Inflammation is often what causes pain but it’s important to understand that inflammation is the bodies attempt to repair a wound and resolve or prevent infection. When there is a broken bone or broken skin, inflammation is the magical process that helps knit everything back together again.
A little bit of inflammation is natural and helpful, but quite often when it comes to healing, it can help to dampen the inflammation process slightly, because our Western/modern diet and lifestyle tends to tip inflammation into overdrive or to steer it in unhelpful directions that hinder rather than help healing.
In some scenarios, inflammation is a natural response to irritation and friction. For example, in osteoarthritis the loss of friction-avoiding, shock-absorbing cartilage means that bones start to touch and rub against each other. This causes inflammation. Friction-based inflammation can occur on a day-to-day basis when we neglect our posture, put too much pressure on the musculoskeletal system by being overweight or ignore injuries and continue to aggravate them rather than resting and getting help to recover properly. One of the most important things you can do to prevent inflammation is to avoid sitting too much, pushing your body too hard, and engaging in repetitive physical movements that result in wear and tear of specific muscles and joints.
If you are in pain, it pays to ask yourself ‘is there something I am doing (or not doing, such as stretching and walking) that might be causing this inflammation/pain?’ If you ignore early warning signs and don’t take reparative action, this acute (short term) inflammation can become chronic (long term) inflammation. You can recover from acute inflammation, but chronic inflammation does physical damage to tissues that can be irreparable. When inflammation is caused by mechanical problems, the most important response is to become more aware of the way you move your body and make positive changes to prevent further damage and give your body space to heal. You can back this up with dietary and lifestyle changes and herbal medicine, but let me tell you a bit more about inflammation before we get to that.
Inflammation can also occur when the immune system is a bit muddled up. There are a range of issues that contribute to immune dysfunction. The immune system can become muddled up when our body’s microbiome is out of balance, especially our gut flora. Our gut flora can be negatively affected by an unhealthy fibre-lacking diet containing too much refined sugar and processed foods. It can also be impacted by the use of antibiotics, too much alcohol and other drugs (both prescribed and recreational), stress, sleep-deprivation and an over-sterile environment. Food sensitivities have a massive role to play in immune system dysfunction, as do viral infections and burn-out, all of which can often be well-managed by a naturopath or herbalist.
WHAT TO AVOID/REDUCE
*Don’t ignore pain and discomfort- address these issues with rest, recovery and rehabilitation so that you don’t do permanent damage.
*Avoid saturated fats, excess omega-6 fats and trans fats (i.e. animal products and processed foods), as these are inflammatory.
* If you are over-weight, get some help with weight loss. Being over-weight puts extra load-bearing pressure on joints and contributes to inflammation in the body.
*Don’t over-eat as this increases the immune response, leading to excess inflammation.
*Avoid refined sugar (including white flour and white flour products like white pasta and white bread) as these contribute to both weight gain and inflammation due to their negative effect on bowel flora.
*Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics and hand sanitisers.
*Avoid inactivity. A sedentary lifestyle increases inflammation, particularly for women.
*Avoid repetitive movements and poor posture (both of which cause wear and tear).
*Excess exercise can cause inflammation (but this can be balanced with anti-inflammatory herbs and diet).
*Don’t smoke! Smoking is inflammatory.
*Address high blood sugar and blood pressure (both can be addressed with diet)
*Manage stress! Reduce triggers and learn stress-management skills.
*Address unbalanced hormones as they can contribute to inflammation (get help from herbalist/naturopath).
*Avoid foods that you are allergic or sensitive to, or that you can’t digest properly, and consider working with a naturopath/herbalist to improve digestion.
*Avoid vitamin D deficiency. If you can’t get sunlight, take a supplement.
*Whole plant foods in general, due to the anti-inflammatory phytonutrient content and the fibre content, which supports healthy gut flora.
*Plenty of healthy omega 3’s from foods like linseeds, chia seeds, edamame, black beans, kidney beans, pumpkin and walnuts.
*Arthritic joints can be supported with legumes and soy due to the isoflavones and lignans, beautiful phytoestrogens that reduce oestrogen excess and it’s effect on arthritic joints.
*Foods rich in antioxidants reduce inflammation, such as citrus, berries, kiwifruit, pumpkin, capsicum, sweet potatoes, cabbage, melons, broccoli, olives and avocados.
*Maintain a healthy weight with regular exercise, stretching and good posture.
*Flavones (a phyto- or plant- nutrient) are anti-inflammatory eg parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, capsicum, artichoke, celery, chamomile, biacal skullcap, dandelion flowers and leaves, lemon balm, peppermint and perilla.
*Quercetin (A flavonol) is anti-inflammatory, and found in onion, kale, broccoli, cranberry, black currant, green tea, fennel, hawthorn, gingko.
*Anthocyanidins are anti-inflammatory, and found in blueberry, blackberry, elderberry, currants, raspberries, red/purple cabbage, eggplant and colourful potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
*Gallic acid is anti-inflammatory and found in nuts, berries and grapes.
*Eat legumes, which contain anti-inflammatory compounds such as coumarins, saponins and good quality fibre.
*Anti-inflammatory herbs not mentioned so far include echinacea, withania, bilberry, gotu kola, turmeric, licorice, calendula, devil’s claw, eyebright, feverfew, ginger, golden rod, bupleurum, horsechestnut, tiensi ginseng, rehmannia, saw palmetto, wild yam, andrographis, yarrow, nettle leaf etc
In Part two, we will be looking at tissue perfusion and the role it plays in healing.