). Ordinarily, inflammatory reactions wind down as tissues heal and repair. The process by which resolution of inflammation takes place involves the production of specialized fatty acid products, derived from cell membranes, termed resolvins . One factor in chronic inflammation may be the persistence of the immune activation and a failure to down regulate the inflammation. SPMs are fractionated fatty acid derivatives from omega-3 oils that help to wind down the process. Rather than preventing the initiation of inflammation, they help to turn off the process.
• Alpha Lipoic Acid is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory coenzyme that is made naturally by the body. It is particularly useful in diabetes and neurologic disorders and is potent in reducing the inflammation associated with these conditions. Recommended dose: 100-400mg per day.
• Resveratrol is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that is found in a number of plants, but is a well-known as component of grapes and one possible reason that wine has health preserving benefits, especially in reducing cardiovascular disease . It is often used as an anti-aging supplement, because it has been shown in animal studies to induce sirtuin genes, which are associated with longevity. Recommended dose: 150-400mg of trans-resveratrol, the active form.
This list of natural anti-inflammatory nutrients is partial but a good place to start. If cardiovascular disease is your main concern, go with Fish Oil and Resveratrol. If you wish to address arthritis, then try Fish Oil and Turmeric/Curcumin. By following a healthy diet and with the selective use of nutritional supplements, you can take control of inflammation, feel great and stay healthy!