Here’s how to reduce chronic inflammation throughout your body and boost your immune system!
[Updated May 30, 2018]
Inflammation is a natural part of our body’s defenses. It’s necessary for repairing damage caused by injuries ranging from insect bites and infections to toxins and burns. Classic signs of acute inflammation include heat, redness, swelling and potential loss of function in the area affected. Eventually, through a complex array of chemicals and immune cells that jump into action, acute inflammation helps repair the injury, allowing the symptoms to recede.
When inflammation becomes chronic because the triggering agent can’t be eliminated or the damage can’t be resolved, the process changes into something that can hurt us instead of heal us. Chronic inflammation is a factor underlying almost every major disease, from autoimmune conditions and cancer to heart disease and dementia.
Want to know more about the science behind chronic inflammation? See this post from University Health News.
Symptoms of chronic inflammation aren’t always as apparent as those of acute inflammation. Chronic inflammation can affect just one part of the body, such as the joints in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, or it can affect many parts at once, like the nose, throat, skin and eyes in the case of seasonal or environmental allergies.
In celiac disease, where gluten is the toxic trigger, chronic inflammation should resolve once gluten is completely eliminated (at least in theory). But it often takes months, even years, for this inflammation to be quelled. Normal blood antibody levels (tissue transglutaminase IgA, tTG-IgA) are a good indication that celiac-related inflammation has settled down. If you have celiac disease, these levels should be checked every year to make sure your inflammatory load remains as low as possible.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Lifestyle
Many of today’s popular health books describe anti-inflammatory diets. Most are variations on the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing a wide variety of colorful plant foods, small amounts of grass-fed meats, more omega-3s (think: fatty fish) and fewer omega-6s (found in refined vegetable oils like soybean oil, as well as the cookies, crackers and snack foods made with these oils). Anti-inflammatory diets typically also eliminate common food allergens like gluten, dairy, soy and eggs. If food is an underlying trigger for your inflammation, these diets can be very effective. But food isn’t always an inflammatory trigger and avoidance won’t have much of an impact if that’s the case.
Many anti-inflammatory experts now consider factors beyond food as critical to good health. These include healthy social connections and social structure, having a sense of purpose in life and getting a break from stress. It’s worth thinking about an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, in addition to isolating specific foods that might be culprits.
Prioritize spending quality time with your family and friends and being positively engaged with your community. Get adequate, restful sleep and consistent physical exercise. Balance stress in a way that works for you. This could be through daily meditation, crafting, reading, playing music or spending time in nature.
Several supplements are said to help combat inflammation.
–Turmeric (curcumin) This root, related to ginger, gives curry its distinctive color and flavor. Turmeric contains curcumin, noted for its anti-inflammatory properties. (Supplements may appear as whole turmeric or curcurmin extract. It’s unclear whether one is more effective.) Take turmeric or curcurmin with a meal containing fats (they’re fat soluble) and look for a preparation that includes black pepper extract to boost its absorbability and bioavailability.
Try: Life Extension’s Super Bio-Curcumin
Note: Curcumin can be irritating if you have chronic stomach pain or ulcers.
–Golden Milk This trendy drink is colored by turmeric and incorporates black pepper and coconut oil to work synergistically as an anti-inflammatory tonic. You can drink this daily.
Try: Gala Herbs’ Golden Milk
–Boswellia This ancient herb has a broad spectrum of anti-inflammatory activity. It’s used to address inflammatory symptoms related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
Try: Pure Encapsulations Boswellia AKBA
–Proteolytic Enzymes Enzymes like bromelain, papain, pancreatin, trypsin, chymotrypsin and rutin are thought to help break down some of the chemicals involved in inflammation. They can be helpful for autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, as well as for allergies and respiratory conditions like chronic sinusitis.
Try: Garden of Life’s Wobenzym N
–Arnica Cream This topical lotion can be applied to the skin to help relieve back, joint or muscular pain. Some research suggests it may work as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) on musculoskeletal injuries.
Try: MediNatura’s T-Relief or Boiron’s Arnicare.
Christine Doherty, ND, specializes in natural gastroenterology with a focus on gluten- and wheat-based pathologies and their associated complications. She is owner of Balance Point Natural Medicine (pointnatural.com) in Milford, NH.