Chronic Inflammation—Can Natural Medicine help?
Inflammation is the body’s first response to injury and foreign invaders. Immune-enhancing plasma proteins and white blood cells are rushing to the site of accident or invasion, acting like soldiers wrestling down the enemy. So far this is of course a very desirable activity! On the other hand, it needs to be checked to avoid overkill. We don’t want chronic warfare but a resolution of the problem in a reasonable period of time.
What if the body fails to turn off an initially desirable inflammatory reaction?
Unfortunately, this happens all too often, and we all have seen the consequences: Immune dysfunction has been found to be the root of an increasing number of chronic health conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis, Bechterew’s, psoriasis arthritis, Crohn’s disease, MS, and even cardiovascular disease are associated with chronic inflammation and immune dysregulation.
There are markers to look for when we have our lab work done: Blood sedimentation rate ESR, white blood count WBC, immunoglobulines, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and for special testing, tumor necrosis factor TNF alpha, prostaglandines and other cytokines.
Now don’t expect your doctor to order all of these markers! Some are expensive and can usually only be requested by specialists, like TNF alpha. It is however useful to know about the role of this important inflammatory marker, as it is measured to check the efficiency of some newer treatments.
TNF alpha is a “pro-inflammatory cytokine”, playing a role in all inflammatory diseases. Elevated TNF means something is smoldering in your system. With chronic inflammation we also find an increase in free radicals and bone demineralisation. The tendency to acquire inflammatory disease may run in families, but lifestyle factors play a big role too.
Standard medicine is of course looking to block, or antagonize, TNF. Some new, really expensive drugs are designed as TNF alpha antibodies or antagonists, aka “anti-cytokines”. So far they are only available in special cases, and they do have side effects. ENBREL or REMICADE would be examples.
The good news is there are natural ways to reduce TNF alpha and re-balance your immune system.
First, have a look at your diet and lifestyle: Are you perhaps eating way too much fatty, fried, sweet and processed food, and too little veggies and fruit? Are you smoking and drinking alcohol?
Do you get out into the fresh air, or are you a couch potato?
Some adjustments may go a long way here: Try out a vegetable-based diet, and don’t give me that “it’s too expensive” excuse! With a little fantasy, and perhaps the help of a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor, you’ll find many alternatives to hamburger and fries! Go off the Atkins or South Beach diet the moment you read this...
The main culprits in meats and fried goods are trans-fatty acids and prostaglandines, both strong pro-inflammatory substances. Change to good fats instead, like flax seed oils, olive oils, and fatty fish. Purified fish oil capsules are excellent anti-inflammatories!
These natural remedies have been proven to reduce TNF:
- Daidzein and soy isoflavones, sterols/sterolins (like Moducare) decrease inflammatory factors
- Devil’s claw, curcumin, ginger, digestive enzymes, are backed by research to lower TNF
- So are the amino acids MSM, NAC, and SAMe.
I am personally impressed by the efficacy of SAMe which is also a potent anti-depressant. Keep in mind that SAMe needs to be taken with B-vitamins at the same time to avoid homocysteine formation.
As you will have higher levels of free radicals with chronic inflammation, you’ll need to take some good vitamins as anti-oxidants. Your vitamin requirements are increased, so diet alone may not be enough.
My recommendation for autoimmune conditions, inflammatory arthritis, Crohn’s, coronary artery disease is as follows:
- Vitamin E, best as tocotrienols, 200-400IU
- Flavonoids like resveratrol, hesperidin, lycopene, carotenes,
- Vitamin C plus bioflavonoids
- SAMe, MSM for pain reduction
- Wobenzyme or bromelain/papain combo to digest inflammatory complexes,
- Magnesium and other minerals for bone/muscle/nerve support
- Fish oil capsules, 3-6 grams daily
If this all is too confusing to you, and you don’t have the means to see a professional, get at least a really good multivitamin/ multimineral, and some fish oil capsules. Don’t try to save there—the cheaper oils are often not purified but contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals.
Stick to a vegetarian diet, avoid sweets, get more exercise!
With more severe conditions like Bechterew’s, or if you feel you would like to get off your prescription meds, you need professional assistance. You won’t go wrong looking for a NSAND/CAND-registered naturopathic doctor!