Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism—an immune response triggered by harmful stimuli. The body responds to these triggers by producing chemicals called cytokines, which cause damage to cells and tissues throughout the body.
Depending on which organ or tissue becomes injured, the body’s response may result in various symptoms, such as redness, heat, swelling, pain, headache, leaky gut, fatigue, joint pain, depression, insomnia, loss of function, and more.
Acute Inflammation vs. Chronic Inflammation
In acute inflammation, the body sends inflammatory cells to the injured area and begins the healing process.
Examples of acute inflammation include a skin cut, a cold, or a broken bone.
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body responds by sending inflammatory cells without an obvious external injury.
Chronic inflammation occurs in:
- Heart disease
- Leaky gut
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Chronic fatigue
- Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, lupus, Sjogren’s disease, etc.)
When Inflammation Causes Problems
Acute inflammation is part of our immune response. It helps us fight off infections and heal wounds. But chronic inflammation doesn’t help us fight infections and worsens some conditions.
We often think about chronic inflammation, yet we don’t always think about how to stop the symptoms. For example, we know that inflammation plays a role in heart attacks and strokes, but what exactly does it do? And how might someone protect against the damage it causes?
If a patient experiences symptoms of inflammation, such as fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, or joint stiffness, could it be a sign they’re heading toward a serious illness? Not necessarily. But it could be a sign that something needs to change.
Fortunately, people can take steps to help reduce inflammation and keep their health intact.
Chronic inflammation is a major factor behind many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. The World Health Organization estimates that 80% of deaths worldwide are due to chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, lung disease, arthritis, and cancer.
The good news is that patients can take steps to manage their health and reduce their risk of developing chronic inflammation.
Many people think that cutting out junk food is enough to keep inflammation under control, but the truth is that most of us still eat too much of it. So how do we balance a healthy diet while still enjoying treats?
But understanding inflammation isn’t as easy as learning the definition. Here, Your Private Physician overviews inflammatory pain and how to approach it.
At Your Private Physician, we ask many questions about a patient’s medical history, including previous injuries, surgeries, medications, allergies, family health problems, and lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking alcohol.
We also ask about current symptoms.
Then, we give the patient time—a lot of time. Because our appointments are comprehensive and exclusive, we never rush a patient through a visit. When patients visit our office, they usually find the experience like no other doctor’s visit.
We use solutions incorporating the best techniques from traditional and holistic medicine to find the healthiest, long-term answers.
Yes, inflammation causes pain, and taking pain medication may help and be prescribed. But for true wellness, it is also critical to find and treat the actual cause and not merely mask it with a pharmaceutical.
How to Manage Chronic Inflammation
To heal from chronic inflammation, one must first identify the underlying causes.
The most common cause of chronic inflammation is infection. In this case, you should be tested for a specific infectious agent (e.g., strep throat or bladder infection).You may also have a systemic inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. These types of conditions require treatment by a specialist.
If you don’t know what type of condition you have, then you need to see a specialist who specializes in treating these kinds of conditions.
Other possible causes include autoimmune disorders, which occur when the body attacks itself; nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to poor immune function; leaky gut and environmental toxins, which can affect various systems and create inflammation.
Once you’ve identified the source of your inflammation, you’ll want to address it. Here are some suggestions:
Reduce Unhealthy Foods
Yes, diet can have a major impact on inflammation — but it’s important to look beyond short-term fixes.
To make any significant difference, you’ll need to change your overall dietary patterns and adopt an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, according to nutrition experts.
A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids help prevent inflammation in mice.
A 2017 study published in Nutrients reported that people who ate diets high in fruits and vegetables had lower levels of inflammatory markers compared to those who didn’t eat enough fruit and veggies.
And a 2016 study published in Nutrition Research showed that people who consumed a Mediterranean diet had less inflammation than those who didn’t follow a similar diet plan.
Consider Reducing or Eliminating Gluten
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and some forms of barley. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by exposure to gluten. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and weight loss. A person with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten because it damages the lining of the tiny intestine, causing damage similar to what happens during ulcerative colitis.
There is also a condition called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance. It can result in various complaints, such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, joint pain, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
The causes of gluten sensitivity aren’t well understood. Experts think the immune system reacts differently to gluten in people with celiac versus those who don’t have the disease. But the reason why isn’t entirely clear.
A study published in 2017 suggested that gluten could cause intestinal inflammation even in people without celiac. Researchers looked at samples from the intestines of 10 patients with gluten sensitivity and 12 healthy controls. They found inflammation in the intestines of people with gluten sensitivity. However, the researchers didn’t find any signs of inflammation in the control group.
Another study published in 2016 showed that people with gluten sensitivity had increased levels of antibodies against gliadin, a type of gluten present in wheat. This suggests that the body might be producing antibodies to fight off gluten.
In addition to celiac disease, other conditions associated with gluten sensitivity include dermatitis herpetiformis (an allergic reaction to gluten), irritable bowel syndrome, and non celiac gluten sensitivity.
Avoid Eating The Standard American Diet (SAD)
The Standard American Diet (SAD), or Western Diet, is high in processed food, fast food, and red meat and very low in fruit and vegetable intake. This causes chronic inflammation throughout our bodies.
Here are some common culprits:
- Processed meats – Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, ham, pepperoni, etc. They contain nitrates and sodium and are often cooked in unhealthy fats.
- Refined grains – Refined grains such as white rice, white pasta, most breads are stripped of most nutrients, including fiber, protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin B12, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Red meat – Red meat contains saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones. It’s also typically raised on antibiotics and fed corn and soy.
- Fried foods – Fried foods are loaded with trans fat, which increases inflammation.
How and What to Eat: Some Considerations
There’s been a lot of talk about “the perfect diet,” but it turns out that eating patterns matter just as much as what you eat. A recent study found that people who ate a high-fat, low-fiber diet had elevated levels of inflammatory markers compared to those who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in fiber-filled whole grains, fruit, veggies, fish, and healthy fats.
The researchers suggest that dietary changes could help prevent heart disease and cancer. But while we’ve known for decades that certain foods like red meat and sugary drinks trigger inflammation, we didn’t know how much impact specific foods might have on our health.
So far, studies show that different types of diets seem to work differently for reducing inflammation. As mentioned, one study found that a Mediterranean diet was most effective for lowering inflammation among overweight women. Another found that a vegetarian diet helped lower inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis. And a third showed that restricting calories for three days per week lowered inflammation in obese adults.
What does this mean for you? Well, it’s hard to say which foods will make a difference because every person responds differently to different diets. However, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of inflammation:
- Eat more vegetables and fruits. Fruits and veggies contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fiber helps keep you full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat. Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which increase when you eat too many processed foods.
- Cut back on sugar. Sugar triggers the release of insulin, which promotes inflammation. If you want to reduce added sugars, try swapping them for natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar.
- Limit alcohol: Alcohol raises blood pressure, which may lead to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. It also stimulates the production of cortisol, which can cause weight gain and stress.
- Get moving. Exercise is another way to boost your overall health and fight inflammation. Regular exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular function, bone density, muscle strength, and mood. Plus, physical activity reduces stress and improves sleep quality.
- Intermittent Fasting. What about when you don’t feel like cooking a healthy meal? What do you do when you’re too busy, tired, or stressed to cook?
That’s where time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting come into play. These strategies help you optimize your nutrition without worrying about preparing meals. They also allow you to control exactly how much you eat throughout the day. This helps you avoid overeating, which often leads to weight gain and obesity.
There are different types of time-restricted eating and fasting schedules. Some people prefer to fast for 16 hours each day, while others choose to fast for 12 hours or even 8 hours. Others opt for a schedule that includes three days of normal eating followed by a day of fasting.
If you must eat some processed food, choose organic, hormone, and antibiotic free products whenever possible.
At Your Private Physician, we understand that allergies, food, and intolerances can be major sources of pain and inflammation. We know that one food might be right for one patient and not another, and our diagnoses are customized to the individual.
Often, patients aren’t aware they have food issues. We always take food into account, and we help patients uncover issues.
Smoking (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
The link between inflammation and smoking is well established. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, chromium, copper, and others. These substances are toxic to cells and can damage DNA and proteins. They also trigger an immune system response that leads to elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and acute-phase reactants.
Research shows that smoking increases the likelihood of developing coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, and cerebrovascular disease. In addition, it accelerates the progression of existing atherosclerotic plaques, leading to plaque rupture and thrombosis. This process causes a cascade of events that leads to heart attack, unstable angina pectoris, sudden death, and stroke.
Drinking Alcohol (Source: joinmonument.com)
Drinking alcohol causes inflammation in our bodies. This inflammation plays a major role in the negative side effects of consuming too much alcohol. There are three main reasons why we experience such severe side effects when drinking alcohol.
First, alcohol itself is a powerful stimulant.
Second, alcohol increases blood pressure and heart rate.
Third, alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to regulate the inflammatory response. It does this by blocking the production of anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins. Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) is produced by white blood cells and acts as an inhibitor of other inflammatory mediators. When PGE2 is blocked, other inflammatory mediators become more active.
Environmental Toxins (Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Recent evidence suggests that environmental exposures contribute to disease onset and progression. In particular, exposure to persistent pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), heavy metals, perfluoroalkyl compounds (PFASs), phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), and flame retardants, has been associated with adverse effects on the immune system.
These substances act via multiple mechanisms, including disruption of DNA repair processes, oxidative stress, impaired cell signaling, epigenetic changes, and altered gene expression.
Emerging evidence indicates that some of these agents may promote carcinogenesis by inducing chronic inflammation within tissues.
Using Supplements to Help Fight Inflammation
Here are five benefits of anti-inflammatory supplements:
- They reduce pain.
- They improve sleep quality.
- They boost energy levels.
- They protect joints.
- They help with weight loss.
Here, we list some of the more popular anti-inflammatory supplements. We also have access to additional supplements and a wealth of information to customize a supplement plan for patients.
Note: Many supplements can cause harm if not taken properly. Always speak to a qualified medical professional.
Supplements to Consider (Source: utswmed.org)
Before a patient takes a supplement, it is important to check with a medical professional to ensure it won’t conflict with the current medication regimen or negatively affect health.. Then, a patient should look for evidence of efficacy — whether the supplement worked well enough to convince others that it works and what side effects might occur. It is equally important to take pharmaceutical-grade, clinically researched supplements. Not all are created equal.
Less research exists on natural substances like essential oils, vitamins, and minerals than chemical compounds or prescription drugs. But it’s growing, largely due to studies and trials funded and/or conducted by the National Center For Complementary And Integrative Health (Nccih), part of the National Institutes Of Health.
Is Physical Activity a Supplement? Yes.
We’d be lax if we didn’t talk about exercise to combat inflammation, and if physical activity compliments someone’s healthcare routine, then, yes, it’s an important supplement.
The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recently updated their guidelines recommending that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. To help meet this guideline, try adding strength training to a workout. For example, pushups, planks, squats, lunges, crunches, or even a kettlebell swing.
Finally, there are many great options for low-impact physical activity, such as yoga, tai chi, and swimming. These types of exercise incorporate slow, steady movements and focus on balance and coordination while providing benefits to both mind and body.
Turmeric is one of the best natural anti-inflammatory foods. It’s been shown to reduce pain and swelling associated with arthritis and osteoarthritis. It’s also great for reducing joint stiffness and improving mobility.
Turmeric is derived from the root of the Curcuma longa plant, native to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It’s known as Indian saffron, the spice that gives curry powder its yellow hue.
Curcumin, found in turmeric, helps reduce inflammation and fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Turmeric comes in several forms, including capsules, powders, tinctures, teas, and even hot sauce. Here are some additional ways to incorporate turmeric into a diet:
- Add ground turmeric to soups and stews.
- Use it in place of salt in recipes that call for cayenne pepper — add about half as much.
- Sprinkle turmeric over popcorn.
Cherry Juice Extract
Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants in cherries and other foods like blueberries and strawberries. They give those foods their bright colors and help protect against cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals cause inflammation, which contributes to arthritis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and many other health conditions.
Cherries are rich sources of anthocyanins, particularly cyanidin 3-glucoside. So when researchers tested how much anthocyanin people could absorb from different fruit juices, they discovered that cherry juice had the highest level.
Anthocyanins are available in cherry juice extracts, which are easy to add to smoothies and other drinks. If someone wants to avoid added sugar, they can eat a handful of whole cherries daily.
The American Cancer Society recommends eating five servings of fruits and veggies daily, including three servings of dark green leafy vegetables, two servings of orange/yellow/red fruits, and one serving of berries. Cherries fit into that category, along with blackberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, pears, nectarines, apricots, mangoes, apples, and grapes.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
Many studies have evaluated the effectiveness of omega-3 supplements in treating inflammation. For example, one review found that people with rheumatoid diseases had less pain and improved function when they took omega-3 supplements compared with a placebo.
Another study showed that omega-3 supplementation could reduce joint swelling and tenderness among patients with rheumatologic diseases. Finally, a third study suggests that omega-3 supplementation might improve symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
Try foods like tuna, salmon, sardines, walnuts, avocados and flaxseeds for the best absorption.
The skin elasticity benefits of collagen, a protein, have long been touted. Less research exists on its anti-inflammation properties.
Some studies suggest it can improve joint pain, while others suggest collagen may reduce muscle soreness. Collagen is widely available in capsules, powders, liquids, and even food products like yogurt and ice cream.
Increase natural collagen levels by eating more foods containing proteins and vitamin C, such as salmon, chicken, eggs, and oranges.
Chondroitin and Glucosamine
Chondroitin and glucosamine are two natural compounds within the cartilage, and both help support healthy cartilage. As people age, cartilage loses elasticity, leading to joint pain and arthritis. Chondroitin helps improve mobility and reduces inflammation, while glucosamine improves cartilage health. Both are typically taken orally, although topical forms exist.
Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil
The use of cannabidiol (Cannabis sativa) oil, commonly known as CBD oil, is becoming increasingly popular among patients with chronic conditions like cancer, epilepsy, M.S., arthritis, insomnia, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and many others. Some studies even suggest it could be useful against Alzheimer’s disease.
While there isn’t much scientific evidence supporting CBD oil’s ability to treat certain health issues, anecdotal evidence suggests it does work well for some people.
For example, one study found that CBD helped reduce seizures in children with Dravet syndrome — a rare genetic disorder characterized by frequent convulsions. Another study showed CBD oil improved sleep quality in individuals with insomnia. And a third study suggested CBD might help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In addition to helping people feel better, CBD oil may do something good for the brain. A 2017 study published in Neuropsychopharmacology supports the idea that CBD oil improves neurogenesis—the growth of new neurons—in the hippocampus, a brain region associated with learning and memory. This is important because while we don’t know how CBD oil affects every part of the brain, we know that the hippocampus plays a key role in our cognitive function.
More importantly, CBD oil can effectively treat various medical conditions without producing most of the side effects someone might experience with conventional drugs.
CBD oil doesn’t produce drowsiness, intoxication, addiction, or short-term memory impairment. Several studies have shown that CBD oil can even improve concentration and focus.
There are several ways to take CBD oil, including under the tongue, sublingually, transdermally, buccal delivery, and rectally. There are different types of CBD oils, including full-spectrum CBD, broad-spectrum CBD, isolate CBD, and hybrid varieties. Each type offers unique advantages and disadvantages.
Recently, topical relief creams have become popular among people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy. While some creams relieve muscle aches, others specifically address nerve pain.
The problem is that many creams contain ingredients that aren’t necessarily safe for everyone. Some even have skin irritation, burning sensations, and rashes. Others can cause allergic reactions.
- Capsaicin Cream This is a very common choice for treating painful joints, especially those caused by osteoarthritis. Capsaicin is derived from chili peppers and works by blocking certain types of receptors found in the membranes surrounding sensory neurons—this causes the sensation of warmth, tingling, and numbness to spread throughout the treated area.
While capsaicin creams reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain, there are potential downsides. One downside is that capsaicin can cause a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Another drawback is that it can make the mouth feel dry and irritated.
- Arnica Gel Another alternative is arnica gel, a herbal extract used since ancient times to treat bruises and injuries. Arnica gel contains glycosaminoglycans, which help repair damaged tissue and promote healing. It’s often recommended for use following sports injuries, such as sprains and strains.
Coenzyme Q10 (Source: (mayoclinic.org)
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that the body’s cells produce naturally. The body uses it for growth and maintenance. However, CoQ10 declines with age, and levels are often lower in people suffering from certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
The amount of CoQ10 contained in foods like beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and walnuts is relatively low. Boost intake of CoQ10 by eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including flaxseed oil, chia seeds, avocado, olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (Source: healthline.com)
Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA), a natural antioxidant found in certain foods such as broccoli and spinach, has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. ALA has also been associated with reducing inflammation, improving memory function, protecting against cancer, and even helping to prevent diabetes.
The exact mechanism behind the health benefits of ALA isn’t fully understood. However, scientists believe that it works by helping cells use energy. Specifically, it helps mitochondria—the powerhouses inside every cell—use oxygen and fuel efficiently.
Alpha Lipoic acid (ALA) (Source: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Alpha Lipoic acid (ALA), an endogenous antioxidant, plays an important role in human health. In addition, ALA has been used in treating diabetes mellitus, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and aging.
Melatonin (Source: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
In recent decades, there has been growing interest in using melatonin to treat several diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, infectious diseases, and inflammatory conditions.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) (Source: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
One example of how NAC helps reduce inflammation: A research team led by Professor Shigeru Kato of the University of Tokyo has found that N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), a compound commonly used to treat acetaminophen overdose and paracetamol poisoning, exhibits potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
“In a study in 40 older adults, those who took 45 mg of zinc per day experienced greater reductions in inflammatory markers than a placebo group.”
Vitamin C (Source: healthline.com)
Vitamin C is one of the most important vitamins you can take. It’s an essential nutrient necessary for many body functions, including building strong bones and teeth, producing collagen, and maintaining normal blood pressure levels. It also plays a key role in reducing inflammation, which is why it treats conditions such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.
Some studies suggest that supplemental vitamin C could also help prevent colds and flu.
Vitamin D (Source: healthline.com)
Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble nutrient that plays a key part in immune health and may help prevent certain types of cancer. In several studies, researchers note a link between low vitamin d levels and the presence of chronic inflammation.
In a small, high-quality trial in 44 women with low vitamin D levels and premenstrual symptoms, researchers found that taking 50,000 international units (IU) of vitamin d every 2 weeks for 4 months helped reduce inflammation.
Similar findings have been noted in obese patients with low vitamin D levels. And in a large cohort study, researchers found that adults with low vitamin D levels were almost twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to those with normal vitamin D levels.
Over a long period, adults shouldn’t take too much vitamin D because it can lead to toxicity. Be sure to speak to a qualified healthcare professional.
More to Come:
There are many other ways to fight inflammation, for example, probiotics, green tea, herbal tea, relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and much more. We will address these topics in future articles. However, for patients who might benefit from these, or other solutions, you need not wait. Schedule an appointment today to learn more.
In the meantime, those who have questions about which anti-inflammatory methods are best for them should contact Your Private Physician at 727-496-5413 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.