It seems like everyone these days is talking about inflammation, whether at the doctor’s office, the wellness section of your local bookstore, or even the supermarket.
You may think that inflammation is simply another buzzword, but, in fact, it’s a very real medical phenomenon with enormous implications for your health.
Now, doctors and researchers are finding that chronic inflammation may be the root of multiple diseases, from asthma and arthritis to heart disease and cancer.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take to tackle inflammation and start healing today.
If you’ve ever bumped your knee or had an allergic reaction, you’ve already seen acute inflammation at work. When your body senses an injury, protein molecules called cytokines cause a rush of white blood cells to the site of the problem, ready to repair it. The area may become red, warm, swollen, and sensitive to pain as your body’s amazing immune system works to heal you. If all goes well, your injury heals and the inflammation subsides: your immune system has done its job. This is the good kind of inflammation, and you can thank your body for being such an efficient healing machine.
Unfortunately, sometimes your body overestimates the importance of the injury, or it perceives an injury that’s not really there. This is when inflammation becomes a problem instead of a healthy part of healing. Usually, when people talk about disorders being caused by inflammation, they are referring to this problematic overreaction from your immune system.
Remember cytokines, the proteins that communicate a need for inflammation when you’re injured? Well, when an injury is healed, your body should release other cytokines to put an end to your immune system’s work at the site. In the case of an autoimmune disorder or other chronic inflammation, that final communication never happens. Instead, your body continues to respond to a perceived injury that may not exist, or it responds to a real injury in a destructive manner. This leads to chronic inflammation, which can wreak havoc on your body.
Doctors are still unraveling the mysteries of chronic inflammation. Autoimmune disorders are a culprit in many of the most serious cases; individuals battling rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or multiple sclerosis can trace their symptoms directly back to an overactive immune response and the inflammation it creates. Treating the inflammation, in these cases, should help the symptoms of the disorder as well as stop or slow down the feedback loop of inflammation.
However, you don’t need to suffer from an autoimmune disorder to suffer from chronic inflammation. Your lifestyle, diet, or an underlying injury or illness that you aren’t even aware of could cause this physical response.
The most common way that people deal with acute inflammation is by simply popping a couple of over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These medications do provide fast relief, and the fact that they’re available at every corner store might lead you to think they’re harmless. However, the long-term use of NSAIDs for chronic inflammation can lead to new problems, including peptic ulcers, and may even raise the risk of deadly strokes. (1)
Your doctor can also prescribe anti-inflammatories. Powerful corticosteroids such as prednisone are the go-to prescription for many chronic inflammatory disorders, but these medications can cause serious, debilitating side effects. (2)
Generally, you won’t want to treat chronic inflammation with the medications described above because of the problems that come with extended use. Instead, the first step to defeating chronic inflammation for most people should be lifestyle changes that improve your health overall. Eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables, staying active, and managing your response to stress are all positive, holistic lifestyle changes that can improve your body’s response to inflammation and reduce the discomfort that it causes.
For example, there is substantial evidence that a diet rich in alpha-linolenic acids (ALAs), can have a positive impact. You can find these ALAs in plant-based fats such as flaxseed oil or whole walnuts. (3)
Studies also show that getting as little as 20 minutes a day of exercise can reduce your body’s inflammatory response. Of course, diet and exercise can also lead to healthy weight loss, which itself reduces chronic inflammation. Instead of a negative feedback loop of inflammatory responses, eating well and exercising creates a positive one, tamping down the inflammation itself as well as its root causes. (4)
Finally, since stress can cause or exacerbate chronic inflammation, you should take steps to reduce it whenever possible. It’s obviously impossible to avoid every stressor in the world, but habits such as meditation can help you to better handle these stressors when they inevitably crop up.
There are also new treatments for inflammation that hold a great deal of promise. New research on the cannabis plant has found substantial potential benefits, especially from cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid that can now be found in a variety of supplements, creams, and foods. Evidence suggests that cannabinoids can suppress the cytokines that cause an inflammatory response, and researchers are testing cannabis-based for inflammatory diseases including MS and rheumatoid arthritis with encouraging results. (5)
Researchers are also exploring the use of other supplements with a long history of anecdotal support. White willow bark, which contains a compound similar to aspirin, has been used for centuries to treat inflammation. It also seems to have fewer side effects than aspirin, making it a better choice for regular use. (6)
The root of the turmeric plant has also been used medicinally for years. Now, researchers are looking to harness its proven effects while minimizing the potential for side effects. Besides treating inflammation directly, turmeric may also help manage anxiety and obesity, both of which contribute to chronic inflammation. (7)
Green tea is already recognized as a powerful antioxidant, and its anti-inflammatory qualities are similarly impressive. Black tea seems to have similar effects. (8) Of course, all herbal supplements have potential downsides, but, when used as recommended, they are usually less dangerous than the prescription alternatives.
If you’re worried about the effects of chronic inflammation on your body, start by making lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about your concerns, and keep in mind that your body is doing its best to take care of itself– it may just need a little help for you.
Disclaimer: Information found in this article or on canniful.com shouldn’t be taken as any medical or scientific opinion, advice or recommendation. Please do your own research and consult with your doctor before introducing cannabinoids to your body.