Pain is a fact of life. Everyone experiences it at some point or another. As people age, the biggest concern that affects activities of daily living is the ability to move and function without pain and discomfort. However, the latest research suggests that up to 50% of the population may be suffering from some kind of chronic pain, with back pain being the most common. In many cases the pain signal is the result of a viscous cycle of structural damage, tissue breakdown and inflammation.
While most people are familiar with the concept of losing cartilage as we age (which leads to more mechanical irritation and degeneration) we should consider that inflammation is the process that is occurring under the surface of most pain processes. In fact, it is now well known that almost every chronic disease is fueled by inflammation at the tissue and cellular level. A robust anti-inflammatory strategy would be very beneficial to address both pain and chronic disease. Frustrated people often turn to natural and complementary approaches when they are no longer getting adequate results from medications or if they want to avoid the long-list of potential side effects.
Stop Feeding Your Inflammation
Eating a diet that is high in refined fats and sugars encourages inflammation. While following a balanced diet of unrefined good fats (like omega 3s) as well as avoiding refined sugars, and nutrient rich-plant based foods reduces inflammation. Common foods such as refined carbs like bread, pastries and pasta are rapidly converted to sugar which is one of the biggest drivers of inflammation. Sugar also promotes weight-gain and is linked to diabetes. Animal meats, especially those rich in saturated fats, promote inflammation. Food sensitivities or intolerances cause chronic irritation and inflammation of our digestive tracts, which causes our immune systems to be over stimulated and become sensitized to normally harmless food particles.
Through the immune system inflammation is transferred throughout the body causing a wide range of pain symptoms (i.e. headache, joint pain etc.) There are 2 options to identify which specific food intolerances you may have . The most cost-effective (but also time-consuming) option is to go through a full-food elimination diet. This usually takes a month to identify which foods cause symptoms. The second option is get a food intolerance blood test. To break the cycle of inflammation and pain you should limit foods that promote this damage.
On the flip side of avoiding PRO-inflammatory foods a person should consume MORE foods that are anti-inflammatory. Based on the most current research and expert opinion, a plant-based Mediterranean style diet has the most powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Culinary spices such as ginger and turmeric are now being studied to quench inflammation right at the cellular level. Let’s look at these herbal extracts in more detail.
|Key Principles of the Anti-inflammatory Diet|
Block Inflammation with Herbal Extracts
There are many evidence based herbal extracts that can reduce inflammation. The following are some of the most researched and effective options. Be sure to always check with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure there are no interactions with your current medications.
Turmeric is a spice derived from the root of Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. Curcumin is the herbal constituent found in Turmeric with the most medicinal benefits. Curcumin has many studies showing its anti-inflammatory effects but what makes curcumin stand out is that it blocks inflammation at multiple levels including right at the DNA, preventing the creation of more inflammatory signals. The trouble is that curcumin is very poorly absorbed so a fat-soluble extract is needed to maximize absorption.
Boswellia is a resin extract from the herb frankincense that also reduces a multiple of inflammatory pathways without causing cartilage damage. A number of human clinical trials have found an extract from boswellia was able to improve joint range of motion and function with the same effectiveness as specific non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). What makes boswellia unique is that it also has an affinity for inflammatory pathways in the digestive system and lungs, which can improve conditions like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. Just like curcumin, boswellia is a fat soluble substance that is best absorbed in combination with fat so look for an oil-based formulation to enhance the absorption.
Ginger is known to help prevent nausea and vomiting as well as being an effective NSAID in treating primary dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation) helping to relax the uterus muscles and reduce pain. In a double-blind comparative clinical trial, 150 participants suffering from primary dysmenorrhea enrolled to take either one of 250mg of ginger root powder (4:1 extract), 250mg mefenamic acid or 400mg ibuprofen ( both are NSAIDs) four times per day for three days. At the end of treatment, the severity of dysmenorrhea significantly decreased in all groups and no significant differences were found between the groups in severity of dysmenorrhea, pain relief, or satisfaction with the treatment. This shows that ginger was as effective as two NSAIDs in relieving the pain of dysmenorrhea.
There are a wide variety of powerful natural herbs and molecules that have shown very promising results for the reduction and prevention of inflammation. The advantage of these natural anti-inflammatory agents is that they act through a variety of mechanisms and influence a wide range of targets and molecules involved in the body’s inflammatory response. These natural agents are safe and effective and can be used in combination to help control/prevent chronic inflammation throughout the body. By preventing and treating chronic inflammation, it may be possible to reduce the risk and progression of chronic pain and many serious diseases that have been linked to inflammation.
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