Updated: Oct 20, 2021
Inflammation – what is it?
We hear this word all the time, yet I am commonly asked this question in my practice. When someone says "inflammation" most people think of the swelling you get with a bug bite, the redness accompanying a bruise, or pain in a joint that comes with arthritis. And that's correct! These are distinct signs of inflammation, but it can present in vague ways as well which makes it challenging to understand this complex process - Let’s dive into it!
Think of inflammation as the body’s internal alarm, signaling that it's time to heal. There are two main types: acute (short term) and chronic (long term).
In the short term, the body mounts an immediate response to an injured or affected area. You experience this as pain, swelling, redness, and heat which are signs that the immune system is working to contain the source of irritation and fight it off. Depending on the circumstance, this acute inflammation should resolve within days to weeks once healing is complete.(1)
When inflammation lasts longer than it should, however, it passes the point of being productive and can actually be detrimental to one’s health. If left unaddressed over time, low-grade inflammation can pre-dispose one to a number of chronic health conditions. While there is no one answer for everyone, there are ways to set your body up for success in supporting healthy inflammatory responses. One way is by recognizing early signs of inflammation in order to be proactive. Early signs to look out for could include mild joint swelling, headaches, random rashes, unexplained fatigue, poor wound healing, or prolonged muscle aches.(1)
Testing for baseline inflammatory markers is also important to see where you are and to track your progress. Some common tests that identify underlying inflammation could include ESR / CRP, CBC, ferritin, fibrinogen, homocysteine, etc.(1)
Diet & Lifestyle:
If you have noticed early signs of inflammation, or gotten positive test results from your health care provider, adhering to a mostly Mediterranean diet is a great first step in being proactive! This diet emphasizes eating the rainbow to achieve various nutrients and antioxidants.(2) Dietary antioxidants help our cells neutralize reactive oxygen species that can trigger inflammation and cellular damage.(1) See my post on various colored foods!
Additionally, quality sleep has been shown to positively impact blood markers of inflammation and recent research suggests that social isolation may be linked with worsened inflammatory responses.(3,8)
Where a healthy diet can set the body up for success, there may be cases where food may not be the only answer. If more support is needed, there are a number of anti-inflammatory medications that are often recommended by health care providers. The reason that pain and inflammation go down after taking aspirin or NSAIDs such as naproxen and ibuprophen is because they block enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 (COX1) & cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2). COX2 in particular is one of the major signals to the body that it’s time for inflammation. When you have an injured area, often the pain is due to compression of surrounding nerves by swelling and inflammation. These medications can help reduce that swelling and inflammation.(1)
In addition, ginger root, curcumin, chives, and nettle are a few of the botanicals that have been shown to have a degree of COX inhibiting effect.(4,5,6,7)
Talk to your naturopathic doctor today to tailor a plan to your needs!
1.) Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/
2.) Dominguez LJ, Di Bella G, Veronese N, Barbagallo M. Impact of Mediterranean Diet on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases and Longevity. Nutrients. 2021;13(6):2028. Published 2021 Jun 12. doi:10.3390/nu13062028
3.) D'Antono B, Bouchard V. Impaired sleep quality is associated with concurrent elevations in inflammatory markers: are post-menopausal women at greater risk?. Biol Sex Differ. 2019;10(1):34. Published 2019 Jul 8. doi:10.1186/s13293-019-0250-x
4.) van Breemen RB, Tao Y, Li W. Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors in ginger (Zingiber officinale). Fitoterapia. 2011;82(1):38-43.
5.) Ghasemian M, Owlia S, Owlia MB. Review of Anti-Inflammatory Herbal Medicines. Adv Pharmacol Sci. 2016;2016:9130979. doi:10.1155/2016/9130979
6.) Johnson TA, Sohn J, Inman WD, Bjeldanes LF, Rayburn K. Lipophilic stinging nettle extracts possess potent anti-inflammatory activity, are not cytotoxic and may be superior to traditional tinctures for treating inflammatory disorders. Phytomedicine. 2013;20(2):143-147. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2012.09.016
7.) Lee S-Y, Cho S-S, Li Y, Bae C-S, Park KM, Park D-H. Anti-inflammatory effect of curcuma longa and allium hookeri co-treatment via nf-κb and cox-2 pathways. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):5718.
8.) Smith KJ, Gavey S, RIddell NE, Kontari P, Victor C. The association between loneliness, social isolation and inflammation: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 2020;112:519-541.